August 12, 2020
South Philadelphia's polarizing monument to Christopher Columbus will be removed from Marconi Plaza and placed in storage until a new location for it is determined. The move was decided in a vote by the Philadelphia Art Commission on Wednesday morning.
The Columbus statue became a site of flaring tensions in June, attracting supporters who wanted to see it preserved as a cultural symbol of their Italian heritage and opponents who viewed its as a daily reminder of historical oppression.
In Monday's vote, the Art Commission decided the boxed-up monument should be placed in storage. Eight out of nine commissioners voted to remove the statue. Commissioner Joe Laragione abstained from the vote.
In a separate vote last week, the Philadelphia Historical Commission also came down in favor of removing the statue.
The city in June had requested that the Art Commission remove the Columbus statue from Marconi Plaza. A hearing in late July included testimony from residents on both sides of the issue, while a city survey received more than 13,000 responses.
The majority of residents who answered the survey wished to see the statue removed, city officials said.
"We are grateful to both the Philadelphia Art Commission and the Philadelphia Historical Commission for their approval of the administration's proposal to relocate the Christopher Columbus statue from Marconi Plaza," a city spokesperson said Wednesday morning. "As Philadelphia — and the nation — continue to reckon with the deep legacy of racism and oppression in America, it is critical that our public spaces are seen as safe, welcoming and inclusive for all people."
In June, some of the statue's supporters crowded Marconi Plaza armed with bats and other objects. They engaged in both verbal and physical altercations with protesters on several occasions.
In one instance, a 58-year-old man was arrested after allegedly punching a photographer who was a Black man. The photographer filmed the incident as the man shouted at him and threw a fist.
Wednesday's vote by the Art Commission means the city will begin a deliberative process to determine what will happen next for the statue. The city will be required to report to the Art Commission every six months until a resolution is reached. Any final recommendation on a future location will have to be reviewed by the Art Commission.
The move to take down the Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza comes just weeks after the statue of former mayor Frank Rizzo was removed from outside the Municipal Services Building in Center City. A broader push to evaluate these monuments emerged from protests in the wake of George Floyd's death in the custody of Minneapolis police in May.
The fate of another Christopher Columbus statue along the Delaware River Waterfront remains under consideration. The base of that statue has been boxed up since June as the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. weighs its future.
Monuments to the European explorer have been removed in towns and cities across the United States over the past few months.
"Philadelphia's public art must reflect the people and spirit of our city, not divide us," the city spokesperson continued in Wednesday's statement. "The Columbus statue has been a source of controversy in Philadelphia throughout the summer, and we are eager to begin the process of its relocation to storage."