Controversial San Jose Fallon statue is heading to storage

After two years, work has finally started on removing a controversial San Jose monument.

On Tuesday, construction workers started jackhammering the three-foot concrete pedestal of the Thomas Fallon statue, crumbling concrete and sending dust flying. The statue, located at the intersection of St. James and Julian streets, has caused public uproar for more than three decades.

Carlos Velazquez, spokesperson for the San Jose Office of Economic Development and Cultural Affairs, said his office is honoring its commitment to remove the statue by May 4, barring any further weather delays.

"We’re following through with the community’s desires," he told San José Spotlight.

Commissioned in 1988 by former Mayor Tom McEnery, the statue of Fallon on horseback—raising the American flag in San Jose after Congress declared war on Mexico in 1846—has been considered condescending to Indigenous and Latino communities.

Charlene Nijmeh, tribal chairwoman of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, said it’s fantastic to see the city take action.

"They heard our voices," she told San José Spotlight. "It’s been a 30-year struggle. This is Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. What that statue represents is the genocide that happened here. We were the people that were impacted. We’re getting justice."

Nijmeh would like to see artwork representing marginalized communities in place of the Fallon statue. The statue will go into storage—Velazquez said the focus is on removing it and replacing the traffic median, as there isn’t funding available for new artwork.

Long seen as a symbol of colonial oppression, the statue was vandalized in 2020 following protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police.

In July 2020, protesters marched from Fallon’s historic home to the statue. Later, the bronze sculpture was painted red, representing the blood on Fallon’s hands. Signs taped to it said, "Honor Native Peoples. Take it down" and "Genocide is nothing to celebrate." In September 2020, an American flag atop the statue was set ablaze.

Following public protests, Mayor Sam Liccardo held town halls to discuss the statue’s fate. In February 2021, the mayor called for the statue’s removal and said it symbolized the white conquest of Mexican and Indigenous communities.

"For the third time in three decades, debate over the Thomas Fallon Statue has reopened old wounds and deepened divides," Liccardo wrote in a blog post explaining his decision. "It’s time to move on."

In November 2021, the San Jose City Council voted unanimously to remove the 16-foot-tall, 12,000-pound bronze sculpture. Although this was expected to be completed in August 2022, weather issues contributed to delays, Velazquez said.

The removal costs about $450,000, Velazquez said, including barricades, shutting down a lane of traffic, jackhammering the foundation, lifting the statue with a crane, building two stabilizing steel transportable foundations with crates, transporting it to storage, cleanup and demolition.

"It’s the right thing to do," Velazquez said. "The statue is seen as a symbol of racism and is unwelcoming to many members of our community. We want all residents to feel that they matter and belong."