Bronze custom-made gates that stood at the entrance to Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum for a generation, and made by the internationally-renowned sculptor George Tsutakawa, were stolen Wednesday night.

The theft was discovered Thursday morning when gardeners arrived for work and discovered the gates missing and bolt cutters on the ground, said Ray Larson, curator of living collections at the arboretum. Thieves also stole downspouts from the visitor’s center.

Known as the Memorial Gates, the artwork was commissioned in 1971 by the University of Washington and the Arboretum Foundation as a memorial to all who have loved and cared for the arboretum. Considered a community treasure, the gates are an irreplaceable signature of the park. Made of solid bronze, Larson said he fears the thieves will take them to a scrapper for the value of the metal.

The ceremonial gates are at least 20 feet wide and kept open in part because they are so heavy. “It would be a pretty enormous task to haul them out,” Larson said. “People are just shocked, and appalled. It was so brazen.

“Our hope is that someone may have seen something.

“They are just so beautiful, and they have always been there,” Larson said of the gates, installed in 1976. The bronze work is flourished with pods, leaves, vines and flowers, and reflected Tsutakawa’s philosophy that man is one part of nature, a part that must live in harmony with the rest of nature.

Tsutakawa  died in December 1997. He was best known for his avant-garde bronze fountain designs. Born in Seattle, he was raised in the United States and Japan. He was associated with the University of Washington for more than 37 years, first teaching design courses in the School of Architecture and later teaching in the School of Art. He was a treasure of the art world in the Northwest and beyond, and is perhaps best known for creating more than 70 public fountains in North American and Japan.

The gates defined the entrance to the arboretum for a generation. “Someone is probably trying to cut these up and sell the bronze. Time is of the essence,” Larson said.