History of the Columbia "C"

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Columbia C on cliff wall above the Spuyten Duyvil.
Columbia C on cliff wall above the Spuyten Duyvil.

If you’ve spent any time in Inwood, you have surely noticed the giant blue and white “C” of Columbia University painted on the cliff wall on the northern side of the Spuyten Duyvil.

Former Inwood resident Mike Boland remembers, as a teenager, diving off the cliff atop the giant “C” to the horror and cheers of passengers on passing Circle Line boats in the 1960’s.

So what’s the history behind this iconic blue letter?

This third letter of the alphabet found its way into the neighborhood in 1952 when Columbia Medical student Robert Prendergast received permission from the New York Central Railroad to paint the “C” on the 100 foot cliff wall.

Prendergast was a coxswain on Columbia’s heavyweight rowing team. As in his day the ship canal is a great place to watch Columbia’s crew team glide into the morning fog.

Partially pained "C" hiding in the background of this 1954 family photo from Herb Maruska
Partially painted “C” hiding in the background of this 1954 family photo from Herb Maruska

The “C” itself remains, excepting occasional touch ups, exactly as it was when painted nearly sixty years ago. The 60 x 60 foot “C” is painted in traffic white and ultramarine blue.

Columbia C on cliff wall above the Spuyten Duyvil.
Columbia C on cliff wall above the Spuyten Duyvil.

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