A grand fountain and sculpture combination, the Columbus Fountain at Union Station and Plaza tells the story of the explorer’s journey from Europe to the Americas in 1492. With multiple symbolic figures throughout its design, the fountain takes center stage at its location.
At the center, Christopher Columbus stands 15-feet tall at a ship’s prow, with a female figure symbolizing Discovery at the helm of the prow. Above him, adorning the top of the fountain’s central column, sits a globe with the Atlantic Ocean at the front to represent his crossing of that ocean in 1492. Attached to the base of the central column and flanking either side of Columbus, two male figures sit: on the eastern side, the bearded male represents the Old World; on the western side, a Native American male represents the New World, or the Americas. Also attached to the central column on the rear (North), a medallion with the faces of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain recognizes their funding of Columbus’s expedition. Lastly, two lions occupy the East-West boundaries of the fountain.
Erected and dedicated in 1912, the designer of the fountain Lorado Z. Taft had taken inspiration from the Columbian Fountain at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In combination with architect Daniel H. Burham, who designed Union Station, the plaza and fountain were centerpieces to the continued growth and development of DC’s City Beautiful movement. The dedication ceremony of the fountain focused on the legacy of the expedition and the future founding of the country, and featured numerous guests and speakers in attendance.
Today, Union Station remains a major entry point to the city for numerous commuters and tourists; in 2011, the city funded major updates and renovations to Columbus Plaza. However, the fountain feature ceased to function in 2007, and has not yet been repaired.
DC Inventory: November 8, 1964
National Register: April 9, 1980; amended October 12, 2007