Columbus monument supporters file suit, seek injunction

They accuse Penn's Landing of breaking an agreement to maintain the 28-year-old monument by covering up its base following recent protests.

Columbus monument at Penn's Landing

The Columbus monument at Penn's Landing is covered with a board asking for ideas on what to do with it. (Mark Henninger/Imagic Digital)

Supporters of a 106-foot Christopher Columbus monument in the park at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia have filed suit accusing the park’s nonprofit manager of breaking an agreement to maintain the 28-year-old monument by covering up its base following recent protests.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that America 500 Anniversary Corp., which raised funds to donate the monument in 1992, is asking for a preliminary injunction barring the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. “from moving, damaging or destroying” the monument and seeking compliance with the grant agreement.

The suit accuses the nonprofit of violating the agreement by covering up street-level references to the explorer and saying the marble base of the stainless-steel obelisk may be altered. Waterfront corporation spokesperson Almaz Crow declined to comment.

The corporation said last month that the monument that marked the 500th anniversary of the explorer’s first voyage “fails to address atrocities committed against indigenous people” and therefore does not reflect the organization’s “mission to create and maintain a safe and welcoming space for all.”

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The nonprofit said discussions about the monument’s future would involve the city and other stakeholders and could result in its removal, but until a decision is made, “the base of the monument will be covered in an effort to protect public safety, reduce continued pain and to act as a platform for meaningful engagement.”

The 106-foot Robert Venturi-designed work is “a reimagined obelisk” topped by a weather vane representing the colors of Italy, the country of the explorer’s birth, and Spain, the country for which he sailed. It also was intended to represent “the role that all immigrants played in shaping Philadelphia and the United States, according to the nonprofit group’s website.

City crews earlier built a wooden box around a statue of Columbus in south Philadelphia following clashes between protesters and residents. The city later said it would ask the Philadelphia Art Commission on July 22 to approve the removal of the statue from Marconi Plaza. South Philadelphia residents have sued to block any such action.

In Philadelphia, a city with a deep Italian heritage, supporters said they considered Columbus an emblem of their heritage. Mayor Jim Kenney said he was venerated for centuries as an explorer but had a “much more infamous” history, enslaving indigenous people and imposing punishments such as severing limbs or even death.

Statues of Columbus were earlier removed in nearby Camden, New Jersey, and Wilmington, Delaware. In Richmond, Virginia, a statue of Christopher Columbus was torn down, set on fire and thrown into a lake. In Columbia, South Carolina, the first U.S. city named for Columbus, a statue of the explorer was removed after it was vandalized several times, and a vandalized statue in Boston also was removed from its pedestal.

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