SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – A statue of Christopher Columbus at Coit Tower in San Francisco was removed by city crews Thursday morning.
The statue's removal comes amid an ongoing push to remove monuments to historical figures associated with racial injustice, as the nation wrestles with questions about race following the death of George Floyd and weeks of nationwide protests against police brutality.
The statue was taken down by SF Rec and Park crews and moved to storage early Thursday.
In an email, a representative from the San Francisco Arts Commission said the statue "was removed because it doesn't align with San Francisco's values or our commitment to racial justice."
The email also noted that there were safety concerns after protest flyer circulated online calling for citizens to remove the statue themselves at an action on Friday. The commission representative said, "A 2-ton statue falling from its pedestal presented a grave risk to citizens."
The SF Arts Commission issued the following official statement:
"At this important time in our country, we are all examining the ways in which institutional and structural racism permeate our society. Public art is no exception. In cities across the US, many historic monuments are being taken down because the actions and ideas symbolized do not deserve to be venerated. Representation matters. That's why we can, and should, continue to create artwork that reflects our values, and the diverse communities we serve."
The statue has been safely placed in storage, according to the Arts Commission.
"We look forward to engaging the community in a meaningful conversation around next steps for the statue, and for the site," the email said.
The spot where Columbus gazed out at the Golden Gate is now just an empty pedestal, and that pedestal drew plenty of visitors Thursday.
"I'm really happy for the native community," said a Russian Hill resident named Howard. "But also all of us that are willing these days to look at history a little more critically."
"I think we've all been waiting for the statues to come down for a long time," said San Francisco resident Estrella Armijo. "It's time we start teaching kids about the true history of what these mean."
The statue of Columbus has repeatedly been a target of vandals. Recently, it has been covered in red paint.
Not everyone was enthused about the removal of the statue.
"I'm not really happy about it," explained Dave Barsi, board president of the Italian-American Social Club. "But like you said, it's been going on a long time."
Barsi wasn't going to stand in defense of the statue. The city's only supervisor of Italian heritage actually supported the removal, adding that Italian heritage is larger than one man, even in a neighborhood where his name is everywhere.
"It is what it is," said Barsi. "There are a couple of Italians that I did talk to you today that are not happy at all about it. But I think the consensus with all of them is, 'What do they replace it with?'"
Barsi's pick for a new pedestal resident is a famous Italian American with ties to San Francisco. He said A. P. Giannini, founder of the bank that eventually became Bank of America, should be honored for his work in rebuilding the city after the 1906 earthquake.
Previously, San Francisco city officials ordered the removal of a controversial statue called "Early Days," which depicts a Native American at the feet of a Spanish cowboy and a Catholic missionary. San Francisco officials replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day back in 2018.
Earlier this week, legislative leaders said a statue of Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus in the State Capitol rotunda in Sacramento will also be removed.
"Christopher Columbus is a deeply polarizing historical figure given the deadly impact his arrival in this hemisphere had on indigenous populations," legislators said in a statement. "The continued presence of this statue in California's Capitol, where it has been since 1883, is completely out of place today."
A statue of Columbus has already been removed at San Jose City Hall.
Elsewhere, there has been a push to rename places and remove monuments honoring those who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. In Mendocino County, the city of Fort Bragg may let voters decide on renaming their community, which was named after Confederate general Braxton Bragg.
On Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) ordered the removal four portraits at the Capitol of former Speakers of the House who served in the Confederacy.
Wilson Walker contributed to this story.
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