What’s next for the controversial Thomas Fallon statue
The Thomas Fallon statue may be headed for permanent storage. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    The controversial Thomas Fallon statue is one step closer to removal.

    The city’s Arts Commission unanimously voted Monday night to recommend the City Council remove the sculpture from downtown—with an addendum. The addition allows the statue to be available to museums and places of higher education at the approval of the Public Art Committee, Arts Commission and City Council.

    The City Council will vote on the statue’s fate on Nov. 9

    The sculpture, which depicts Captain Thomas Fallon raising the U.S. flag in San Jose in 1846, when the state still belonged to Mexico, has been controversial from the start. The former city mayor has been largely viewed as a colonizer and oppressor.

    “The fact that this piece brings such deep turmoil for so many is unacceptable,” said commissioner Audrey Rumsby on Monday. “And the fact that it’s gone on for so long. It’s been an issue since day one and it’s caused pain since day one.”

    Since May 2020, weekly cleanups have been needed of the Thomas Fallon statue. Photo courtesy of San Jose.

    Community protests began when it was unveiled in 1990 and have continued more than 30 years later — especially erupting during the Black Lives Matter protests. In July 2020, residents marched from Fallon’s historic house to the statue and two months later, it was painted red to symbolize the blood on Fallon’s hands during the Mexican American War.

    The statue’s removal process has taken nearly a year and several winding layers of bureacracy. Although Confederate symbols have been removed nationwide and statues of Ulysses Grant, Francis Scott Key, Father Junipero Serra and Christopher Columbus came down in San Francisco, the Thomas Fallon statue remained in San Jose. 

    Mayor Sam Liccardo held an emotional community meeting in January and sent a memo to the city’s Rules and Open Government Committee recommending the statue be toppled. The committee voted unanimously the following month to approve Liccardo’s recommendation. In May, the Public Art Committee suggested putting the Fallon fixture in storage

    The Arts Commission that met Monday was scheduled to vote on June 21 and the City Council in August or September. Smita Garg, chair of the commission, said the delay was to allow time to study public input and documentation.

    Located at the intersection of West St. James and Julian streets, the 12,000-pound bronze statue is 16 feet high and sits atop three feet of concrete. The estimated cost for its removal and conveyance to storage is $175,000.

    The statue meets three requirements for removal from San Jose’s public art collection. It has experienced significant adverse public reaction for an extended period, its security cannot be guaranteed and it requires excessive maintenance. Since May 2020, tagging, paint, signage and burn marks have been removed from the statue on a weekly basis.

    Commissioner Richard James said the idea of hiding art and history is repugnant, but necessary in this case.

    “It’s our only method to reflect on our past and make positive changes for the future,” James said, adding that it has become a contentious, injurious and unwelcome symbol which tears at the community.

    Former Mayor Tom McEnery, who was instrumental in putting up the statue, said he wishes city officials had given a synopsis of a historian’s report on Thomas Fallon at the Arts Commission meeting.

    “It’s not the statue and it’s not Fallon,” McEnery told San Jose Spotlight. “It’s accurately leaving a clearer report…of what actually happened in the transition into the American period. History matters. Hopefully, when it gets to the council, they’ll have a little bit more of a discussion on that and not so much about people’s opinions of things that may not have a firm basis in facts.”

    Commissioner Lynne Rosenthal suggested melting the statue and donating the bronze to university students rather than having the city pay for indefinite storage. But the city is honoring the artist’s request not to destroy it.

    Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, a liaison to the commission, said commemorations of those who wronged others, especially people of color, should be removed.

    “They have not stood the test of time,” she said, “and I don’t think the Fallon statue will. It has divided our community.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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