California city removes actual fork in the road

(CNN) -- Jim Grant was driving home in Carlsbad, California, when he came to a fork in the road. No, an actual fork.

The oversized kitchen utensil was 6 feet high, made of wood, painted silver and mounted in the concrete island at the intersection of Levante Street and Anillo Way in south Carlsbad.

Grant, a local photographer and a contributor to CNN iReport, knew he had to pull over.

"I actually laughed out loud in my truck and just knew I had to get some shots of this urban art before some city employee takes it down or it is vandalized," he said. He shot some photos Tuesday afternoon, posted them on CNN iReport and left a Post-it note on the sculpture in hopes of finding the artist.

The literal fork in the road was short-lived. A city crew pulled it out of the concrete Wednesday morning, saying in a statement that "although the fork in the road remains, the literal fork was removed this morning. We appreciate the creativity, but it's not legal or safe to put objects like this on public streets or medians."

CNN affiliate KFMB filmed the fork being taken away.

Grant and other local residents, including the creator himself, are holding out hope that city officials will change their mind and return the quirky spectacle.

Carlsbad Communications Manager Kristina Ray told CNN, "If the artist would like to propose to donate this art to the city, we do have a process through our Cultural Arts Office to consider it. He or she could get in touch with us to learn more about this process."

Before the fork was ripped out, Grant's Post-it note made its way to the artist, who explained he was a retired teacher who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of getting fined or sued by the city.

The 62-year-old retired math and physics teacher said he has wanted to make a fork for that island ever since he saw "The Muppet Movie" in 1979, in which Kermit tells Fozzie Bear, on their way to Hollywood, to bear left if he comes to a fork in the road. A moment later, a giant upside-down fork appears in the road.

That was more than 30 years ago, but he never had the time to work on the project until he retired in June. He spent the summer on it, laminating pieces of wood together until they resembled the kitchen utensil. He bought a can of chrome paint and sprayed the fork until the can was empty. His brother, a middle-school wood shop teacher in El Cajon, helped him smooth out the edges.

"I'm not an artist. I have no talent, but I'm not afraid to try, and I'm quite surprised that the fork came out as good as it did," he said.

With his 32-year-old son's help, they mounted it in the street on Tuesday morning.

Knowing the city might object, they tried to stay discreet. He said they put on orange construction vests and cloaked the prongs in a black garbage bag while they installed it on the island.

"We tried to look official, didn't make eye contract with anybody driving by. ... It just looked like two construction workers putting up a sign post. And then when all the signs were gone, I removed the trash bag, and then people started taking pictures," he said.

He and his son got a few pictures and were surprised it created such a commotion when it was taken down. Several news stations reported that neighbors wanted it put back.

"I just thought a couple people would drive by and smile and keep on driving. I didn't think anything more was going to happen," he said. "I can't afford to pay any fines, and I don't want to get in trouble. It was just something I thought the folks in my neighborhood would appreciate, and apparently they did."

Ray said the placement of the fork would be considered a code violation. "We normally impose a fine only if there is a repeated problem and requests for voluntary compliance don't work."

Wednesday, soon after the fork was removed, a neighbor put up a sign that said "Why the fork not?"

Grant shot a photo of that too and posted it on iReport.

"Thank you for the laughs we all had looking at the Fork," Grant told the artist. "Hopefully, the city changes its mind and lets the Fork return, even for a week or so."

Update: Jim Grant reports Thursday night that the "Why the fork not?" sign is gone, but a normal-sized plastic fork has been taped to a nearby road sign. Meanwhile, readers in the comments below tell us about a giant fork with a happy ending in Pasadena, California. In a similar guerilla art prank , an artist erected an 18-foot tall, 500-pound fork in the road in a median in 2009. The city ordered it removed after 7 months (which required a forklift), but in 2011, it was properly permitted and permanently installed.