A laborious and sometimes controversial process to replace the long-gone Christopher Columbus statue in Wooster Square Park took a big step closer to completion as alders favorably recommended a new Italian-American-heritage-celebrating monument, which could cost $250,000 in privately raised funds to build.
The Board of Alders City Services and Environmental Policy (CSEP) Committee issued that recommendation on Thursday evening during its latest meeting in the Aldermanic Chamber on the second floor of City Hall.
The stones that once held up a statue of Columbus have remained unburdened since the removal of the original sculpture in June 2020, which occurred after protests called attention to the colonizer’s enslavement and murder of many Native Taino people.
While a contingent of Indigenous activists and other New Haveners celebrated the statue’s downfall, some local Italian-Americans expressed outrage at the removal of a figure whom they heralded as a symbol of culture. The city has since renamed “Columbus Day” to “Italian Heritage Day,” and sought to replace Columbus’ image with a statue that would continue to honor Italian-American immigrants.
The Wooster Square Monument Committee eventually selected a statue design from Branford-based artist Marc Massaro, which features a bronze casting of a nuclear Italian-American family, including a mother and father with their son, pointing upwards, and daughter, carrying a book and wearing a cross.
The Monument Committee ultimately decided to keep the entire Columbus-less stone base intact and statueless, while positioning the new bronze statue beside it as a separate structure.
These pieces will come together to form “a beautiful work of art that ties the old with the new” and offers a “narrative of immigration that is welcoming to all,” Bill Iovanne, the co-chair of the Wooster Square Monument Committee, told alders on Thursday.
Read more about the city’s sculpture-endorsing submission to the Board of Alders here.
On Thursday night, CSEP Committee Chair and East Rock Alder Anna Festa praised the Monument Committee and city officials for making it through a “challenging process.” She acknowledged Iovanne’s co-chair, Laura Luzzi, who died last month and who had put multiple years of effort into the monument proposal.
Festa spoke to her own dismay about the removal of the Columbus statue “as the daughter of an Italian immigrant who came to this country with a suitcase of dreams.”
“When that statue came down, so did the Italian-American community,” Festa said.
She asked Iovanne about the proposed statue’s “financial impact for the city.”
“The city will hold no financial impact,” Iovanne replied. If the monument is approved by the full Board of Alders, the committee will begin fundraising the anticipated cost of $250,000 from private donations.
A handful of Italian-American community members testified in support of the new monument. Frank Gargano, the president of the St. Andrew’s Society, said he continues to feel outraged by the removal of Columbus but that the new statue would be an “excellent replacement.”
The alders unanimously voted to favorably recommend the new statue to the full Board of Alders. Next, the Board of Alders will take up the matter for further deliberations and a potential final vote.