Community members gather to have box removed from Columbus statue in South Philadelphia

Supporters say it's an important part of Italian-American heritage and should be left alone.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A court has ordered the plywood box that was placed around the statue of Christopher Columbus last year in South Philadelphia be removed, but the city says it is appealing that decision.

People in support of removing the plywood gathered around the statue Saturday, waiting for the commonwealth court to approve their request as the court of common pleas has.

Police put up barricades around the statue at this point to stop anyone from trying to take action.

Supporters say it's an important part of Italian-American heritage and should be left alone.

"I think it's a disgrace that they boxed that statue up; this represents the neighborhood. This represents Italian Americans," said Mark Anthony Carlini of South Philadelphia.

Attorney George Bochetto, who represents the group Friends of Marconi Plaza, received an order Saturday afternoon from the court of common pleas to take down the wooden structure around the statue.

Many in the city shared concerns about the plywood being removed.

"It makes me nervous because I saw the problems we had last time," said Chris Augustine, from South Philadelphia.

Jennifer Augustine, from South Philadelphia, said, "I want the statue gone just like Frank Rizzo."

Philadelphia officials want to keep the box in place.

The city's acting communications director sent a statement to Action News Saturday that reads:

"The City is grateful that the Commonwealth Court took the time to review this important matter tonight. Earlier today, the City of Philadelphia filed an Emergency Application to reinstate the stay and preserve the status quo-the box protecting the statue.

Just now, the Commonwealth Court reinstated the stay and overturned the Court of Common Pleas order from earlier today.

No action will be taken with respect to the statue at this time. Removing the plywood covering during this holiday weekend would pose a serious public safety risk."

In the order issued Friday morning, Judge Paula Patrick of the Court of Common Pleas said the box around the 144-year-old statue in Marconi Plaza should be removed right away.

She also ordered that, in the "interest of safety and preservation upon removal of the plywood structure," the appellants are permitted to put a clear structure around the statue.

A spokesperson for the mayor said the city is immediately appealing the ruling.

"We cannot, and have no intention to, remove the box at this time," said Acting Communications Director Kevin Lessard. "We continue to believe it is in the best interest and public safety of all Philadelphians that the statue remains secured in its box."

Those who support keeping the statue say it is an important part of Italian-American heritage and should be left alone.

"Rule of law is going to prevail here. We're not going to succumb to mob rule," said attorney George Bochetto, who represents the group Friends of Marconi Plaza. "The mayor wakes up one morning and decides he doesn't want to have a Columbus statue or have Columbus Day? That's not the way our country works."

Back in August, Judge Patrick ruled the Columbus statue can stay in Marconi Plaza. That ruling overturned decisions by the City of Philadelphia Board of License and Inspection Review and later the Philadelphia Historical Commission to remove the statute.

The city is also appealing that decision.
The statue became a flashpoint in June 2020.

Judge Paula Patrick wrote in August that the city's primary justification for the removal was the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd.

But in doing so, she wrote it was inconsistent with code, never showed to the court ongoing civil unrest beyond last June, and failed to allow for 90 days of public input.

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The City of Philadelphia will seek the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue in Marconi Plaza, officials announced on Wednesday.

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