Denver’s Italian-American community fights to keep Columbus Park from being renamed

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DENVER — All across the country, Christopher Columbus statues have been toppled to the ground.

Denver was no exception.

However, the city’s statue in Civic Center Park wasn’t the only reference to Columbus that is possibly being erased from our city’s landscape.

Denver City Councilmember Amanda Sandoval is leading the push to rename north Denver’s Columbus Park.

Since the 1930s, most Italian-Americans in Denver have known the park as Columbus Park.

However, many Hispanics have called it La Raza Park.

The park was a focal point of Denver’s Chicano movement in the 1970s when Hispanics were fighting to rename the park.

“Fifty years ago there was tear gas at the park — the police versus the Chicanos,” said Sandoval.

Sandoval is leading a petition effort to have the name of the park officially changed to La Raza Park.

Until last week, both names were represented in the park, but now the sign bearing the name ‘Columbus Park’ is gone.

This city temporarily removed the sign to keep it from being vandalized while its future is debated.

“I was crying so hard the other day, I couldn’t even function,” said Barbara Palaze, an Italian-American who grew up in the neighborhood and would visit the swimming pool at Columbus Park as a little girl.

“It’s part of history. You can’t change it, so what are you going to do? Try and hide it?” asked George Vendegnia, an Italian-American who also grew up in the neighborhood and remembers a number of efforts to change the name over the past several decades.

“It’s like the third time it’s happened. I thought, ‘Why don’t they leave it alone?’ It’s history. History is history. They want to change it and they shouldn’t,” said Vendegnia. “This isn’t about Christopher Columbus. This is about the Italian community in this town.”

Palaze is devastated because she says she knows one of the families that donated the land for the park. She says it was donated under one condition.*

“There was a stipulation that if the name changes, the park goes back to the family,” she said. “We now have just one park and we have one church in Denver.”

*FOX31 has since received information from District 1 Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval indicating the land was purchased by the city in 1906.

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