The Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT), which has run the Alamo for 110 years, has violated its contract with the Texas General Land Office (GLO) and will cease management of the site on July 10. It’s a development that may be the first step in creating “Smithsonian-level” facilities to do the historic site and its artifacts justice.
Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush sent a letter to the DRT citing 10 contractual breaches including budgetary, staffing, maintenance, and management failures. Perhaps the most telling is the first violation listed:
1. Failure to operate under the Agreement in such a manner as to enhance the Alamo Complex without placing significant financial demands on GLO.
Click here to download Bush’s letter to the DRT.
Bush stated in the letter that the contents of the Alamo Research Center, housed in the Long Barrack Museum of the Alamo complex and showcases thousands of artifacts, will soon be catalogued and assigned ownership, a long process that will likely be disputed as the DRT may claim to own most, if not all, of the collection.
“We will go to war over this collection,” DRT President General Ellen McCaffrey told the Express-News.
GLO’s new Alamo Director, Becky Dinnin, will be overseeing the transition, which will include a nationwide search for a management company to take over operation of the Alamo Complex. Dinnin will oversee the process of assigning ownership of the artifacts.
“That will be a long process,” Dinnin said during a Friday evening interview. “(But the GLO hopes it will be) amicable and positive. We don’t expect or require that all artifacts would remain in the Center, that’s up to the owner.”
Part of the process will be reviewing documentation behind each archival gift made throughout the years. Another part will be reviewing the intent behind the gift, Dinnin said. Was the gift specifically toward the Daughters or meant to stay at the Alamo? GLO and DRT representatives will meet the first week of April to begin divvying up the museum.
In a joint statement issued by the GLO and DRT, both McCaffrey and Bush celebrated the success of the GRT in preserving the “Shrine of Texas Liberty.”
Click here to download the joint statement.
“While we regret our changing role in its daily management, it does not diminish our unending passion for the preservation of the Shrine of Texas Liberty, and we look forward to maintaining our library collection as a historical resource for all Texans to enjoy,” McCaffrey stated.
The contract will end a little more than a year before it was set to expire in 2016 and payments of $10,000 per month to the DRT will end in July.
“The Daughters of the Republic of Texas will always have a special place of honor at the Alamo and have graciously worked with the GLO and the State of Texas in honoring and preserving the Alamo,” Bush stated. “The Alamo has always had the same owner – the people of Texas. And so to meet the ever-increasing operational needs of the Alamo, the GLO has determined to change its day to day management from the DRT and move in a new direction. Together we will create a bigger, brighter future for this Texas shrine.”
When English singer Phil Collins gave the Alamo what is considered to be the largest known private collection of Alamo and Texas Revolution artifacts last year, it came with the stipulation that a proper, “Smithsonian-level” visitor center museum be established near the site in seven years, Binnin said.
“We’ve already spent six months of that,” she said. The GLO recently announced the formation of Alamo Endowment board, which will raise funds for the museum and visitor center.
“We need to have tighter oversight for processes, policies, and best-in-class practices. The Daughters have done a heroic job, but we need to take it to the next level – maybe two levels … I think we’ve outgrown what a volunteer organization (like the DRT) can do,” Binnin said.
What Does This Mean For Alamo Plaza?
The tone of the joint statement seems amicable enough, but there is obviously a disagreement about how day-to-day operation of the Alamo enhances the experience for visitors and locals alike. Alamo Plaza, owned by the City of San Antonio, has long been a haven for tourists, street vendors, panhandlers, and the occasional evangelical zealot. Efforts to revitalize the plaza have been plentiful but none realized so far. A master plan has been created by Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee.
The plan comes after months of meetings to update the 1994 Alamo Plaza Study Report along with the vision and guiding principles (download here). The Committee will begin reviewing developer submissions next week.
Sen. José Menéndez (D), filed a measure to create a constitutional amendment that would allow $250 million in state money from the Rainy Day Fund “for the restoration, preservation, maintenance, operation and development of the Alamo and its surrounding property.”
The proposal will need approval from lawmakers first and then voters in November.
Staff members from the City and GLO have already begun to meet to coordinate plans for the Alamo Plaza and Complex.
“They’re a little a head of us,” Binnin said of the City’s Alamo Plaza master plans. “We don’t have a short list, we don’t have a long list … the statement of work (for a new management company) is not even out yet.
“(A Texas-based company) would be preferred, someone who has strong ties to the history of Texas and the Alamo – they’ll be under very strict oversight from the GLO … tighter than what we have with the DRT right now.”
For the time being, she said, there will be no noticeable changes to the visitor, but DRT staff and volunteers will more than likely be replaced by employees of the new management company.
A Long Time Coming
The Alamo was once a Native American burial ground, San Antonio de Valero (1724 to 1793), and most famously home of the Battle of the Alamo; the 13-day siege battle for Texas independence in 1836. More than 200 Texans and Tejanos died as well as hundreds of Mexican soldiers. The DRT is now nearly 7,000 women strong, each trace their pedigrees back to the origins of the Texas Republic.
The Daughters were stripped of their claim to Alamo ownership by the GLO in 2011, during a year and a half state attorney general investigation into the Daughters management of the Alamo.
“The (Office of the Attorney General)’s investigation concluded that the DRT failed to fulfill its fiduciary duty to the State of Texas as trustee of the historic Alamo. Specifically, the DRT did not properly preserve and maintain the Alamo, misused state funds for the organization’s own benefit, failed to recognize or address conflicts of interests, and allowed its own organizational prerogatives to interfere with its duty to act in the best interests of the State of Texas and the Alamo,” states the office’s report of the investigation to the Texas Legislature, published in November 2012.
Click here to download the report, an in-depth and blunt account of the Daughters’ mismanagement.
Suffice to say, Bush’s call for and early end to the contract was not a surprise. Binnin’s position was created more than three weeks ago in anticipation of the announcement.
As early as 2009, former Daughter Erin Bowman started a break-away group called Friends of the Alamo – created out of Bowman’s frustration with the Daughters’ mismanagement.
“They are very nice people. They just don’t understand how to do business,” Ms. Bowman said of the Daughters to the Wall Street Journal.
*Featured/top image: A street vendor pulls his cart of merchandise amid tourists and locals in front of the Alamo before the 2013 Battle of the Flowers Parade. Photo by Iris Dimmick.