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The process to take down the Thomas Fallon statue began in downtown San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

© Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group/TNS
The process to take down the Thomas Fallon statue began in downtown San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

Tuesday morning my email and social media started popping with people asking if I had seen that removal of the Fallon statue had begun in downtown San Jose. Finally, I thought, our long civic nightmare is over.

But the nightmare I was thinking of wasn’t the Fallon statue itself. It was having to talk about it for the past 35 years. With the statue’s impending removal from Julian Street, San Jose residents will finally get to put this issue to rest.

I also was surprised by what I was hearing from people about the removal, including a lot of assumptions that were just plain inaccurate. Some argued that taking the statue down was like demolishing a historic building, which isn’t the case at all. While the statue depicted a key moment in San Jose history — the raising of the U.S. flag in the city during the Mexican-American War in 1846 — the statue itself wasn’t a historical artifact. The piece by sculptor Robert Glen, a beautiful sculpture if looked at without its baggage, was commissioned in 1988 under then-Mayor Tom McEnery. It’s not even as old as current Mayor Matt Mahan.

The statue of Thomas Fallon — an adventurer and soldier who served a year as mayor in the 1850s — and an unidentified companion on horseback preparing to hoist the flag was hidden away because some Mexican-Americans said it glorified a military conquest and other residents complained about the lack of public input. An arts committee — which included some of the statue’s detractors — was formed and decided it wouldn’t be placed at the park now known as Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Instead, it would be locked away until the city had installed public art that acknowledged San Jose’s pre-statehood inhabitants, its Mexican-American population and its agricultural history.

That happened, so in 2002, San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales presided over the unveiling of the statue near Pellier Park, which was attended by protesters. For the next two decades, the furor over the statue — which was moved about 100 feet in 2016 when Julian Street was realigned — mostly simmered until the summer of 2020 when the statue was repeatedly vandalized as racial tensions grew across the country in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Then-Mayor Sam Liccardo convened a community meeting to discuss the controversial art and eventually called for its removal. The city council voted to do so in 2021, and the work — expected to be completed before May 4 — got underway Tuesday.

So what do we know about Fallon? Although some have claimed he was responsible for murder and genocide, no one’s ever provided evidence of that. But there’s also never been a strong case he was consequential enough to warrant a statue. The legacy of his wife, Carmel Castro Lodge, who divorced him after catching him with the maid, ended up being more significant. But he did raise the U.S. flag in San Jose, an act that happened all over California in 1846. (A similar scene from 1847 is depicted in the Fort Moore Pioneer Memorial Wall in Los Angeles, which was restored in 2018.)

The statue’s metal value is about $6,000 but it couldn’t be melted down because that requires permission of the artist under a 1979 California law, and Glen said no. He also didn’t want to buy back the statue. Moving it to History Park wasn’t an option because History San Jose declined an offer in part because it would be a target for vandalism.

Instead, it’ll be locked away again in an anonymous warehouse like the Ark of the Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Maybe in 50 years or so, some curious soul will dare to peek inside the crate only to be warned off by a note that says “Do Not Open. Still Radioactive.”

REMEMBERING A SANTA CLARAN: Few people can say they shaped a city the way Santa Clara was guided by Don Von Raesfeld, the longtime city manager who died at age 96 during Easter Mass on April 9 at St. Clare Church in Santa Clara.

Von Raesfeld was Santa Clara’s city manager from 1960 to 1985 and also served a term on the city council from 1988-92. The Mission City became a key part of Silicon Valley during his tenure as it became home to Intel, National Semiconductor, Applied Materials and AMD.

He got the city into the amusement park game with the creation of Great America in the 1970s, built the International Swim Center and helped lure the 49ers into bringing their training facility to Santa Clara. The big power plant operated by Silicon Valley Power, Santa Clara’s municipal utility, is named after him because of his leading role in making Santa Clara energy self-sufficient.

A service will take place at St. Clare Church at 11 a.m. April 26, followed by a reception at Fiorillo’s restaurant on El Camino Real.

BIKING BONANZA: Menlo Park residents are flexing their muscles — at least their cycling muscles — by outclassing the field of more than 30 communities in the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition’s Pedal Power Cities Challenge. That means a bigger proportion of Menlo Parkers have pledged to ride during next month’s Bike to Wherever Days, May 18-20.

As of this week, Mountain View had bumped Los Altos for second place, with Palo Alto and Santa Clara rounding out the top 5. Where’s San Jose, you might wonder? Nowhere in the top 15, but there are still a few weeks to change those numbers by pledging to ride at www.bikesiliconvalley.org.

POETIC LICENSE: The 16th annual Legacy of Poetry Festival is wrapping up at San Jose State University this week, with some big names — U.S. Poet Laureate Emeritus Juan Felipe Herrera, California Poet Laureate Lee Herrick and playwright Luis Valdez — among the the speakers at the April 28-30 fest. The lineup also includes Santa Clara County Poet Laureate Tshaka Campbell, former county laureates Sally Ashton and Arlene Biala and nationally acclaimed poet Yosimar Reyes.

Hosted by San Jose state’s Poets and Writers Coalition, this year’s festival is themed “Feeding Our Hunger” and is dedicated to fighting food insecurity on and off campus. It’s all free and open to the public at the Diaz Compean Student Union Theater but is also being livestreamed. Go to www.sjsu.edu/legacyofpoetry to get more details and register.

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