Alamo Plan: Community-Driven, Comprehensive, and Connective

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This rendering shows what South Alamo Street could become: a pedestrian plaza and space for vegetation and shade.

Courtesy / Texas General Land Office

This rendering shows South Alamo Street as a pedestrian plaza and space for vegetation and shade.

The Alamo Master Plan proposed by the Texas General Land Office, the City of San Antonio, and the Alamo Endowment will breathe new life into an 18th-century civic center of the city. The plan envisions an urban transformation that will finally create a respectful environment for an American icon while creating civic spaces worthy of a great city. The master plan, though a first step in defining this important place, has many attributes:

The plan is community-driven. The Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee was appointed in 2014 to develop the overarching philosophy for how the Plaza would be improved. The committee produced an outstanding document, the Vision and Guiding Principles, that has directed the Management Committee and the Master Plan design team throughout the process. In the master plan phase, the community process has included more than one hundred meetings with groups and citizens of San Antonio, including four public forums held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. The design team is listening and has incorporated ideas from these meetings into the master plan.

The plan is comprehensive. It includes areas to interpret the history of the site before it was a mission, as a mission, as a battlefield, and as a place in San Antonio’s urban history. The plan contains large civic gathering places for the enjoyment of our citizens. It has places to sit and enjoy a coffee or an ice cream cone and places for a romantic dinner with soft music. There will be places for our holiday gatherings and for dignified ceremonies.

The plan is connective. The re-envisioned civic space connects to all the adjacent zones around the site. The plan connects with other City efforts to re-imagine South Alamo Street and create strong and vibrant connections with Hemisfair and with La Villita Historic Arts Village. Arms of the plan stretch to the River Walk, into the Shops at Rivercenter, and connect to Southtown. Losoya Street will be enhanced with trees and pedestrian amenities as an extension of the Broadway Corridor improvements. Houston Street will be strengthened by having an iconic historic site and museum along its path eastward.

The plan is porous, meaning there are numerous ways to get in and out of the district. It allows for a network of entrances and exits. While the new district will contain a dignified and peaceful historic site, that site can be entered from all four directions.

The plan is expansive. For too long locals have heard that “the Alamo is so small.” That is because it has been interpreted as a small shrine along busy streets with bustling urban activity. The proposed plan expands the footprint of the site to interpret the mission courtyard and the burial sites of Native Americans. Through the use of glass interpretive walls, the plan allows the extent of the battleground to be understood while not blocking views of the church. The master plan stretches to the life-giving river and to the historic Alameda (East Commerce Street) where the bodies of the defenders were burned and interned.

The plan is climate-appropriate. The heat island effect of the city is real and will be addressed by significantly reducing the area of paved surfaces, retaining most of the existing trees, and by adding many new shade trees, landscaped beds of plants, lawns of grass, and by the refreshing presence of water in the form of interpreted acequias. Lanes of South Alamo Street will be removed and replaced by a rippling acequia lined with native plants and by the shade of the pedestrian promenade. All heritage trees will be preserved or relocated.

Alamo Plaza as a space that is associated with a World Heritage site is being re-imagined so that all visitors can understand the context of the historic site. Alamo Plaza as a civic space (extending from Commerce to Houston Streets) is being enhanced by the activation of Plaza Valero and the tree-covered sidewalks of the promenade connecting to the Torch of Friendship Plaza. From there, the plan connects to the proposed Civic Park in Hemisfair. Rather than the two acres of street pavement and sidewalks that we now call Alamo Plaza, the plan creates a pedestrian spine encompassing almost 20 acres of civic space, most of it shaded by trees, and stretching from Houston Street to César E. Chávez Boulevard. This urban district will provide a landscaped spine for the eastern half of downtown. The plan is big and bold, something quite rare for an American city or a state to propose.

The Alamo Master Plan is the outcome of a four-year process. It is a dynamic, multi-purposed transformation of an entire urban district. It deserves the support of the citizens of San Antonio and Texas.

14 thoughts on “Alamo Plan: Community-Driven, Comprehensive, and Connective

  1. Hype it all you like. It’s still a huge failure and a disaster for the people of this city.
    Your vision is all wrong.

  2. Are you REALLY listening to the community? Because they’re saying over and over that they don’t like the glass walls or the removal of trees to create an empty dirt plaza. Hello?

  3. While I might quibble over certain features of the new “Alamo Plan” (is there an entry/exit on Houston St.? Seems critical. And with all the little sticky hands reaching out to touch the shiny glass wall – who’s going to clean the thing? And how often?) I think what the majority agrees with is what we have today on Alamo Plaza is god-awful. YES to removing all the crud T-shirt shops and irrelevant “Ripley’s this and Guinness that” and relocating them to a more appropriate city sponsored “Entertainment District.” YES to moving the Cenotaph (by now everyone knows the bodies were burned over on Commerce St. Let’s make an attempt to at least be historically accurate. Why the big furor over simply trying to maintain authenticity when the Cenotaph was originally plopped down where it is today, during the 1936 Texas Centennial, out of convenience and pure expedience.) YES to closing Alamo St. I know, I know – I grew up parking right in front of the Alamo too. Times change. Creeping down Alamo St. at all hours has now become a white knuckle exercise in avoiding unheedful tourists, pedestrians darting in and out of traffic; a massive hodgepodge of cars, horse drawn carriages, trolleys, buses, street vendors, protesters, tour groups – it’s become a tangled nightmare – both unsightly and precarious. The new tree-lined pedestrian promenade from Commerce St. to the Plaza will be a welcome, stately (and cooling!) entrance fitting a world class monument. YES to restoring some sense of history and decorum to one of our nation’s most preeminent battle sites; mission/church/cemetery/fortress/archaeological digs … World Heritage Landmark. And why this imagined outcry that people won’t be able to congregate and celebrate in front of The Alamo anymore? Is it really above and beyond the realm of possibility that we indeed get out of our sacred automobiles and walk, run, wheelchair, skateboard, bike, pedicab to the very front door of the Alamo and VIVA! to our “Puro San Antonio” hearts content?

    • I am in favor of much of what is in the master plan at this point, yet I agree: leaders and officials – prove to us the democracy in which we claim to live. Open this up. Put it to vote. This won’t happen though because for decades we’ve been letting leaders and official get away with sliding things by us, so they are addicted to streamlining what they want. And they often get what they want.
      Are they fearful of real democracy (and not getting what they want, the way they want it)? Are they thinking like Thomas Jefferson in that only certain (educated, etc, etc) people are qualified to vote on certain issues, or at all? Either of those is worth considering. Actually, there’s truth in both, and that’s a defensible claim; just watch one of the video recordings of one of the public hearings of late, or attend this Tuesday’s hearing and see for yourself live.
      But the onus is on citizens. Citizens can get anything they want if the numbers are there. Anything. But the numbers are rarely there. Not votes when there are actual elections, and not enough voices or suitable pressures outside of elections. And when I say suitable pressures, I’m not just talking about several reporters being in the room, or several cameras rolling. Citizens are supposed to be in charge, not leaders or officials who sometimes stutter when a solid and accurate but contrary comment comes their way (you do know that there is a reason for the stuttering and the delays, right? It’s fear of real and direct democracy – they are not used to it, and they want their way).
      We certainly could change this construct, but it would take more than myself and Mr. Rendon. In fact, it would take hundreds of thousands of us. I have several friends who are successful and proud citizens of San Antonio/South Texas, and many of them didn’t even know that a master plan was in the works … because (one reason) in the aggregate we are not used to existing in real democracy; certainly not habituated to referendums. Voting on the issue? Ain’t gonna happen for Alamo Plaza. Maybe the leaders and officials know that a huge portion of SA’s population wouldn’t care enough anyway.
      But what if that huge portion of the population knew that they could get anything they wanted if the numbers were there?
      Let’s go, because there are other issues that need our attention as well.

  4. I’m happy you designers are reaching out to us folks, and stating what a beautiful site this will become. I have accepted that the Cenotaph will be moved…but I will not accept that heritage trees must be relocated.
    And I will not accept that glass walls must be there for an interpretive purpose. And if we the people have a vote, I will insist that those two items be struck down, before I say “Yes!(Si!)”

    I’ve always wanted the entertainment stuff gone, and I am glad to place faith in our leaders that Ripleys and the others will be taken care of, and promoted, in a new entertainment district.
    I can’t wait to stroll through the new Alamo museum!

    I’ve sympathy for downtown folks, who will be inconvenienced by the street closures. And if I had my druthers, we’d have increased VIA’s take from a half to a full cent yesterday.
    But I believe my SA brothers and sisters will adjust, and eventually enjoy the extended footprint of the whole historical narrative of all the peoples of this past. The future looks so bright; we gotta wear shades here in the South Texas summer!…

    …except we, tourists and residents, can also shade ourselves in the future with the currently located heritage trees and without the damned glass walls.

    Y’all have spent a great deal of time, energy, and capital. I am excited for the future of the Alamo, and we have much gratitude for all your expertise, blood, sweat and tears, and joy you’ve invested. I do support y’all and the upcoming plan…for the most part (actually, the vast majority of it!)
    Just keep your damned glass walls off sacred TX land, and let us keep all SA heritage trees solemnly in place.
    I will believe you are listening to us if you change these two items.

    Thank you again for your time and words, and I still look forward to walking the new UNESCO World Heritage Alamo mission grounds (the roof top restaurant has always sounded a bit much, but then again I bet a lot of historians, along with the tourists and residents, will have a good, albeit expensive, time there.
    Viva Fiesta! we do love a good time here in ol’ San Anto!)

    • Well put, Jonathan. My thoughts exactly. If the designers would just acknowledge our concerns about the ridiculous glass wall and baking hot courtyard stripped of heritage trees, we might have more confidence in their conceptual plan.

      BTW, Philadelphia hasn’t enclosed their historic sites in glass walls. Are they any less important than the Alamo just because they were the birthplace of our nation? Part of the thrill of Philadelphia is walking down the street and passing by Independence Hall or the Liberty Bell in the midst of an urban setting.

      We are being sacrificed to a designer’s fantasy. Let the people who live here provide some reality checks.

  5. The guiding principles state :
    “Embrace the continuum of history”

    This plan stops our history at 1836 and ignores the Plazas civic and cultural history

    “Enhance connectivity”

    Walls exclude and disrupt , walls are not porous and Alamo the street disappears forever.

    “Preservation based on historical evidence ”

    The north wall and the west acequia are not in historic locations and distort the original battlefield size and character

    Finally the guiding principles state :
    “The Alamo Area experience has evolved over more than 300 years and continues to be a community gathering place”

    With this plan the city is walled out and history distorted.

  6. – “The plan is porous, meaning there are numerous ways to get in and out of the district.” –

    Notice they say district and not plaza. That’s because the district includes a much larger area than the plaza. The plaza will have one entrance.

    From the Master Plan’s own documentation:

    “Under the proposed plan, visitors will enter through an interpretation of the historic South Gate entrance. Reestablishing the historic approach and entrance is the critical first step in allowing the visitors to properly experience and understand the historic site.”

    And

    “Pedestrians and vehicles on Houston will still be able to see the Alamo
    through glass walls. For those wishing to visit the site, they will be directed one block south down Losoya Street to enter through the South Gate entrance to the Alamo.”

    These people are lying to us all. I want to know where the demand for one entrance to Alamo Plaza came from. Is this a Phil Collins demand? His donation of his collection of Alamo artifacts is contingent upon a “Smithsonian Style Museum” and I’m convinced it is Phil Collins who has put blocking Alamo Plaza and kicking out the people of San Antonio as first priority.

    Now if you will excuse me. I’m going to go down to Alamo Plaza right now and enjoy the Battle of Flowers Parade with my fellow San Antonians.

  7. the fact that they feel the need to defend their design shows they are getting some serious backlash. They may be a San Antonio firm but are they ‘native born?’ From what I can tell they have no clue about the sacred nature of the Alamo and the grounds. They should be tarred and feathered and rode out on a rail.

  8. James, thank you for your comments. I’m still confused about Heritage Trees. You said “retaining most of the existing trees” and “All heritage trees will be preserved or relocated” so could you please be more specific? I went to the Muni Codes to try to understand the rules on heritage trees, but I’m still confused. I think those oaks have to be 24″ in diameter at chest height so I’m going to measure them.

    Would you mind explaining to us, in layman’s terms, which trees are heritage trees, and how they can be relocated?

    Thanks!

  9. If the plan is porous, tell me all the ways for people to get in and out (without going through a building such as the museum) and tell me whether they will be open all the hours that the one main entrance is open (or these going to be emergency exits that will be closed much of the time). All the publicity emphasizes one entrance–the original main entrance.

    And no one seems to address the etched graffiti problem downtown has with glass. That glass wall is going to look ugly fast.

  10. Mr. Fischer and Mr. Gray must not be attending the same public hearings I have been attending. This plan is NOT community driven! At the last public hearing, one of the speakers ask for all people opposed to this plan please stand up. At least 90% of the audience stood up.
    The general public in San Antonio and across the State of Texas, even the vast majority of the state legislative in Austin, have no knowledge of this Master Plan.
    For the past three weeks, I have been telephoning newspapers across the State of Texas asking what they know about the Alamo Master Plan. Only three had any knowledge of the plan. All were aghast at the details of the plan.
    Even our elected officials in Austin have LITTLE OR NO KNOWLEDGE of this plan. When they were contacted asked about, only 3 0f the 31 Senators
    have any knowledge of the details of the Master Plan
    Yes, Mr. Gray and Mr. Fisher are all in for this plan. Both are part of the Alamo Endowment planning committee. Could it be they have an inside track to benefit financially from the $450,000,000.00 required for this plan? I do not know, but it is a fair question to ask. After-all Mr. Gray is a landscape architect, and Mr. Fisher is an architect.
    Are they receiving a salary for their participation and consultation services to the Alamo Endowment? What about the other members of the Alamo Endowment. All of the members appear to be monied people or politically connected.
    We will probably never known because of the 501 c3 cover which is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
    Dr. George Skarmeas preaches about the total need to maintain Authenticity, Integrity, and Reversibility for this plan. There is nothing Authentic about Glass Walls. There is no Integrity about destroying the Spanish and Mexican culture of Alamo Plaza and transforming it into bleak, sterile glass walled, locked down park that is open only at regulated hours. Danish Modern is a good description is a good of what the new park will look like.
    At the August 2, 2016 public hearing, Dr. Skarmeas was asked if his master plan would include rebuilding any of the original walls and buildings on Alamo Plaza. He answered no, stating three reasons. One of those reasons was “….”it is also because we cannot single out one moment in time.”
    Would Dr. Skarmeas apply this same logic of …”cannot single out one moment in time” to the 300 Spartans defense of Thermopylae Pass in his home country of Greece?
    This Master Plan is rotten to the core. The slick sounding words of Mr. Gray and Mr. Fisher ring hollow, reminding me of the words of a “snake oil” pitch

  11. One of my original observations is that the orientation of the plaza (the energy, if you will) is predominately North/South, the Alamo peeking from the side. Closing the street does not help this “space” favor the Alamo, and neither does the glass enclosure. I am proposing enhancing the East/West axis of the plaza from the Alamo. How? If the plaza is solid trees (think Cottonwood grid), the East/West axis, then voided, would be striking in it’s contrast, and something not really noted until upon it. After many centuries of influence, the Baroque axis has some historically significant use, even today. The Coppini cenotaph as a giant billboard removed from the Alamo site to across from the convention center does not seem flattering, and the pedestrian would only experience it if approaching from a convention.

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