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Italian American group was allowed to borrow Columbus statue to clean it

The Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans returned the spiffed-up statue on Tuesday.

Before and after photo of Arrigo Park’s Christopher Columbus statue that was restored by the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans.
Before and after photo of Arrigo Park’s Christopher Columbus statue that was restored by the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans.
Provided.

The Christopher Columbus statue removed last year from Arrigo Park has been in storage with the Chicago Park District ever since.

Except for the last 10 days, that is.

Turns out, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans was allowed to remove the statue from the park district warehouse for cleaning, the group’s president said.

Ron Onesti, president of the civic committee, told the Sun-Times on Tuesday his group was granted access to the statue because of a lawsuit it has against the park district. They found the graffiti-covered statue lying on its side, and decided to get it cleaned.

Onesti, who personally funded the restoration, said it took three days and couldn’t be done in the warehouse because of how it was positioned.

But the statue did more than just get a nice makeover while it was away.

On Monday, hours after the Columbus Day Parade downtown, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans showed off the statue to a group of people gathered in Stone Park, according to ABC 7 Chicago. People cheered as it was unveiled and took photos of the freshly cleaned statue.

Onesti told the Sun-Times Tuesday that “in the interest of public safety,” he hadn’t told anyone before then that they had the statue.

Neither Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office nor the Chicago Park District would respond Tuesday when asked about the loan of the statue or the Italian American group displaying it on Columbus Day.

“We were graciously given access to the Arrigo Park and Grant Park statues and allowed to inspect them,” Onesti had said Monday after the parade. “The Chicago Park District allowed us to take the monument into our possession for a short while until the litigation winds its course. So we restored the Arrigo Park statue back to its pristine state.”

The city removed the Arrigo Park statue and one in Grant Park over a year ago after intense protests and clashes with Chicago police.

After that, in response to continued demands to remove monuments of controversial figures, city launched the Chicago Monuments Project. The objective of the project is to reassess its public statues and monuments, including the Columbus statues. The group issued a list of 41 monuments and statues it deemed “problematic” but it remains an ongoing effort.

Since the removal of the Arrigo Park statue, Onesti’s group has argued for its return, citing its cultural significance to Italian Americans.

In July, in the days leading to the anniversary of the removals, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Park District, arguing it breached a 50-year-old contract when the statue was removed.

“The Arrigo Park statue of piazza was put into place using the pennies, nickels and dimes collected from the Italian American community,” Onesti said. “It is in their honor that our community has fought and will continue to fight until its triumphant and permanent return.”

Asked Monday whether the Chicago Monuments Project would soon issue a report, the mayor’s press secretary issued this statement:

“Like other mayors and leaders across the country following the ongoing reckoning we are having as a society, Mayor Lightfoot was committed to creating a platform for residents to engage in civic dialogue about Chicago’s history,” a spokesman for the mayor’s office said Monday. “The City’s efforts throughout this process have not been about a single statue or mural, but about creating a formal process that will reflect our values and elevate our rich history and diversity.”

A fence with the U.S. and Italian flags cover the area where a Christopher Columbus statue once stood at Arrigo Park in Little Italy on Oct. 8, 2020.
A fence with the U.S. and Italian flags cover the area where a Christopher Columbus statue once stood at Arrigo Park in Little Italy on Oct. 8, 2020.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file photo