Dec 11, 2022 - News

Philadelphia removes box covering Columbus statue

City workers cover the statue of Christopher Columbus at Marconi Plaza.

City workers cover the statue of Christopher Columbus at Marconi Plaza on June 16, 2020. Photo: Matt Slocum/AP

The city of Philadelphia on Sunday night removed the plywood box that for more than two years covered the Christopher Columbus statue in South Philly's Marconi Plaza, following a state court decision.

Why it matters: The 10-foot-tall statue was among several flashpoints during racial justice protests in 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which prompted the city — and others across the country — to reexamine the historical figures they honor.

  • The latest ruling in Philly's yearslong legal battle could have implications for attempts to remove controversial monuments elsewhere in Pennsylvania.

Catch up quick: A panel of judges in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania on Friday reversed a 2021 decision that had allowed the city to keep the 146-year-old statue enclosed in a plywood box.

  • Commonwealth President Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote that Philadelphia has a responsibility to preserve the statue after accepting it as a donation in 1876 and designating it a historical object in 2017, NBC reports.

Background: The city boxed the statue in June 2020 to preserve it while the city conducted a public process to determine its fate.

  • The city's Historical Commission voted in July 2020 to remove the statue.
  • The Friends of Marconi Plaza, a nonprofit that serves as a caretaker of the park, sued to keep the statue in place and remove the box — which was later painted the colors of the Italian flag.
  • A judge last year reversed the city's decision to remove it, the AP reports, saying it failed to provide evidence that the removal was necessary to protect the public.

What they're saying: The city was "very disappointed" in the court's ruling, Kenney administration spokesman Kevin Lessard said.

  • He added that the city will explore options that "allows Philadelphians to celebrate their heritage and culture while respecting the histories and circumstances of everyone's different backgrounds."

The other side: George Bochetto, an attorney for Friends of Marconi Plaza, told Axios the ruling Friday could impact other cases in the Keystone State.

Of note: Bochetto and another Italian American group in Pittsburgh are in a legal battle with Pittsburgh to maintain a statue of Columbus in a park there.

  • Bochetto was also part of another lawsuit in Philly that squashed attempts to board up and remove the 106-foot-tall Columbus monument at Penn's Landing.

This is a breaking story and may be updated.

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