The Christopher Columbus statue was temporarily unboxed for an inspection Wednesday morning, but city officials say they still plan to remove the marble monument from Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia once ongoing litigation is resolved.
A judge ordered Wednesday’s unboxing so the statue could be inspected by an expert for a legal team working to halt its removal, said a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney’s office.
By noon, she added, the inspection was complete and the controversial statue was covered back up.
“Today’s review does not change the City’s intent to move forward with its plan for removal of the Christopher Columbus statue after it satisfies the conditions set forth by the Philadelphia Historical Commission and Art Commission,” the mayor’s office said in a statement.
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Paula Patrick last month ordered the city to allow the inspection as part of an ongoing legal battle in which attorneys argue that Philadelphia rushed the dismantling and removal process. Among their concerns, they say in court documents, is that the 144-year-old statue is fragile and could be destroyed if moved.
George Bochetto, a lawyer for South Philadelphians who are fighting to keep it in place, has been in court challenging the removal since the summer and a judge has ordered the statue stay put until the litigation is resolved.
In June, as antiracism protests occurred throughout the region after police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, mobs of armed white men repeatedly showed up to “protect” the likeness of Columbus. Some violently attacked observers and counterprotesters.
A month later city officials moved to remove the statue, saying “in recognition of the fact that Columbus’ legacy includes the enslavement, forcible removal, and the devastation of the Indigenous people that he encountered, and that in this current moment in our country’s history, the statue can no longer be displayed on public property.”
The Philadelphia Art Commission has voted to remove the statue, as has the Philadelphia Historical Commission, and place it in storage until a decision is made about the most appropriate permanent home for it. The Historical Commission said the monument would pose a public safety threat if it stayed in the park and could be damaged.