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Nothing inevitable about the name of Christopher Columbus Park; it could have been named for a downtown banker

In his defense of Christopher Columbus Park and the Columbus statue yesterday, state Rep. Aaron Michlewitz made it sound like both projects were always meant to honor the proud "North End people" of Italian descent, and that nothing should be done to either without their consent.

In fact, the park's origins have little to do with the good people of the North End and more to do with efforts by the then BRA and some downtown businessmen to do something about the decayed morass of ramshackle buildings and train tracks along the waterfront where Atlantic Avenue curves into the North End.

When the park was formally dedicated on May 9, 1976 - in time for the city's celebrations of the American bicentennial - BRA Director Robert Kenney had somebody else in mind for the park: Frank S. Christian, a senior vice president at New England Merchants National Bank and chairman of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, who had begun advocating for a new waterfront of residences and parks and other attractions in 1959.

In 1961, Christian raised $200,000 for a study to bolster his ideas, which the BRA then adopted in 1964. Christian also helped finance a new produce marketplace in Everett for the remaining produce vendors in the area to move to, so their tired buildings could be torn down, and he helped convince the New England Aquarium to move to its current location on what was then called Central Wharf.

So when Kenney spoke at the park's formal opening, he said:

To commemorate Mr. Christian's tireless efforts on behalf of waterfront renewal, the BRA is dedicating the new Waterfront Park on Atlantic Avenue to his memory.

Christian did not live to see the dedication - he died in 1970.

The 4.5-acre park - created in part with a federal grant and designed by Sasaki Associates of Watertown - remained simply Waterfront Park through at least 1979. Listings for events as part of the city's former Summerthing arts festival all refer to Waterfront Park. Waterfront Park was also designated as the last stop on the city's official Walk to the Sea, a sort of Freedom Trail meant to link Government Center to the water.

Then Arthur Stivaletta happened.

Stivaletta was not a North End resident, he lived in Dedham. But he was well known locally, and even nationally, for his pro-war "Wake Up, America" campaign. In 1969, he hired a plane to drop 10,000 fliers in support of the war in Vietnam over an anti-war rally on the Common. Then, a few months later, he organized a pro-war rally - featuring Bob Hope, no less - at City Hall Plaza that attracted some 20,000 people.

Stivaletta began a campaign to rename the park as Christopher Columbus Park, and he commissioned a statue - the one that had its head lopped off this week - to be placed there. The statue was placed in the park in 1979 and it was formally re-named on Oct. 21, 1979, in a ceremony led by Mayor Kevin White, with comments by North End City Councilor Fred Langone and former Gov. John Volpe.

Although he didn't live anywhere near the park, Stivaletta made a point of visiting it for political protests. In 1979, a month after the park's name was changed, he burned an Iranian flag in front of the Columbus statue. In 1981, he burned a Soviet flag there.

In 1999, William Fowler, president of the Massachusetts Historical Society, called the statue a mistake, starting with the fact that many of the Sicilians who made up most of the Italian migration to the North End were fishermen and Columbus never fished a day in his life. But he also objected to the statue - and the nearby trellis - because it blocks access to the water, which missed the whole point of the spot's history as a wharf and place for fishermen to gather. He proposed renaming the park as T Wharf Park, in honor of that history, and the wharf next to Long Wharf where fishing boats once tied up.

H/t Adam Balsam for prompting this all.

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Comments

All the people he brought were illegal immigrants looking for a better life.
They brought their culture and overtook others already established cultures...it happens throughout history.
We should remove all statues and rename all parks and streets after numbers and letters.

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Read even a 1950s history book from Texas and you would learn better facts about Columbus.

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No need for name calling, try decaf.

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95% of us would be dead by now.

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Things change.

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Nice sentiment but, Columbus wasn’t an immigrant.

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It's semantics.
Most South Americans speak Spanish because uninvited people decided to stay and take over. And Columbus was the first to bring them.
There aren't many cultures on Earth where the original peoples culture has been there from Day one, It's what we do.

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You mean like park names?

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Like park names.

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My two cents, I can't think of a better name for the park than to name it after the Arawaks.

Yes, there should be a statue to celebrate Italians but I think this park with its history should be named after the people who were most impacted by it's current namesake.

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This is a great write up. Nice work.

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“I just can’t see a picture of Martin Luther King without thinking, you know, that man’s terrible” -- First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in taped 1963 interview

When the tapes of vile, racist comments by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy were released in 2007, daughter Caroline Kennedy (sometimes Schlossberg) and the Kennedy media groupies tried to dismiss the scandal as simply, "the First Lady's antiquated views." Do the same rules apply to Mr. Columbus? Will Joe K. III lead the call to eliminate any references to Jackie at the JFK Library? Or more importantly, will Joe K. III call for the demolition of the JFK Library now that we know that married JFK was carrying on an affair with a communist East German spy while secretly wiretapping Rev. Dr. King in an effort to catch him in adultery in the hopes of derailing the Civil Rights movement? I can't wait for someone to ask Joe K. III to elaborate.

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This is why you don't sniff glue.

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I disagree that Jackie Kennedy’s comments re MLK were racist. She had been told about
his sexually promiscuous behavior. Like most, she was shocked by what she heard. He is
still an iconic figure in American civil rights history. We really don’t know how much Mrs.
Kennedy knew about her husband’s adultery
, but it’s likely she knew enough to be repulsed
by the subject, and disgusted by the gossip she heard about MLK. I recall listening to that
tape when it first came out. Just because MLK was African American, does not mean that
all of his character was above reproach. Mrs. Kennedy disliked him for reasons that had nothing to do with bigotry.

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Put the Columbus statue on one of the Harbor islands on Boston harbor, away from potential vandals. this way when tourist visit the islands they can see a piece of history.

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So let’s name it Arthur Stivaletta Was A Moron Park.

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...means ‘“little boot” erect a statue of Caligula.

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"...what had become a decayed morass of ramshackle and often abandoned buildings and train tracks along the waterfront where Atlantic Avenue curves into the North End."

Atlantic Avenue originally ran straight along the waterfront, from Rowes Wharf to the vicinity of Fleet Street in the North End. When it was built in the 1870s, it was laid out as a direct line between those two points of land, cutting off the cove that was there before. It went straight through the present site of Harbor Towers, through part of the site of the Aquarium parking garage where Don Chiarofaro wants to build a skyscraper, and cut through where the front door of the Marriott Long Wharf is today. There is still a remnant of the old street between the Aquarium and the Marriott, in front of the Legal Sea Foods.

A major reason to build Atlantic Avenue was to allow for a freight railroad, the Union Freight Railroad. The UFRR went right down the middle of the street, and was the only direct rail connection between South Station and North Station. But in its nearly 100-year history, it never carried a passenger train. There were sidings extending out onto all the wharves.

Later in the 1800s, streetcar tracks were built in the street, parallel to the freight railroad; and in 1901 the Elevated was built above the street. So in some places there were 4 tracks in the street, and 2 in the air.

And part of the site of Waterfront Park/Christopher Columbus Park/or whatever you want to call it Park was occupied by freight yards for the UFRR, right up to 1970.

The Waterfront Urban Renewal Plan of the early 1970s moved Atlantic Ave. inland a few hundred feet, so that it paralleled the then-elevated Central Artery. This made lots available for development right along the waterfront, the lots that became Harbor Towers and the Marriott. And this plan created the curve in Atlantic Ave., in front of the Mercantile Wharf building. [Mercantile Wharf had indeed been a wharf, on the waterfront, before Atlantic Ave. was built.]

The park was another part of the plan. Some of the rail yards became part of the park, as did park some 2-story wooden warehouses or sheds, used for meat and produce. One of those warehouses, Clinton Market, burned in a spectacular fire in 1971. The smoke was visible for miles, thick black smoke that they said was fueled by the turkey fat that had been absorbed into the wooden floors and walls.

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It sure looks that way when I walk through that area.

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Simple answer, yes, Atlantic Avenue chopped Commercial Wharf into two pieces.

It also chopped a number of other wharves into pieces, but Commercial Wharf is the only one with both pieces still remaining. Central Wharf, which begins next to the old Custom House (now a Marriott), once extended to where the Aquarium is today.

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Charles Bahne fills us in on history of Boston. Bravo.

Your recall ability is amazing..

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How about putting up a statue of Lieutenant Columbo instead? Equally relevant to the North End, almost as legendary, and a better role model for us all.

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