Two years ago controversy erupted in New York City, when New York City’s mayor called for a panel to evaluate the city’s monuments to determine which were “hateful.” Historical revisionists on the New York City panel contemplated changes to the iconic monument of Christopher Columbus located in the circle of the same name. The issue reached a peak shortly before Columbus Day last year, but was decided on by cooler heads when in December, the statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places, meaning that the monument cannot be moved or changed. A victory for all Italian Americans had been secured.
At one time, what is now Columbus Circle was on the outskirts of Manhattan. It is located at the intersection of Eighth Avenue, Broadway, Central Park South (West 59th Street) and Central Park West, at the southwest corner of Central Park. As a point of trivia, Columbus Circle is the point from which official highway distances from New York City are measured. The monument to honor Christopher Columbus was begun in 1842, but the entire circle and monument was not completed until 1905. It was at this time that the Circle began to become the cultural center of the New York that it is today.
The 76-foot Columbus Column monument at the center of the circle was created by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo. It consists of a 14-foot marble statue of Columbus atop a 27.5-foot granite rostral column on a four-stepped granite pedestal. The column is decorated with bronze reliefs representing Columbus’ ships – the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María, but the ships portrayed are actually Roman galleys instead of two caravels and a carrack. Its pedestal features an angel holding a globe.
The monument was one of three planned as part of the city’s 1892 commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the New World. Originally, the monument was planned to be located at Bowling Green in lower Manhattan. By the time Russo’s plan was decided upon in 1890, a commission of Italian businessmen from around the United States had contributed $12,000, equivalent to $335,000 today. The remainder was raised by the New York City-based Italian language newspaper, Il Progresso. Originally known simply as “The Circle,” after the 1892 installation of the monument in the circle’s center, it became known as Columbus Circle.
Russo created parts of the Columbus Column in his Rome studio and in other workshops in Italy. The completed column was shipped to the United States in September 1892. With the 400th anniversary celebrations only days away, once the statue arrived in Manhattan, it was quickly transported to the circle. The monument was officially unveiled with a ceremony on October 13, 1892.
The monument received some retouching in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, which was also the monument’s own 100th anniversary.
Amid the 2017 monument controversies in the United States, an issue arose over the statue. New York City’s pandering mayor, Bill de Blasio commissioned a 90-day review of possibly hateful monuments across the city to determine if any of them, including the Columbus Column, warranted either removal or plaques explaining the controversy. The proposed removal were vehemently opposed by the city’s Italian American community and Columbus Day Parade organizers. Fortunately, on September 20, 2018, in a unanimous decision, the New York State Board of Historic Preservation voted to place the monument on the state historic register and nominate it to the National Register of Historic Places. Two months later, the National Park Service added the monument to the National Registry of Historic Places.