Columbus Monuments Pages

United States of America
Columbia
Louisiana

Main Street 107

Statues of Columbus and Washington

John Schepis
1916

Columbia /  Statues of Columbus and Washington   Columbia /  Statues of Columbus and Washington

Description

Life size statues of Christopher Columbus (left), holding a draped (Italian) flag, and of George Washington, holding a draped American flag. An American eagle flies above them, and an Italian coat of arms is placed in the center.

Annotation

The Schepis Building
Schepis building

Built c. 1916, the Schepis Building is specifically Italian, resembling Renaissance-style palazzos of the mid-fifteenth century. Complete with its two life-size statues on top, the tall, imposing structure, which sits practically at the base of the levee, is more reminiscent of a grand opera house than the simple general mercantile store it was built to house.
That may very well have been what John Schepis (1869-c. 1947) from Messina, Italy, was thinking of as he carefully molded the stones to build his palace, and the statues of Columbus and Washington that would ultimately stand atop it, proud and triumphant over time. Schepis, an architect in Sicily, fashioned the statues of clay, made molds from plaster of Paris and cast them in concrete.
It was not long after the turn of the century when John Schepis arrived in Columbia from the old country, only a few pennies in his pocket to sustain him and his young wife, and a son that had just been born on Ellis Island. Columbia on the Ouachita river - now a sleepy town of 600 people - was then a bustling steamboat settlement. The Main street was alive with activity. Most of the shopkeepers were of Italian descent, among them relatives of John Schepis.
These relatives loaned John Schepis a small building where they lived in the back and opened a little store in the front. They did without and skimped and planned. A little bigger store followed. They were coming into their own and worked and planned a larger building. It would be finer, a fitting showplace where one could display one's pride in the new country, and still the love for the old.
Schepis decided to build it himself. So, when business was lax and his wife could handle the store alone. He used hollow-core cement blocks of his own design to form the building's exterior, and expressed his affection both for the land of his birth, and his adopted country, by crowning the second story with the statues of Washington and Columbus. Less than ten years from the time he arrived in Columbia, the building was completed.

Over the years the Schepis Building had been many things, from a mercantile store, to a feed and seed, even to a skating rink... but always with living quarters upstairs. It was deserted in de mid-1970s. When it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 it was in a bad shape. A grant awared in 1993 by the Louisiana Division of Historic Places and matched by the Caldwell Parish Industrial Development Board may well have been the last chance of survival for this reminder of Italian immigration to Louisiana.
After the restoration the building now houses the Schepis Museum and the officies for Caldwell Parish Downtown Development and Chamber of Commerce.

Sculptor

Sources & Information

Tags

Location N 32°6'23" W 92°4'27"

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Item Code: usla02; Added: 6 January 2002  / Photograph: 21 October 2002

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