Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi (1813-1901), one of the world’s most renowned composers, is immortalized by such operas as Aida, La Traviata, Otello, and Rigoletto, which are still performed regularly to great acclaim. The legacy of the native of Roncole, Italy, is also captured in the Verdi Monument, created by Sicilian sculptor Pasquale Civiletti in 1906. Made of Carrara marble and Montechiaro limestone, this statue depicts Verdi flanked by four of his most popular characters: Falstaff, Leonora of La Forza del Destino, Aida, and Otello.
The president of the Verdi Monument Committee, Carlo Barsotti, championed public recognition of pre-eminent Italians and, in his role as founder and editor of Il Progresso Italo Americano, he used his newspaper to raise funds by public subscription. Barsotti was instrumental in erecting this monument as well as those honoring Christopher Columbus, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Giovanni da Verazzano and Dante Alighieri (all of which are located in New York City parks).
The Verdi monument was unveiled on October 13, 1906, a day after the 414th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. The day began with a march of Italian societies from Washington Square to the site at Broadway and West 72nd Street. Over 10,000 people attended the unveiling, attesting to the significance of the occasion in uniting Italian-Americans in celebration of their cultural and artistic heritage.
Verdi Square was acquired by NYC Parks in 1887 and was named in 1921. The area was formerly a part of the old village of Harsenville located on Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway). It was a popular choice for summer villas in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In the early 1900s the square served as a gathering place for musicians, including Enrico Caruso and Arturo Toscanini.
In 1974, Verdi Square was designated a Scenic Landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, one of only nine public parks to receive this distinction. The monument was restored in 1997 with funds from the Broadway/72nd Associates. Verdi Square was enlarged considerably in 2003, when the 72nd Street subway station was expanded with a new station house and plaza within the park.
A permanent monument maintenance endowment has been established by Bertolli USA, Inc. Additional funds for new landscaping designed by Lynden Miller have been donated by Harry B. Fleetwood, and the Verdi Square landscape has been endowed in memory of James H. Fleetwood, a musician.