Crews used a large crane to remove the statue from its pedestal as a small crowd gathered to watch. The crowd cheered and passing cars honked as the statue came down about 3 a.m. Several work trucks were seen in the area, but it was unclear where the statue would be taken.
A second statue of Columbus was also removed about 5:30 a.m. Friday from Arrigo Park in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood.
"This step is about an effort to protect public safety and to preserve a safe space for an inclusive and democratic public dialogue about our city's symbols," Mayor Lori Lightfoot's office said in a statement.
Plans to remove the Grant Park statue were first reported Thursday night by the Chicago Tribune and the removal followed hours of vocal confrontations between opponents and supporters of the statue. And on July 17, protesters had clashed with police, who used batons to beat people and made arrests after they say protesters targeted them with fireworks, rocks and other items.
"This statue coming down is because of the effort of Black and Indigenous activists who know the true history of Columbus and what he represents," Stefan Cuevas-Caizaguano, a resident watching the removal, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Both the Grant Park and Arrigo Park statues were vandalized last month. Statues of Columbus have also been toppled or vandalized in other U.S. cities as protesters have called for the removal of statues of Columbus, saying that he is responsible for the genocide and exploitation of native peoples in the Americas.
Pasquale Gianni of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans said the mayor had told him before their removal that both statues would be moved and temporarily housed elsewhere for public safety reasons.
"The Italian American community feels betrayed. The Mayor's Office is giving into a vocal and destructive minority. This is not how the Democratic process is supposed to work," he told WLS-TV.
The removals come amid a plan by President Donald Trump to dispatch federal law enforcement agents to the city to respond to gun violence, prompting worries that the surge will inhibit residents' ability to hold demonstrations. A collection of activist groups had filed suit Thursday, seeking to block federal agents to combat violent crime from interfering in or policing protests.
State officials in Oregon had sued for similar requests following the arrival of federal law enforcement due to nearly two months of protests in Portland since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.