Columbus Circle is a traffic circle and heavily trafficked intersection in the New York City borough of Manhattan, located at the intersection of Eighth Avenue, Broadway, Central Park South (West 59th Street), and Central Park West, at the southwest corner of Central Park. The circle is the point from which official highway distances from New York City are measured, as well as the center of the 25 miles (40 km) restricted-travel area for C-2 visa holders.
The circle is named after the monument of Christopher Columbus in the center, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The name is also used for the neighborhood that surrounds the circle for a few blocks in each direction. To the southwest of the circle lies Hell's Kitchen (also known as "Clinton"), to the southeast is the Theater District, and to the north is the Upper West Side.
The 76-foot (23 m) Columbus Column monument at the center of the circle, created by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo, consists of a 14-foot (4.3 m) marble statue of Columbus atop a 27.5-foot (8.4 m) granite rostral column on a four-stepped granite pedestal. The column is decorated with bronze reliefs representing Columbus' ships: the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María, although actually they are Roman galleys instead of caravels. Its pedestal features an angel holding a globe.
The monument was one of three planned as part of the city's 1892 commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus' landing in the Americas. Originally, the monument was planned to be located in Bowling Green or somewhere else in lower Manhattan. By the time Russo's plan was decided upon in 1890, a commission of Italian businessmen from around the United States had contributed $12,000 of the $20,000 needed to build the statue (equivalent to $335,000 of the $558,000 cost in modern dollars). The statue was constructed with funds raised by Il Progresso, a New York City-based Italian-language newspaper.
Russo created parts of the Columbus Column in his Rome studio and in other workshops in Italy; the bronze elements were cast in the Nelli Foundry. The completed column was shipped to the United States in September 1892, to be placed within the "circle at Fifty-ninth Street and Eighth Avenue". Once the statue arrived in Manhattan, it was quickly transported to the circle. The monument was officially unveiled with a ceremony on October 13, 1892, as part of the 400th anniversary celebrations.:287
During the construction of the IND Eighth Avenue Line (A, B, C, and D trains) underneath the circle in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Columbus statue was shored up with temporary supports. Even so, the statue was shifted two inches north from its original position, and the top of the statue tilted 1.5 inches (3.8 cm). As a result, the statue was repaired and cleaned in 1934. The monument received some retouching in 1992 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage, and in turn, the monument's own 100th anniversary.:288 It was also rededicated that year.
Amid the 2017 monument controversies in the United States, an issue arose over the statue due to criticism of Columbus's mistreatment of the native people on Hispaniola. In August of that year, the far-right Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, had resulted in one death and several injuries. Following that rally, Mayor Bill de Blasio commissioned a "90-day review" of possibly "hateful" monuments across the city to determine if any of them, including the Columbus Column, warranted either removal or recontextualization (e.g. by explanatory plaques). Although calls to remove the monument were supported by those criticizing Columbus's actions, the proposed removal was opposed by some sectors of the city's Italian American community and Columbus Day Parade organizers. After two instances of vandalism in September 2017, including one incident where the statue was defaced with red paint, full-time security measures were put around the column ahead of the year's parade.
On September 20, 2018, in a unanimous decision, the New York State Board of Historic Preservation voted to place the monument on the state historic register, and nominate it to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), due to its significance. Two months later the National Park Service added the monument to the NRHP.
The traffic circle, located at Eighth Avenue/Central Park West, Broadway, and 59th Street/Central Park South, was designed as part of Frederick Law Olmsted's 1857 vision for Central Park, which included a rotary on the southwest corner of the park. It abuts the Merchant's Gate, one of the park's eighteen major gates. Similar plazas were planned at the southeast corner of the park (now Grand Army Plaza), the northeast corner (Duke Ellington Circle), and the northwest corner (Frederick Douglass Circle). Clearing of the land area for the circle started in 1868.:6 The actual circle was approved two years later.:6
Columbus Circle was originally known generically as "The Circle". An 1871 account of the park referred to the roundabout as a "grand circle". After the 1892 installation of the Columbus Column in the circle's center, it became known as "Columbus Circle",:287:124 although its other names were also used through the 1900s.
By 1901, construction on the first subway line of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (now the IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line, used by the 1, 2, and 3 trains) required the excavation of the circle, and the column and streetcar tracks through the area were put on temporary wooden stilts. As part of the subway line's construction, the 59th Street–Columbus Circle station was built underneath the circle.:288 During construction, traffic in the circle was so dangerous that the Municipal Art Society proposed redesigning the roundabout. By February 1904, the station underneath was largely complete, and service on the subway line began on October 27, 1904. The station only served local trains; express trains bypassed the station.:162–191 The platforms of the IRT subway station were lengthened in 1957–1959, requiring further excavations around Columbus Circle.
An additional subway line—the Independent Subway System (IND)'s Eighth Avenue Line, serving the present-day A, B, C, and D trains—was built starting in 1925. At Columbus Circle, workers had to be careful to not disrupt the existing IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line or Columbus Circle overhead. The Columbus monument was shored up during construction, and obstructions to traffic were minimized. The line, which opened in 1932, contains a 4-track, 3-platform express station at 59th Street–Columbus Circle, underneath the original IRT station. The IND station were designed as a single transit hub under Columbus Circle.
Eno's traffic plan
In November 1904, due to the high speeds of cars passing through the circle, the New York City Police Department added tightly spaced electric lights on the inner side of the circle, surrounding the column.
The current circle was redesigned in 1905 by William Phelps Eno, a businessman who pioneered many early innovations in road safety and traffic control. In a 1920 book, Eno writes that prior to the implementation of his plan, traffic went around the circle in both directions, causing accidents almost daily. The 1905 plan, which he regarded as temporary, created a counterclockwise traffic pattern with a "safety zone" in the center of the circle for cars stopping; however, the circle was too narrow for the normal flow of traffic. Eno also wrote of a permanent plan, with the safety zones on the outside as well as clearly delineated pedestrian crossings. The redesign marked the first true one-way traffic circle to be constructed anywhere, implementing the ideas of Eugène Hénard. In this second scheme, the public space within the circle, around the monument, was almost as small as the monument's base.
The rotary traffic plan was not successful. A New York Times article in June 1929 stated that the "Christopher Columbus [monument] is safe and serene, but he's the only thing in the Circle that is." At the time, there were eight entrance and exit points to Columbus Circle: two each from 59th Street/Central Park South, to the west and east; Broadway, to the northwest and southeast; Eighth Avenue/Central Park West, to the south and north; and within Central Park to the northeast. Moreover, streetcars on the former three streets did not go counterclockwise around the rotary, but rather, both tracks of all three streetcar routes went around one side of the monument, creating frequent conflicts between streetcars and automobiles using the rotary in opposite directions. The police officers patrolling the circle had to manage the 58,000 cars that entered Columbus Circle every 12 hours. As part of a plan to reorganize traffic in the "Columbus-Central Park Zone", Eno's circular-traffic plan was abolished in November 1929, and traffic was allowed to go around the circle in both directions. Central Park West, a one-way street that formerly carried southbound traffic into the circle, was now one-way northbound. The bidirectional entrance roads into Central Park, which fed into northbound and eastbound West Drive, were both changed to one-way streets because West Drive had been changed from bidirectional to one-way southbound and eastbound. Traffic going straight through Columbus Circle was forced to go around the left side of the monument, while any traffic making turns from the circle had to go counterclockwise around the rotary using the right side.
Mid-20th century configurations
The bidirectional traffic pattern through Columbus Circle failed to eliminate congestion. In 1941, engineers with the New York City Parks Department and the Manhattan Borough President's office formed a tentative agreement to redesign Columbus Circle yet again. "Local" and "express" lanes would segregate north-south traffic passing within the circle. Local north-south traffic and all east-west traffic would go around the circle's perimeter in a counterclockwise direction, along a 45-foot-long (14 m) roadway. Through north-south traffic on Broadway, Eighth Avenue, and Central Park West would use two 71-foot-wide (22 m) divided roadways with 5-foot-wide (1.5 m) landscaped medians, running in chords on either side of the Columbus monument. Traffic from southbound Broadway and northbound Eighth Avenue would use the western chord, and northbound Broadway and southbound Central Park West would use the eastern chord. The center of the circle would be refurbished with a tree-lined plaza, and pedestrian traffic from the north and south would be able to pass through the center of the circle. The exit into Columbus Circle from West Drive would be eliminated, and the entrance to West Drive would be relocated. In a related development, the 59th Street trolley route's tracks would be removed. This was crucial to the reorganization of the circle, as the trolley had already been discontinued.
The proposed reorganization of Columbus Circle was widely praised by civic groups and city officials. On the other hand, William Phelps Eno advocated for a return to his original 1905 proposal. However, the plan still had some issues, the largest of which was that traffic traveling on Broadway in either direction would be routed onto Eighth Avenue or Central Park West, and vice versa.
The reconfiguration of the circle was deferred due to World War II. The trolley routes that ran through Columbus Circle were discontinued in 1946, but the bus routes that replaced the trolley lines took the same convoluted paths through the circle. In June 1949, it was announced that the reconstruction of Columbus Circle would finally begin. Work on removing the abandoned trolley tracks commenced in August. In conjunction with Columbus Circle's rehabilitation, the New York City Department of Transportation designed a variable traffic light system for the circle. The project was originally set to be complete by November 1949 at a cost of $100,000. However, delays arose due to the need to maintain traffic flows through the circle during construction. The project was ultimately completed that December.
The entirety of Eighth Avenue south of Columbus Circle was converted to northbound-only traffic in 1950. In 1956, in preparation for the opening of the New York Coliseum on Columbus Circle's west side, traffic on Central Park West and Broadway was rearranged. Central Park West was made northbound-only for a short segment north of the circle, and two blocks of Broadway south of the circle were converted to southbound-only. A new northbound roadway was cut through the southern tip of the center traffic island that contained the statue, from Eighth Avenue to the eastern chord. At the same time, the eastern chord was converted to northbound-only.
1990s and 2000s renovation
By the late 20th century, it was regarded as one of the most inhospitable of the city's major intersections, as the interior circle was being used for motorcycle parking, and the circle as a whole was hard for pedestrians to cross. In 1979, noted architecture critic Paul Goldberger said that the intersection was "a chaotic jumble of streets that can be crossed in about 50 different ways—all of them wrong."
In 1987, the city awarded a $20 million contract to Olin Partnership and Vollmer Associates to create a new design for the circle. The circle was refurbished in 1991–1992 as part of the 500th-anniversary celebration of Columbus's arrival in the Americas.:288 In 1998, as a result of the study, the circular-traffic plan was reinstated, with all traffic going around the circle in a counterclockwise direction. The center of the circle was planned for further renovations, with a proposed park 200 feet (61 m) across.
The design for a full renovation of the circle was finalized in 2001. The project started in 2003, and was completed in 2005. It included a new water fountain by Water Entertainment Technologies, who also designed the Fountains of Bellagio; benches made of ipe wood; and plantings encircling the monument. The fountain, the main part of the reconstructed circle, contains 99 jets that periodically change in force and speed, with effects ranging between "swollen river, a rushing brook, a driving rain or a gentle shower". The inner circle is about 36,000 square feet (3,300 m2), while the outer circle is around 148,000 square feet (13,700 m2). The redesign was the recipient of the 2006 American Society of Landscape Architects’ General Design Award Of Honor. In 2007 Columbus Circle was awarded the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence silver medal.
As a geographic center
Columbus Circle is the traditional municipal zero-mile point from which all official distances are measured, although Google Maps uses New York City Hall for this purpose. For decades, Hagstrom sold maps that showed the areas within 25 miles (40 km) or 75 miles (121 km) from Columbus Circle.
The travel area for recipients of a C-2 visa, which is issued for the purpose of immediate and continuous transit to or from the headquarters of the United Nations, is limited to a 25-mile radius of Columbus Circle. The same circle coincidentally defines the city's "film zone" that local unions operate in, a counterpart to Los Angeles' studio zone. The New York City government employee handbook considers a trip beyond a 75-mile radius from Columbus Circle as long-distance travel.
To the west of the circle is a superblock spanning two streets, bounded by Broadway, 60th Street, Ninth Avenue, 58th Street, and Eighth Avenue. The superblock was formerly two separate blocks.:914 From 1902 to 1954, the Majestic Theatre occupied the more southerly of the two blocks.
Robert Moses demapped 59th Street through the block during the New York Coliseum's construction from 1954 to 1956.:914 The construction project, in turn, was the culmination of an effort to remove San Juan Hill, the slum that had been located at the site. Until the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was built in Hell's Kitchen in the 1980s, the Coliseum was the primary event venue for New York City.:914 By 1985, there were plans to replace the Coliseum, and after a series of delays, the Coliseum was demolished in 2000.
Since 2003, the site has been occupied by Time Warner Center, the world headquarters of the Time Warner corporation.:310 The center consists of a pair of 750-foot (230 m) towers 53 stories high. The complex also hosts the Shops at Columbus Circle mall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the New York City studio headquarters of CNN, and the Mandarin Oriental, New York hotel.:1319 The mall inside the complex includes prestigious restaurants in the center such as Landmarc, Per Se and Masa. Time Warner also paid for the portion of the new interior circle that directly faces the Time Warner Center.
On the north side of Columbus Circle, bounded by Broadway, Central Park West, and 61st Street, is the Trump International Hotel and Tower, with its noted steel globe, which had been an office tower, the headquarters of the Gulf+Western conglomerate, which was stripped to its steel skeleton and reclad in a new facade. The Gulf and Western Building, a 44-story building completed in 1969:351 or 1970, filed for bankruptcy in 1991. In 1994, Donald Trump announced his plans to convert the building into a mixed-purpose hotel and condominium units, with hotel rooms below the 14th floor and condominiums above that floor. Renovations started in 1995 after Gulf and Western's lease lapsed and Trump took control of the building. That renovation was complete by 1997.:288
On the northeast lies the Merchant's Gate to Central Park, dominated by the USS Maine National Monument. The USS Maine monument was designed by Harold Van Buren Magonigle and sculpted by Attilio Piccirilli, who did the colossal group and figures, and Charles Keck, who was responsible for the "In Memoriam" plaque. An imposing Beaux-Arts edifice of marble and gilded bronze, it was dedicated in 1913 as a memorial to sailors killed aboard the battleship USS Maine, whose mysterious 1898 explosion in Havana harbor precipitated the Spanish–American War.
Actors' Equity was founded in 1913 in the old Pabst Grand Circle Hotel, located at 2 Columbus Circle on the southern side of the circle. The building was torn down in 1960 in order to construct a distinctive new International Modernist tower designed by architect Edward Durrell Stone to house the Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art. Vacant since the city's Department of Cultural Affairs departed in 1998, it was listed as one of the World Monuments Fund's "100 most endangered sites" in 2006. After a renovation by architect Brad Cloepfil, the building became the new home for Museum of Arts and Design in 2008.:310:288, 868 Its radical transformation was controversial for the failure of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to hold hearings on its worthiness for designation.
240 Central Park South, a balconied moderne apartment building across Broadway from the museum, is on the southeast side of the circle. Built in 1941, it is a city-designated landmark with a new addition, a green roof, atop its retail base.:128
3, 4, 5, and 6 Columbus Circle
5 Columbus Circle (also known by its address, 1790 Broadway), is a 286-foot (87 m), 20-story tower on the southeast corner of Broadway and 58th Street. It was originally built as the headquarters of the United States Rubber Company (U.S. Rubber) in 1912.:308 It was part of Broadway's "Automobile Row" during the early 20th century. U.S. Rubber moved to a new headquarters in 1940, and the building was sold several times before being acquired by the West Side Federal Savings and Loan Association. The First Nationwide Savings Bank, which acquired the West Side Federal Savings bank, sold the building in 1985 to 1790 Broadway Associates, its current owners. The lobby contains part of an under-construction flagship store for Nordstrom, which is planned to open in 2019; the 360,000-square-foot (33,000 m2) store itself would be located under three buildings on the block.
Between Eighth Avenue and Broadway on the south side of 58th Street is 3 Columbus Circle (also 1775 Broadway), a 310-foot (94 m), 26-story tower. It is occupied by Young & Rubicam, Bank of America, Chase Bank, and Gilder Gagnon Howe & Co. The tower sits atop a 3-story structure called the Colonnade Building. The first 3 stories were built in 1923 and the top 23 stories were added as part of a large expansion in 1927–1928.:307 During the expansion, the original building's three-story Ionic supports were kept. The new expansion, designed by Shreve & Lamb,:307 hosted General Motors' headquarters from 1927 to 1968. In 1969, Midtown Realty purchased the building's lease, and in 1980, acquired the land. Half of the building was leased by Bankers Trust until the late 1980s, and Newsweek leased a third of the building from 1994 until 2006. When the Moinian Group purchased the building in 2000, the building assumed its current name; a subsequent renovation refurbished the exterior and removed all remnants of the Colonnade Building. A neon sign for CNN was located on the roof of the building from the mid-2000s to 2015. An annex of Nordstrom for menswear has opened at the base of 3 Columbus Circle.
4 Columbus Circle, an eight-story low-rise located at 989 Eighth Avenue at the southwest corner of the intersection with 58th Street, was built in the late 1980s. Swanke Hayden Connell Architects designed the building, which houses the furniture company Steelcase on the upper floors and a Duane Reade and a Starbucks on the ground floor. Cerberus Capital Management bought the building in 2006 for $82.9 million. In 2011, it was sold to German real estate firm GLL Real Estate Partners for $96.5 million.
Directly to the west is 6 Columbus Circle, an 88-room, 12-floor boutique hotel called 6 Columbus. Acquired by the Pomeranc Group in 2007, the hotel was put on sale in December 2015. A 700-foot-tall (210 m) tower is planned for the site.
The M5, M7, M10, M20 and M104 buses all serve the circle, with the M5, M7, M20 and M104 providing through service and the southbound M10 terminating near the circle. Under the circle is the New York City Subway's 59th Street–Columbus Circle station, served by the 1, 2, A, B, C, and D trains.
In popular culture
Columbus Circle was also featured in the 1954 romantic comedy film It Should Happen to You. In the film, Judy Holliday's character, Gladys Glover, began her quest for fame by renting a large billboard overlooking Columbus Circle, on which she had her name emblazoned.
- These directions are relative to Manhattan's street grid, which is rotated 29 degrees clockwise from geographic north. So for instance, Broadway really points north and south, while Eighth Avenue/Central Park West points south-southwest and north-northeast respectively.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Columbus Circle.|
- NYC Parks Department - Columbus Circle
- NYC Parks Department - Columbus Monument
- Traffic camera facing Columbus Circle
- Smithsonian's Inventory of American Sculpture Entry