Columbus statue replacement in New Haven hits roadblock



NEW HAVEN – The replacement of the Columbus statue in Wooster Square Park has encountered a roadblock, with objections to its size and design as well as questions about meeting the historic district’s standards.

The vote on the proposed four-figure family statue to honor Wooster Square’s Italian-American immigrants has been postponed until January 12, as the project seeks a certificate of relevance.

Trina Learned, chair of the Historic District Commission, said at her December meeting that making a decision at this point was “pre-emptive and would in effect end the process.”


She said the study, undertaken by the Wooster Square Monument Committee over the past 19 months, “has a little more momentum.”

The project also needs to be approved by the Council of Parks Commissioners and the Cultural Affairs Commission, both of which had representatives on the Monuments Committee.

The plan, in addition to the bronze sculpture, includes plaques explaining the history of immigrants with text and local photos, and benches that incorporate base stones from the original foundation of the statue of Columbus.

The public weighed in for about two hours during the last committee meeting.

They were mainly critical of the overall size of the proposal and a landscape that would remove a grassy area and add a concrete plaza in front of the statue.

The materials offered for storyboards explaining the history of local Italian immigration have also come under scrutiny. Some questioned limiting the immigration exam to one ethnic group, even though that was the mandate established for the committee.

Learned, at the start of the meeting, made it clear that approving or rejecting the plan was within its purview, according to a city ordinance.

Its role is “to regulate the way in which a building or a structure can be erected, modified, arranged, restored, moved or demolished in a historic district”.

The statue of Christopher Columbus, erected in 1892 and paid for by Italian immigrants at the end of the 19th century, was dismantled in June 2020 to prevent vandalism after his role in the atrocities against the Taino people became more widely known, with monuments to the navigator removed through the us

As elsewhere, the decision has divided the community, prompting Mayor Justin Elicker to appoint the Wooster Square monument committee this month to come up with an alternative to help bridge the gap.

The dismissal sparked “gratitude and hope, but also anger and fear,” Laura Luzzi, committee co-chair, reminded the committee at the meeting.

William Iovanne Jr., a co-chair, said he was proud of their transparent work with their open meetings and said the plan emphasizing community contribution and public education on this history of specific immigrant was a role model for other communities across the country. .

Mark Massaro, the sculptor chosen by the committee, said the proposal is “something that many of the public have found appropriate, more important and relevant to our changing history.”

Massaro said some 2,300 people viewed the statue favorably on Facebook.

Contacted after the meeting, Iovanne said given the response from the Historic District Commission, they would take some time to sit down and talk with the neighbors and “find the best way to move forward together with everyone. “.

“Respecting history and preserving what is there is very important to the committee, but so is the project,” he said. “We’ve taken our time so far, certainly not in a rush. We want to do it right.

The monument committee is specifically asking for permission to remove the fence around the old statue and reduce the height of the existing foundation.

In addition, approval is needed for the new construction which would include a sculpture, title plaques, four storyboards, six benches, five planters, a cobblestone plaza, lighting fixtures and a concrete walkway.

Several members of the commission also stressed the need to make the right decision given the architectural and historical importance of the park.

“Rarely have we had something of such importance and visibility,” said Susan Gotshall.

Learned okay. “We’ve hardly ever had anything of this import… right in the middle of this historic district… in one of the most important pieces of property in the neighborhood,” she said.

After some modifications, Commissioner Douglas Royalty said the historic designed landscape with its diagonal intersecting paths and grove of trees has been essentially the same for 170 years.

Regarding the size of the project, Iovanne said the area of ​​the Columbus statue was 17.4 feet on one end and 16.8 feet on the other, or 293 square feet. The new proposal with all its elements is 42 feet by 42 feet, or 1,764 square feet.

“The proposition here diminishes the integrity of the design. The feeling and association with the 19th century is diminished, ”said Royalty.

He said the new landscaping “kind of reorients” the park away from its center. “It kind of disrupts the traditional spatial relationships that the park has had over time,” Royalty said.

Another design rule is that “new additions, exterior alterations or related new construction” do not destroy the materials, features and spatial relationships that characterize the property.

“The issue is really about the landscape and the extent of the change and how it affects the character of the park,” Royalty said.

Judith Taft, a member of the public to weigh in, said the statue of the mother, father, son and daughter, as they might have appeared as immigrants, was “magnificent”, while the project itself was “wonderful”.

The scale, however, was too large and the grassy area should not be reduced, she said. Taft also didn’t see the need for the benches, as residents now bring their own chairs to the park.

Carolann Patterson said the project “appears to be a park within our park. We already have a park. Do not pave a grassy area in a city that lacks a grassy area to begin with.

Iovanne said the committee has always been aware that expanding the footprint “was something we knew to be a challenge” in the historic district, but they liked their project.

“In our opinion, compromise is the learning experience,” he said of sharing the immigrant story and emphasizing a family that resonates with all cultures.

Alex Werrell was probably the most critical of the plan.

He said it’s not a binary choice whether it is approved and the city makes history, or the sculpture is opposed, and the city is opposed to the history.

Werrell said educating park visitors about New Haven’s rich immigration history is a noble goal. He said that this is something that continues to unfold and that while it is full of opportunity, there is also discrimination.

“I think the education this statue offers to the public, children and adults alike, is pedantic,” Werrell said. He said the design looks “sentimental” and “sacrifices the depth and deeper meaning of emotional manipulation.”

He said an abstract design would be more inclusive. Werrell also suggested placing it in Paul Russo Memorial Park across from Wooster Park, if a large concrete patio is desired.

Anstress Farwell also mentioned Russo Park as a potential site repeating a 2016 plan for a street shared with DePalma Court. She also suggested passing Wooster Place through the Conte School campus.

Farwell said it is important for the commission to insist on following the National Park Service design standards as they apply to the project.


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