The 106-foot-tall Christopher Columbus monument at Penn’s Landing will remain in place, with coverings removed, for the foreseeable future, according to both parties involved in a lawsuit over the fate of the monument.
Earlier this week, the groups — the America 500 Anniversary Corporation and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation — reached a settlement, with a spokesperson for the waterfront confirming that it agreed to remove the panels placed around the monument’s base after unrest over racial injustice last summer.
“While DRWC has agreed to remove the chalkboards and continue our contractual obligation to maintain the monument as it is, we remain committed to continued public outreach and engagement, ensuring that all voices are heard and a variety of viewpoints can be expressed,” Joe Forkin, president of the Waterfront Corporation, said in a statement, noting another public engagement campaign would soon be unveiled.
The base of the monument by the Delaware River was covered with the chalkboards last year “in an effort to allow the public to express themselves during a time of civil unrest,” Forkin said. The move came amid the national reckoning over the country’s history of racism, including its exploitation of Indigenous people, after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd.
Many historians say Columbus directed the enslavement, abuse, and killing of Indigenous people, and many native people have said someone who brutalized their ancestors should not be honored. Still, the Italian explorer is glorified by many — some of whom in Philadelphia defended his likeness violently last summer — as a symbol of their heritage.
George Bochetto, an attorney for the America 500 Anniversary Corporation, the nonprofit that constructed the monument in 1992, sued DRWC last year for breach of contract for covering the base of the Columbus monument. He said his team was “delighted” by this week’s settlement.
“The monument will remain in place in perpetuity, and all coverings and shrouds will be removed,” Bochetto said, “so that the public will always have access to it and view it in the same fashion they have for the past few decades.”
Bochetto also represents the Friends of Marconi Plaza, a group fighting to keep the Columbus statue at the South Philadelphia park. Last month, a judge ruled that the statue could stay there, halting the city’s plans to remove it. Mayor Jim Kenney said his administration will appeal the judge’s decision.
The specific terms of the Penn’s Landing monument settlement are confidential, so no further details are available, the waterfront corporation said.
A spokesperson said that the corporation can do more public outreach and may “if appropriate, provide or install additional context or interpretive elements which express a variety of viewpoints.”