Christopher Columbus statue deserves landmark status, Italian-American group says

The Columbus Heritage Coalition filed paperwork on Tuesday seeking  landmark status  for  the Columbus  Circle momunent.
The Columbus Heritage Coalition filed paperwork on Tuesday seeking landmark status for the Columbus Circle momunent. Photo Credit: Doug Kuntz; Kevin P. Coughlin

A coalition is seeking landmark status for the controversial Christopher Columbus statue that towers above Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

The Columbus Heritage Coalition, in a statement on Tuesday, said that it had filed with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in order to prevent any alterations to the explorer’s monument.

The petition follows a report released in January by The Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers, which made recommendations for adding historical context to the city’s controversial monuments.

For the Columbus monument, the panel recommended adding “historical markers” explaining the history of the man and his statue, and erecting a separate monument recognizing American Indians at a to-be-determined location, according to a January statement from the mayor’s office.

The recommendations will need to be approved by the Public Design Commission before being enacted.

“We don’t want anything to happen to the Christopher Columbus statue,” said Angelo Vivolo, president of the Columbus Heritage Coalition, adding that immigration of Italian-Americans would not have happened if Columbus hadn’t connected the two worlds. “It talks to us about courage, discovery, about all the positive things — the meting pot that Americans believe in.”

With landmark status, the Columbus Heritage Coalition hopes to protect the original structure from any changes.

Vivolo said his group is in favor of a companion structure.

The coalition’s request was received by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and was under review, a spokeswoman for the agency said in an emailed statement. Groups such as the Columbus Heritage Coalition, however, only have the authority to suggest structures for landmark status, she noted; the decision to identify monuments and grant such statuses strictly lies with the agency.

The report released by the mayoral panel weighed Columbus’ effect on American Indians versus his contributions to the Italian-American community, and concluded that the best way to allay all concerns was with an additive approach.

“To fault him for all of the evils of that era is completely unfair,” Vivolo said, referencing aspersions cast on Columbus’ actions. “We don’t want people to make historical judgments on the basis of what might not be true.”

Those who want to know about Columbus’ history and take liberties with its interpretation can Google it, he said.

“Who is to say which is the truth and which is not the truth? “