What’s next for the controversial Thomas Fallon statue
October 19, 2021
The controversial statue of Thomas Fallon is one more step towards withdrawal.
The city’s Arts Commission voted unanimously Monday night to recommend that city council remove the sculpture from downtown, along with an addendum. The addition allows the statue to be available to museums and places of higher education with the approval of the Public Art Committee, the Arts Commission and City Council.
The city council will vote on the fate of the statue on November 9.
The sculpture, which depicts Captain Thomas Fallon hoisting the American flag in San José in 1846, while the state still belonged to Mexico, was controversial from the start. The city’s former mayor was widely viewed as a colonizer and oppressor.
“It is unacceptable that this play is causing such profound upheaval for so many people,” Commissioner Audrey Rumsby said on Monday. “And the fact that it’s been going on for so long. It’s been a problem from day one and it hurts from day one.”
Community protests began when it was unveiled in 1990 and continued over 30 years later – particularly during the Black Lives Matter protests. In July 2020, residents walked from Fallon’s historic home 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 process of removing the statue took almost a year and several winding layers of bureaucracy. Although Confederate symbols were suppressed across the country and the statues of Ulysses Grant, Francis Scott Key, Father Junipero Serra, and Christopher Columbus descended in San Francisco, the statue of Thomas Fallon remained in San Jose. .
Mayor Sam Liccardo held an emotional community meeting in January and sent a note to the city’s rules and open government committee recommending the statue to be overturned. The committee voted unanimously the following month to approve Liccardo’s recommendation. In May, the public art committee suggested putting away the Fallon light fixture.
The arts commission that met on Monday was due to vote on June 21 and the city council in August or September. Smita Garg, chairman of the commission, said the delay was to allow time to study public comments and documentation.
Located at the intersection of West St. James and Julian streets, the 12,000-pound bronze statue stands 16 feet tall and sits on three feet of concrete. The estimated cost for its removal and transportation to the warehouse is $ 175,000.
The statue meets three conditions for removal from the San José public art collection. It has been the subject of significant negative public reaction for an extended period of time, its safety cannot be guaranteed and it requires excessive maintenance. Since May 2020, markings, 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 disgusting, but necessary in this case.
“It’s our only method of reflecting on our past and making positive changes for the future,” said James, adding that he has become a controversial, offensive and intrusive symbol tearing the community apart.
Former mayor Tom McEnery, who was instrumental in setting up the statue, said he wanted city officials to give a summary of a historian’s report on Thomas Fallon during the meeting of the Arts Commission. “It’s not the statue and it’s not Fallon,” McEnery told the San Jose Spotlight.
“This precisely leaves a clearer report… of what really happened in the transition to the American period. History matters. Hopefully when that happens to the council, they will have a little more discussion about it. and not so much about people’s opinions on things that may not have a solid basis in fact. ”
Commissioner Lynne Rosenthal suggested melting the statue and donating the bronze to university students rather than charging the city for indefinite storage. But the city honors the artist’s request not to destroy it.
Councilor Magdalena Carrasco, the commission’s liaison officer, said commemorations of those who have wronged others, especially people of color, should be removed.
“They haven’t 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]
San José Spotlight is the city’s premier nonprofit news organization dedicated to independent political and business reporting. Please support our public service journalism by clicking here.