A bronze giraffe that has given children pleasure for the past 10 years at The Wonder Years Preschool in Palo Alto was stolen over the Labor Day weekend, according to school officials.
The 5-foot-tall sitting giraffe, named Gila, was a favorite of the children at the school at 991 Commercial St., said Julie Fernandez, assistant director. When staff returned after the holiday on Tuesday, they didn't notice the sculpture was missing, but the kids -- who would climb and sit on Gila -- did.
"The kids started asking, 'What happened to it?'" she said. "I said, 'I don't know. Maybe it went to the zoo.'"
School owner and Executive Director Helen Szteinbaum said that on the Friday prior to the holiday, she had told some children not to climb up unsafely on the giraffe. They thought that she had removed the sculpture because of the unsafe climbing.
But by Wednesday when it was still missing, staff checked the security cameras and found footage of two men picking it up and carrying it off.
Gila has been at the school since it opened 10 years ago. Szteinbaum said she wanted the children to be exposed to art and selected bronzes representing animal life.
She purchased the giraffe from Ravanelli's Fine Art & Antiques in San Francisco. She chose the giraffe because it represents the most elegant and distinguished creature in the animal kingdom, and it speaks to keeping one's head high, she said.
Szteinbaum purchased a reclining giraffe so it would be safer for the children to climb. She originally paid between $1,800 and $2,000 for the sculpture, which weighs between 90 and 110 pounds, she said. To replace it will cost $4,800, since the artist must make it on special order.
The new sculpture won't be ready for about 1.5 months, she said. If Gila is found, there will be two giraffes in the courtyard, she added.
Fernandez said the school's courtyard seems empty without Gila. The school's 80 children miss the giraffe, and they don't understand why anyone would steal her, Fernandez said.
The sculpture has significant sentimental value.
"There are a lot of memories. Some parents are completely shocked. Some of the older kids, their response was, 'Why would somebody do something like that? That's not OK,'" she said.
Szteinbaum doesn't think it will be easy for the thieves to sell the sculpture.
"The artist is very well-known in the community and he is letting everyone know in his circles that it was stolen," she said.
The sculpture is also obviously from a commercial property and not a house or garden, so people will know it was stolen, she said.
Police are asking that anyone who sees the sculpture advertised or who has information about its whereabouts call the Palo Alto Police Department at 650-329-2413.