SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) –- After hours of contentious and boisterous debate, the San Jose City Council late Tuesday night voted to remove a controversial Christopher Columbus statue from the City Hall lobby.
The statue of Columbus has taken a prominent place at San Jose’s City Hall since the 1950’s.
Much of Tuesday night’s debate came when city officials suggested places to put the statue. However, every suggestion aroused opposition.
One idea was to put it at the San Jose Mineta Airport, but that was considered too controversial. No local museum reportedly wants it. Finally, the council members gave leaders of the local Italian-American community six weeks to find a suitable location before the statue is simply placed into storage.
Among those who supported the statue’s removal was San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.
“Columbus never landed in the Alviso Marina. So there is no policy basis for keeping a statue of somebody who was not from San Jose in City Hall,” said Liccardo.
The marble statue, hand carved in Italy, was a gift to the city of San Jose from Italian-American groups in 1958.
Some members of those same groups still want the statue to stay.
“It’s kind of a setback in our culture. Columbus is renown throughout the world, not just in Italy,” said Tony Zerbo with the Italian American Heritage Foundation. “Italian Americans here, in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area are very proud of that.”
But over the decades, the statue has become a focal point in San Jose culture wars.
While some view Columbus as a brave explorer, others see him as a ruthless colonizer.
The statue has been attacked and pieced back together twice.
“Look, I’m Italian American. I think my grandfather was a member of the group that donated it,” said Liccardo. “But I think that our understanding of history evolves as we learn more.”
San Jose has a history of public art controversy.
A statue of Thomas Fallon raising the American flag over San Jose during the war with Mexico was kept in crates for years because it offended Mexican Americans.
Another statue of an Aztec plumed serpent was commissioned to provide cultural balance.
Statue backers say they expected more support from Liccardo.
“I’m really disappointed in him, he’s supposed to be our leader in the Italian American community,” said Zerbo.