The controversial statue of the former San Jose mayor and captain during the Mexican-American War is one step closer to the chopping block after the city’s art commission approved its removal on Monday night.
After months of gathering opinions from the public and historians, the arts commission unanimously recommended that San Jose officials remove the statue of Thomas Fallon from its famous location in downtown San Jose on St. James Street and put it in safe custody. The final decision on whether to follow the recommendations of the commission will be made by the city council at a meeting on November 9.
“The fact that this piece is causing such a profound shock to so many — those of you who made this city what it is — is unacceptable to me,” said Commissioner Audrey Rumsby. “… This is a very simple solution for me.”
Commissioner Richard James, who said the idea of hiding art and history is usually “abhorrent” to him, acknowledged that the work “has become a controversial and unwanted symbol.”
On the recommendation of the commission, a work of art weighing about 12,000 pounds will be permanently stored in the warehouse, unless the historical museum or academic institution is interested in exhibiting it solely for educational purposes. If that day comes, the city will have to go through a full public review process in order to approve the statue’s new purpose. It will never be allowed to reinstall on state land in San Jose.
“If there is any date in the future when it can be displayed in the proper context in a fuller sense of history by an external organization, say some kind of history museum, then it should be available for that purpose,” said Commissioner Charlie McCollum. “But until then, I think it’s time to deposit it.”
Despite fears by some opponents that the statue will remain on display, Kerry Adams Harper, San Jose’s director of cultural affairs, said it was unlikely that the city would receive any direct interest – or any interest at all – from outside agencies in showing the statue. …
“The reality is that this work of art is very large; it is not very portable; when re-installed, it needs to be reconstructed, ”she said. “… This whole process will be quite costly, and I would not expect the city to be willing to pay for it, unless there is some outside sponsor or organization.”
The bronze statue of Thomas Fallon depicts a little-known event during the Mexican-American War, when Captain Fallon and another horseman raised the American flag in San Jose in 1846 as a symbol of the US claim to California and much of the Southwest. from Mexico.
The statue’s merits have been debated since the day community members learned of it back in the 1980s, but the issue has returned to the spotlight last year amid calls for racial justice following the assassination of George Floyd by police.
The statue, which was commissioned in 1988 under then Mayor Tom McEnery without any public procedure, lay in storage for about ten years due to public outcry before it was finally installed in 2002. Over the past year, people have spray-painted the statue. , splattered it with red paint to resemble the blood on Fallon’s hands, and tried to set it on fire.
Opponents of the statue claim that it serves as a symbol of imperialism and a celebration of the enslavement of Mexicans and Native Americans. During an emotional forum earlier this year, opponents argued that the statue glorified “oppression,” “racism,” “white supremacy,” and even “genocide.”
“We had widespread support 30 years ago, and we continue to enjoy widespread support,” Cathy Napoli said at a meeting of the arts commission on Monday. “It is not only the Latin American community that supports the idea of removing the statue. This is a large group in our community that thinks it shouldn’t be where it is. “
Some historians, however, dispute the true nature and facts surrounding Fallon and the extent of his involvement in the Mexican-American War.
Local historian April Halberstadt submitted a 14-page report to the commission, hoping to prove Fallon was not involved in the Native American genocide and to urge the commissioners to leave the statue in place.
“Only persistence and constant discussion will allow the San Jose community to find a reasonable solution to the deep grievances we are now hearing,” she said. “Only accurate information based on truth can make a difference. We cannot change history. We can find peace. “
While Mayor Sam Liccardo also said he believed there was some widespread misinformation about the actual event depicted in the statue, he asked for the statue to be removed in February, saying it was time for the city to “move on.”
Removing the statue will require barricades and overlapping traffic lanes on St. James Street, jackhammering the concrete foundation, and using a crane to remove it and transport it to a warehouse. The estimated cost of the statue is $ 6,000 – and the estimated cost of melting the bronze and selling it is insufficient to cover the cost of removing it, which the city says is estimated at $ 150,000.
In accordance with San Jose policy, artists exhibiting public works of art commissioned by the city must be given the first opportunity to purchase the work before it is removed. In this case, the statue’s artist Robert Glen from Tanzania told city officials that he was not interested in buying the statue, but asked the city not to melt it. The nonprofit History San José also turned down the city’s offer to take the statue, citing its racist symbolism and lack of space and security to protect it from vandalism.
If the removal of the statue is approved by the city council next month, it will be the second time in recent years that San Jose executives have removed a public work of art perpetuating a controversial historical figure. In 2018, San Jose officials demolished a statue of Christopher Columbus that had previously stood in the city hall’s lobby.