Since 1892 the marble statue of Christopher Columbus has stood atop its 70-foot granite column, stately staring downtown. For over a century of that period Columbus stood isolated while the maddening, honking traffic swirled at his feet.
On the southwestern corner of Central Park was a “Grand Circle” fronting the Eighth Avenue entrance. Like the circular traffic rotary around the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile in Paris, it was intended to create a wide, open vista as visitors approached the park.
As the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas neared, the Italian-American newspaper Il Progresso initiated a fund raising campaign for a monument to be erected in the center of the circle. Dedicated in the Fall of 1892, it was created by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo. Bronze rostra, or “ships’ beaks,” decorate the column, representing the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria – echoing the rostra of captured ships that decorated the Roman Forum. Near the base, a marble angel contemplates a globe.
The Columbus Monument is the point from which all distances from New York City are measured. Today Christopher Columbus no longer stands alone in traffic and New Yorkers have gained a welcomed refuge from the stress of the city.