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Pittsburgh's Columbus Statue Remains Standing While Court Dispute Continues

The Columbus statue that has stood in Schenley Park since 1955 has been wrapped in plastic pending resolution of a dispute over removing it.
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
The Columbus statue that has stood in Schenley Park since 1955 has been wrapped in plastic pending resolution of a dispute over removing it.

After eight months in court, a judge has declared an impasse in negotiations over the fate of the Christopher Columbus statue in Schenley Park between the City of Pittsburgh and an Italian-American fraternal organization.

Allegheny Court of Common Pleas Judge John T. McVay declared the impasse June 8. He said he will now conduct a mediation between the city, which had planned to unseat the towering, 67-year-old bronze statue, and the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, the Pittsburgh-based group that was granted an injunction against its removal in October.

Pittsburgh’s Art Commission voted in September to remove the statue, whose critics consider it an unwanted monument to the Genoese explorer’s enslavement and mistreatment of indigenous people. Weeks later, Mayor Bill Peduto affirmed that decision. But thanks to the injunction, the statue remains standing months later, albeit wrapped head-to-pedestal-base in a plastic tarp.

The long delay has upset many who sought the statue’s removal.

“It’s just been really frustrating seeing how slowly the courts moved, how little transparency there is about what discussions are happening,” said Prem Rajgopal, a leader of that grassroots push.

Details of the talks between lawyers for the city and the ISDA have not been made public. Neither the city nor the ISDA responded to messages this week seeking further comment.

The ISDA is a national organization based in Pittsburgh and headed by Cleveland-area resident Basil Russo. The group is represented in court by Philadelphia-based attorneys George Bochetto and David Paul Heim. Bochetto is also the lawyer who last year secured an injunction halting removal of a Columbus monument in Philadelphia, after that city’s art commission voted for its removal. The Philadelphia monument also remains covered pending resolution of the dispute.

Rajgopal noted that the Pittsburgh art commission’s 5-0 vote in September was the culmination of a long process, including lengthy public hearings in which a majority of speakers and other respondents favored removal of the landmark statue. Rajgopal said he is concerned all that work might be undone.

“Will the court process undermine the public process that took so long?” he said.

The art commission’s vote continued a wave of such decisions nationally to reconsider many public monuments following last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, including other Columbus statues and others memorializing Confederate soldiers.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: