A statue of explorer Christopher Columbus that has stood for 45 years in downtown’s Grand Park was ceremoniously removed Saturday.
“The statue of Christopher Columbus rewrites a stained chapter of history that romanticizes expansions of European empires and exploitations of natural resources and of human beings,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who authored the motion to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. “We have all inherited this complex, difficult history. Minimizing — or worse, ignoring — the pain of Los Angeles’ original inhabitants is a disservice to the truth. The removal of the Columbus statue in Grand Park is an act of restorative justice that honors and embraces the resilient spirit of our County’s original inhabitants. With its removal, we begin a new chapter of our history where we learn from past mistakes so we are no longer doomed to repeat them.”
The removal event featured a news conference and a Native American ceremonial dance.
“This is a natural next step in the progression to eliminate the false narrative that Christopher Columbus discovered America,” Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said earlier in the week. “Columbus himself was personally responsible for committing atrocities and his actions set in motion the greatest genocide in recorded history. His image should not be celebrated anywhere.”
The removal of the Columbus statue from the park in the Civic Center comes after both the L.A. City Council and County Board of Supervisors voted separately last year to cancel the October Christopher Columbus holiday they once observed and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. O’Farrell is a member of the Wyandotte Nation and led the City Council effort to make the holiday switch.
The new holiday was officially observed for the first time last month during a daylong celebration in Grand Park, and included a sunrise ceremony, 5K run, parade of nations, Native American powwow, panel sessions, a fashion show and live music with Redbone and the Black Eyed Peas.
During the new holiday last month, the Columbus statue was covered with a black box. Grand Park is managed by the county, and O’Farrell said he was working with Solis on the statue’s removal. The black box hiding the statue was taken down Friday morning, and Columbus was on full display. The statue had previously been enclosed in a chain link fence just before Columbus Day in 2017.
By voting approval of the holiday switch, the City Council sided with critics who said the Italian explorer’s connection to brutality and slavery makes him unworthy of celebration, and it rejected pleas from leaders of the Italian-American community who argued the holiday was more to them than just a celebration of Columbus but is also a day of Italian pride and a recognition of their heritage.
Councilman Joe Buscaino, who is of Italian descent, expressed reservations about canceling Columbus Day and then in August 2017 made a late and unsuccessful push to have Indigenous Peoples Day take place on Aug. 9 and a second new holiday celebrating the diverse cultures of Los Angeles replace Columbus Day on the second Monday of October.
“With or without Columbus, Italians will continue to celebrate their sacrifices and contributions to this great country and our great city,” Buscaino said in August 2017 after the City Council approved the holiday switch.
The Columbus statue in Grand Park is just one of a handful of monuments or statues in the sprawling Grand Park, which stretches about four blocks from Spring Street in front of L.A. City Hall to Grand Avenue. It includes a statue of George Washington, a memorial plaque honoring the millions of Ukrainians who died of genocide by famine, a Court of Historic American Flags, a Vietnam veterans memorial and a few other monuments.
The Columbus statue was dedicated in 1973, and was a gift to the county by the United Lodges of Southern California, Order Sons of Italy in America.
Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission is expected to make a recommendation on what will replace the Columbus statue. The Los Angeles County Arts Commission said the statue will be put into storage out of public view until a long-term solution can be found.