Complying with a court order, the City of Philadelphia late Sunday night removed the plywood box that has concealed the statue of Christopher Columbus in South Philadelphia’s Marconi Park for 2 1/2 years.
With the aid of a cherry picker and several spotlights, workers disassembled the box around 9:30 p.m. to the jubilation of passing motorists on Broad Street who honked car horns and whistled. Some stopped to take pictures of the exposed statue.
About five to 10 onlookers gathered in a stiff, cold breeze to take in the latest chapter in a lengthy battle that began as soon as the statue was covered with plywood amid racial justice protests in June 2020, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The Historical Commission had voted to remove the statue, and Italian American groups have fought to preserve it ever since.
On Friday, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled the statue must be freed from the box.
What followed was a weekend watch for the dismantling, given that the city would not say if and when it intended to do it. Speculation was it certainly would not happen during the Eagles game and would most likely occur at night to minimize the chances of protests among groups for and against the statue that have played out at the site in the past.
Friday’s ruling issued by Commonwealth Court President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt reversed a 2021 decision that allowed the city to keep the box standing. Since October, it has been painted green, white, and red, the colors of the Italian flag.
“We continue to believe that the Christopher Columbus statue, which has been a source of controversy in Philadelphia, should be removed from its current position at Marconi Plaza,” city spokesperson Kevin Lessard said Friday in response to the court order.
He said the city intended to continue “to explore our options for a way forward that allows Philadelphians to celebrate their heritage and culture while respecting the histories and circumstances of everyone’s different backgrounds.”
George Bochetto, the attorney representing Friends of Marconi Plaza, had hailed the court’s decision as “not just significant for the Columbus statue and Italian Americans, it’s significant for every ethnic group in this country.”
Two supporters of the statue who watched the activity Sunday night said they were concerned someone might try to damage it overnight. A fence that has surrounded the statue remained up. As of 11:30 p.m. there was no police presence, as there has been at times in the past.
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