San Jose leaders agree Thomas Fallon statue must be removed
“Statues in museums teach history; statues in prominent outdoor spaces glorify history, often without reflection. We should reconsider what we glorify,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said. File photo.

After residents demanded for decades the Thomas Fallon statue, seen as a symbol of oppression by many, be taken from its lofty perch in the center of downtown San Jose, a key panel agreed.

The Rules and Open Government Committee of the San Jose City Council, which sets future City Council agendas, voted unanimously Wednesday to remove the statue.

Following a passionate community meeting last month, Mayor Sam Liccardo said he realized the depth of the pain this public art created for residents. Days later, Liccardo called for the statue’s removal. In a memo to the City Council, the mayor said the statue symbolized the white conquest of Mexican and indigenous communities.

Liccardo said anger has been “righteously expressed” by people whose families have endured generations of systemic racism.

“For the third time in three decades, debate over the Thomas Fallon statue has reopened old wounds and deepened divides,” Liccardo said in the memo.

The committee deciding the issue Wednesday includes Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Sylvia Arenas, Raul Peralez, David Cohen and Dev Davis. Peralez, who researched the statue and Fallon’s history, said he appreciated the mayor’s direction but would have come at it a little differently.

“I think it’s more than it’s time to move on,” Peralez said. “… A discussion should be had around what is it we honor and recognize on the level of a statue, monument or mural in our city. It’s time to have a much deeper conversation.”

Kerry Adams Hapner, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, said city officials have approved the statue’s removal but it is considered a complex undertaking. According to city documents, it could take nine to 18 months to remove the statue, involve three or more city departments and five or more workers.

“For its 30+ year history the Fallon statue has been an activator of community distress, and has resulted in numerous protests, vandalism, and public outcry,” Adams Hapner wrote in her analysis of the project.

The city has a deaccession policy to relocate or remove works of public art, Adams Hapner said.

 Liccardo said in a memo removing the statue did not vindicate vandalism against it — and vandals should be arrested.

“In a representative democracy,” Liccardo said, “we must decide to erect or take down public statues through transparent, inclusive public processes.”

Liccardo said he hoped removing the statue might lead to a dialogue about what the community can build together.

“It’s time to move on,” he said in his memo.

The statue of one of San Jose’s first mayors was commissioned in 1988 to memorialize the raising of the U.S. flag in the city in 1846, and now stands at the intersection of West St. James and Julian streets – after being stored in an Oakland warehouse for more than a decade because of criticism.

Fallon is a divisive figure because of his hostile treatment of native people and embodiment of American imperialism.

Resident Paul Soto advocated for the statue to be moved to San Jose History Park. Arenas agreed.

“History is told by those in a position of privilege or who have the appearance of white privilege,” Arenas said. “We need to make sure the statue is properly contextualized in San Jose’s history.”

Soto said he wanted to give his community some semblance of power.

“Together can do what one person can’t do alone,” he said.

More than 150 people spoke passionately in favor of removing the statue last month. On Wednesday, one person called for taking a more measured approach — historian April Halberstadt. 

Halberstadt landed in hot water and resigned from a county commission last year after questioning Cesar Chavez’s contributions and local ties in San Jose in a San José Spotlight story last year.

Before toppling Fallon’s statue, Halberstadt said the city should collect two documents: A  formal request by a local Mexican-American nonprofit outlining how Fallon was guilty of genocide and a biography of written by a certified historian.

“Neither the city of San Jose nor Santa Clara County has a history museum,” Halberstadt wrote in a letter. “Local heritage is maintained by various nonprofits. So as this only remaining public symbol of San Jose’s founding disappears, it is important to add the circumstances to the public record.”

Next, the city’s arts commission will vote on Fallon’s removal before the ultimate decision by the City Council. It’s unclear where the estimated $400,000  will come from to fund the statue’s removal.  

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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