It has taken $7 million to reach this point, but it appears the final chapter in the sorry history of a controversial Christopher Columbus statue may be at hand.
A giant statue of the world’s most famous explorer sits in hundreds of individual pieces, rusting away in a vacant lot outside San Juan.
The bronze statue “Birth of a New World” was a gift to the people of the Western Hemisphere, says sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, former president of the Russian Academy of Arts. He built it to mark the 500th anniversary of the explorer’s arrival in this hemisphere.
The statue stands 30 stories, about the same as the Statue of Liberty on its pedestal.
But after several U.S. cities, including New York, Baltimore, Miami and Columbus, Ohio, refused the statue, it was brought to Puerto Rico in 1999 to anchor what were then plans for a new waterfront park in nearby Catano.
It is said Puerto Rico is the only part of the U.S. where Columbus actually came ashore, so it would seem to make sense to erect the statue here.
But since its arrival, the lofty dreams of having this 660-ton statue assembled in a beautiful new park have crashed.
First, the Federal Aviation Administration questioned whether the statue would pose a threat to landing aircraft at an airport near the park. Next, a costly lawsuit over plans to demolish dozens of homes to make way for the statue at another site derailed those plans. Then, the former Catano mayor, who used city funds to ship the statue here, was voted out of office.
A few days ago, the new mayor said if someone wanted to take the statue off his hands, to give him a ring.
Otherwise, the plan is to leave Columbus where he is.
The city isn’t going to spend another dime on the project, he said, there are too many other needs in Catano.
There’s no public support for reviving the plan either, he added.
It’s a sad ending, mirroring the last days of Columbus himself; one of the most controversial figures in history.
Columbus died a broken man, and not knowing the magnitude of his exploration.
Now, the dream of a larger-than-life statue bearing his likeness is dying in 2,700 individual pieces decaying on the ground with a promise that was never fully realized.