Rocío Guenther / Rivard Report
After months of development, a detailed historical timeline for the Alamo has been completed, which will allow designers to take big steps forward on the Alamo Master Plan.
More than 80 people showed up to the Henry B. González Convention Center Tuesday for an update on preservation efforts underway at the Alamo and to hear a summary of the historical research that was recently unearthed at the ever-changing Alamo Plaza. Most of the findings were laid out on a long timeline, which included photos and maps showcasing the site’s transformation over the years.
Preservation Design Partnership (PDP), led by architect and planner George Skarmeas and preservation architect Dominique Hawkins, is collaborating with Fisher Heck Architects, Grupo de Diseño Urbano (GDU), and a dozen other consultants to develop a visionary approach for the master plan than spans the 300-year history of the Alamo.
The team is committed to “having 60% of the Master Plan done by Dec. 1,” Skarmeas said, and there will be plenty more informational meetings to come. The draft should be done by mid-2017, with construction to begin in 2021. Though difficult to gauge how long the project will take without a completed master plan, officials expect the Alamo and its plaza to reemerge in downtown San Antonio in 2024.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley and Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) told the audience about the tireless efforts of the design team.
“I’m proud to be serving as one of six members of the committee working with the Texas General Land Office (GLO), the Alamo Endowment, and the City, together, and I can assure you that we meet very often,” Sculley said. “We’ve been meeting almost every week … to begin (planning) the restoration of the Alamo.”
From a City perspective, Sculley called the endeavor a “serious effort” and reminded everyone about the importance of the World Heritage designation of the Spanish-Colonial Missions and the Alamo, which she said will bring more people to San Antonio. The City is committed to including an educational component for those locals who do not know the layers of history that encompass the Missions and the Alamo, she added, beyond the famous battle of 1836.
“We’ve been peeling back layers of geology, layers of archaeology, and layers of written accounts,” said Treviño, a tri-chair on the Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee. “It’s an amazing time for the activity that’s happening downtown, like Hemisfair, the Zona Cultural, the San Pedro Creek … but the Alamo is at the heart of all these projects – it provides a great connection for all of us.”
The design team that presented an update of the planning efforts included Skarmeas, Principal Lewis Fisher of Fisher Heck Architects, and Pape-Dawson Engineers Senior Archaeologist Nesta Anderson.
Fisher said they relied on the help of several historians, experts, and archaeologists around and outside of Texas to work on the project. Through their expertise – some individuals have devoted their whole lives to certain topics in history – they created a matrix to build the color-coded timeline, collecting facts, events in history, photographs, maps, and selectively condensing information to focus on the physical changes of the site.
“(That includes) digging, adding to the building, when a building was torn or disappeared,” Fisher said. “This is a site of continual change over a period of 300 years. It’s not in a static moment in time, it’s something that’s always changed.”
The team zeroed in on how to capture the outer edges of the Plaza, both horizontal and vertical dimensions, which include parts that are currently underground.
“This is not Disney, this is one of the most important sites in America, and this approach is based on actual evidence as opposed to making up history,” Skarmeas said, which includes defining where the mission used to be in relation to the modern city that developed around it.
Two of the main ingredients for this “definition” involve finding out the true boundaries of the south wall and the west wall of the building. Anderson said they did indeed “find physical remnants” of both walls, a discovery which builds upon previous archaeology and helps define “where these intact deposits existed.”
Through the use of old, historical photographs, the master planners were able to uncover details regarding the surface facade of the Alamo and its evolution, as well as analyze the moisture coming up from the ground, which appears in many of the photographs.
Looking at those changes over time, Skarmeas said, allowed the team to see “the addition of hard pavement coming to the door and the threshold become shallower.
“We used 21st Century technology to understand the building,” Skarmeas added, which includes a three-dimensional model of the site in order to be precise, accurate, and understand the building’s movement, deformations, and cracks. In addition, there was use of orthophotography – which uses high-resolution digital cameras to record the building – and drawings outlining existing conditions. It also helps analyze the different types of stone.
It’s important to map the conditions in order to figure out how to date the building itself and tell the story of its evolution, Skarmeas said. This will let visitors know happened during its construction, how the church/shrine changed over time, how it stands today, and what people can do to protect it in the future.
When Skarmeas first started on the project, he found an interesting statistic: The average visitor spends 10 minutes in an out of the Alamo.
“This statistic is astonishing,” he said, “this is one of the most historic sites … it changed the geopolitical structure of the Americas … we need to change (that statistic) and tell a story spanning over centuries … If we do not tell the story correctly, we miss a huge opportunity.”
To learn more about the Alamo Master Plan, visit the Reimagine the Alamo website.