Thomas Fallon statue headed for San Jose’s broom closet
The Thomas Fallon statue has been the focus of controversy for 30 years. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

After nearly a year of heated debate, the controversial Thomas Fallon statue in downtown San Jose may have found its new home: A storage locker.

The city’s five-member Public Art Committee, which advises the Arts Commission on the acquisition, placement and conservation of public art, voted Tuesday to remove the statue as recommended by Mayor Sam Liccardo and a council committee last year.

But it took it one step further by recommending the artwork never see the light of day again.

“The fact that the statue causes such deep pain, overrides any other reason to keep it,” said committee member Audrey Rumsby. “Especially as it won’t cost the city to store it. Now that that is no longer going to be an issue, the deaccession of it seems the only choice.”

Located at the intersection of West St. James and Julian streets, the Thomas Fallon monument created by sculptor Robert Glen depicts the former mayor on horseback raising the U.S. flag in San Jose in 1846, when California was part of Mexico.

Residents have overwhelmingly opposed the statue, calling it offensive and oppressive.

Fallon is a divisive figure because of his hostile treatment of native people and embodiment of American imperialism. The statue, which was commissioned in 1988, was stored in an Oakland warehouse for more than a decade because of criticism.

Committee member Elizabeth Alvarez said the artwork is an open wound for a large segment of the community.

“I understand that it’s somebody’s work,” Alvarez said. “I also understand the pain that it has caused for 30+ years. It should be removed. It should be melted, and it should be recreated into something more beautiful that honors the human dignity of the community.”

The Thomas Fallon statue has required excessive maintenance to remove paint, signage, tagging and burn marks. Photo courtesy of Michael Ogilvie.
The Thomas Fallon statue has required excessive maintenance to remove paint, signage, tagging and burn marks. Photo courtesy of Michael Ogilvie.

While Alvarez suggested melting the monument, the city’s Public Art Director Michael Ogilvie said the artist asked it not be melted and he has rights that should be honored.

“The artist does have rights in regards to his work,” Ogilvie said, “and when an artist makes a specific request, we try to honor that for the life of the artist. That’s the right thing to do and the legal thing to do.”

An evaluation found the statue is worth $6,000 and twice that if melted for the bronze. It will cost $150,000 to remove and transport to storage, plus $25,000 in staff time. It’s unclear where the funding will come from. Storage is free.
 
Ogilvie said the artwork received immediate backlash when it was unveiled in 1988. It’s been a source of community distress, protests, vandalism and public outcry, said Kerry Adams Hapner, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs.
Residents protest the Thomas Fallon statue. Photo courtesy of Michael Ogilvie.
Residents protest the Thomas Fallon statue. Photo courtesy of Michael Ogilvie.

One resident Tuesday rallied to save the statue, calling it a beautiful piece of art that should not be destroyed.

“For those who take pride in our country and the small moment in history when the flag was raised in San Jose,” said a resident who identified herself as Gail. She did not provide a last name. “Expunging the statue from our city leaves us without any symbol or acknowledgement of that piece of our past.” 

After growing outcry from the community, including the statue being set on fire and painted red, Liccardo in January held a public discussion about its future. More than 150 people attended, the vast majority passionately demanding it be toppled.

In February, the mayor called for the statue’s removal and said it symbolized the white conquest of Mexican and indigenous communities. The council’s Rules and Open Government Committee voted that month to recommend its removal.

Ogilvie said the statue meets three of the city’s criteria to remove public art: significant adverse public reaction over an extended period of time, the inability to guarantee its security and its needing excessive maintenance to remove paint, signage, tagging and burn marks.

To de-install the piece, the city has to shut down a lane of traffic, jackhammer the concrete, get a crane, build a freight that can hold 12,000 pounds, transport it, clean up and rebuild the site.

Next, the Arts Commission will vote on June 21 on the recommendation to remove the statue. The City Council in August or September will make the final decision.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.