Alamo Plan Removes Critical Community Gathering Place

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Alamo Master Plan renderings with commentary from David Lake.

Courtesy / David Lake

Alamo Master Plan renderings with commentary from David Lake.

All the citizens in our city and our state want a transformative Alamo Plaza plan to succeed.  

To be a vital destination for everyone, it is equally important to have the plaza be a dynamic and welcoming civic space as it has been for the past 200 years. The Alamo Area Experience Guiding Principles state: “Enhance connectivity and wayfinding to the river, neighborhoods, La Villita, the cathedral and the other plazas.”

Mission courtyards were the center of community activity and Misión San Antonio de Valero’s must remain a part of ours: open, welcoming, and inclusive. The fourth theme of the Alamo Plaza Guidelines states: “The Alamo Area Experience has evolved over more than 300 years and continues to be a community gathering place.”

The plaza, as it is currently envisioned with a glass wall separating the Alamo grounds from the rest of the city, creates a walled destination for Alamo visitors and inhibits the use of the space for the public. We feel that the plaza should be both a historic place and a vibrant public space fully connected to the city “to continue to be a community gathering place.  The City must undertake a broader study of downtown’s streets and plazas, implementing a solution that keeps downtown connected north to south and east to west for vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians.

Alamo Master Plan renderings with commentary from David Lake.

Alamo Master Plan renderings with commentary from David Lake. Click to enlarge.

Alamo Plaza should be a memorable place for citizens to return to again and again – A place that strengthens our city.

We urge City Council to approve the master plan conditional on the plaza remaining a connected civic space rather than a controlled-access outdoor museum. The plaza must be a welcoming and integral part of our city, as envisioned by the guidelines.

The master plan process should enable citizens of the city and state, together with stakeholders, to thoughtfully consider these shortcomings and shape a plan which ultimately creates the vibrant heart our downtown deserves. For more than 200 years, the Alamo and the plaza have been shaping our community and our citizens. The Alamo is truly the heart and soul of our city, welcoming everyone to honor our history and our vibrant culture.

Here are the Master Plan Guidelines and our notes on elements which the plan does not address (click here to download):

Guiding Principles (8)

(Three of the principles have not been met by the master plan.)

  1. Preservation and interpretation based on historical and archaeological evidence. (The north wall south of Houston Street is not located where the north wall was. The west acequia as shown is well east of the original west acequia.)
  1. Embrace the continuum of history to foster understanding and healing. (The current plan goes back to 1836 and does not consider the many cultural, historic, and civic uses of the plaza.)
  1. Enhance connectivity and wayfinding to the river, neighborhoods, La Villita, the cathedral, and the other plazas. (Connectivity is terminated by the arbitrary non-historic north wall location and restricts access.   More openings in the wall will not provide access at all hours and the wall limits pedestrian/bike access.)

Themes and Goals (4)

Each of the four themes is followed by primary and secondary goals. (Three of the eight primary goals are not met by the master plan.)

Primary (Impact)

  1. Include a document that gives the background information on the more than 300 years of history of the Alamo Plaza site. (The current plan focuses on Alamo Plaza in 1836 and disrupts the history and use of the plaza post-1836.)
  1. Interpret the Alamo so visitors understand its location on the battlefield. (See Theme A.)
  1. Develop and implement a comprehensive transportation, circulation, and parking plan to accommodate accessibility while exerting minimal negative impact on the visitor experience in the Alamo area. (Where is the comprehensive traffic and circulation plan?)

THEME A: The evolution of settlements and cultures around the Alamo area. (The master plan creates new walls to the north and a west acequia which are not in historic locations and confuse the integrity of the battlefield.) 

THEME B: Tell the story of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo

(The master plan creates new walls to the north and a west acequia which are not in historic locations and confuse the integrity of the battlefield.)

Goal 3: Provide ways to understand the geography of the battlefield site

  1. Visitors of all ages will gain an understanding of the physical space, geography, and context of the Alamo compound, including the interpretation of important geography and locations:
  • The topography and geography of the Alamo Compound in relation to the Villa de Béjar, acequias, wells, cemetery, field, housing, etc.
  • The physical structures and layout of the Alamo compound. (The arbitrary location of the north wall and the west acequia disrupt the plaza’s original character implying a much smaller space, which is not historically accurate.)

THEME C: The Alamo area is a place of remembrance, honor, and respect 

THEME D: The Alamo area experience has evolved over more than 300 years and continues to be a community gathering place.

(The walls exclude the community and disrupt connectivity, creating a place for visitors but inflexible to events that occur today. In this plan, it is no longer a community gathering place.)

Goal 1. Present what the Alamo area looked like over the different periods of its more than 300 years of history. (Post 1836 Alamo Plaza is frozen in time and bounded by fake walls, ignoring the history of the plaza as a significant civic and cultural place.)

Include:

  1. Secularization of the mission, shops opened in the structures of the west and south sides of the Plaza
  2. Evolution and expansion of the civil settlement
  3. The beginning of urbanization (1880-1900)

Goal 3. Review historic and current commercial ventures in the Alamo Plaza area and ensure future commerce and programming honors, respects, and complements the area. (The plan honors Alamo Plaza in 1836 not the history of commerce in the plaza post-1836.)

(The walls exclude the community and disrupt connectivity, creating a place for visitors but inflexible to events that occur today. In this plan, it is no longer a community gathering place.)

As drawn, the master plan features:

  1. The glass wall north of plaza does not conform to the archaeological evidence of the historic wall which was located north of this location (wall was within the historic courthouse building). This is confusing to the visitor experience. It keeps pedestrians and possible traffic from entering the north from Houston Street and North Alamo Street.
  2. Acequia at west side of plaza does not conform to archaeological evidence of the historic location of the acequia (which was located further west). This confuses the visitors’ experience and compromises the importance of the original acequias which were located east of the Alamo and west of the proposed west acequia location.

14 thoughts on “Alamo Plan Removes Critical Community Gathering Place

  1. Not having a member on the team (ideally of Indigenous origin), who is a specialist in Spanish Colonial era architecture, Franciscan Missions and Cemetery sites / World Heritage sites is negligence. The stories of the diverse founders of San Antonio have been treated like 3rd class citizens (once again), and their corresponding burial locations disrespected with the most inappropriate plan to trench and remove human remains. Simply for that reason, this plan should be REJECTED by council and a mandate to remove the Mexican Landscape Designer and reorganize be demanded! Fact is, many and in particular the National Parks Service, Texas Historical Commission (who should know better) and Dr. George Skarmeas (who obviously is out of his area of expertise), have failed this process and need reprimanded and or replaced. The site, based on the final plan is in danger. Approval of plan would exacerbate this with gross negligence. Corresponding complaint to UNESCO is warranted.

  2. TOTALLY AGREE!!! The plan should be REJECTED in its entirety.
    The people of this city (historians, indigenouscitizens, citizens that frequent the Alamo, architects, and urban planners) should be doing this plan.
    REJECT IT IN ITS ENTIRETY AND START OVER WITH LOCALS.

    • It’s true that outsiders (like Johnson Fain, PPS, MIG and others), have irreversibly damaged a National Treasure – that of Mission San Antonio de Valero / The Alamo located in HemisFair Park and La Villita. However, others on retainer with COSA or part of or contractors to our LGC’s, are in fact more at fault — as are several local, state and federal agencies who have ingeniously manipulated the public process. At the end of the day, history and heritage will be king.

    • I agree. The plan is entirely based on the assumption that we will accept closing the plaza and handing it over to the General Land Office. Too many design elements are based off this initial assumption. If you start with an open plaza, the options change and the plan will take a new direction.

  3. David, Your comments confirm your lack of understanding of the Alamo Plaza Historic District and your lack of research into the actual Master Plan.
    1. You are incorrect to say that the master plan focuses on the Plaza in 1836. If this were so, why do the glass floors expose the mission archeology? Why didn’t we reconstruct the palisade wall? Why didn’t we include the historic cannons? Why didn’t we take the roof off of the church?
    2. Your are incorrect to claim that an acequia did not flow on the west side of the plaza. James Ivey documents at least four paths for acequias on the site which existed at different time periods. The one east of the church and the one running north-south through the mission courtyard (prior to the battle period) are the two being interpreted in the current master plan.
    3. The glass panels along Houston Street are to have graphics and historical information on them to interpret the main artifacts of the site, the long barrack/convento, the plaza and the church. They are glass so that the space of the original compound is not defined by an opaque wall or fence that implies restriction. As a master plan concept that responds to a client requirement for closure, security, and the edge of the available historic site, the transparency of the glass is the master plan’s concept that meets those requirements. Other materials could be considered that met those requirements if they do so as unobtrusively as the glass.
    3. You are incorrect to say that Alamo Plaza will no longer be a community gathering place. Alamo Plaza is being designed to have at least ten acres of public space. Eight acres will be open for what the community wants as the civic space that you call for, and two acres will be reserved to be a part of the historic site which you seem not to care about.
    4. The plan does include the opportunity to celebrate the commercial development of the Plaza area. I count that there are eleven small historic structures plus River Center Mall, the Menger Hotel, the Hotel Indigo and the Emily Morgan Hotel that will continue to be in the hands of private owners, Each could provide plaza activation if that choose. The commercial history of the plaza will be discussed in the museum as will the other periods of the plaza’s development. An yes, the museum will be housed within the footprint of three of the buildings for which you are concerned.
    I believe we both want a vibrant downtown, filled with the urban activity that I envisioned when I founded Southtown. But we have a historic city and we need to devote a little more urban space to the most important historic site in Texas.

    • Lewis, the fact that there was “a client requirement for closure, security” seems to be what people are taking issue with. Why is this a requirement? While I agree, glass is less obtrusive than an opaque wall, the problem is that a prominent public space in the city is being enclosed at all. There are other ways to demarcate the wall without it restricting access. If you have a precedent for a successful public space that is enclosed like this, I would truly be interested to see how it works. The way the current plaza is designed with the trees removed does not seem like it has the bones of a vibrant community space.

      • The meeting yesterday confirmed our suspicion that closure of the plaza is a done deal. The city council is set to vote on a plan that will cede our public space to Austin and the GLO. Once that happens, we no longer own our plaza. We no longer own this public space. We will be kicked out.

        It’s funny. When the UNESCO World Heritage designation was first discussed, the push back from from folks who thought the UN would take control of our historic site. It turns out it’s Austin that wants to take it from us.

        I’m shocked that so many here in San Antonio, especially D1 Representative Trevino are so willing to bow to Austin’s demands and hand over this city’s greatest and most treasured icon.

    • Lewis

      I beg to differ

      You say porosity

      I see walls

      You say connectivity

      I see walls that are not historic

      I have had an office for 20 years just one block north of the Alamo ,

      The loss of Alamo as a street will disrupt
      Our cultural linkage and our traffic will congeal leaving north Alamo and Houston street to wither and be disconnected forever.

      You say history

      I see relic for tourists

      I agree to disagree

      David

    • “You are incorrect…” You are incorrect…” “You are incorrect” Okay! Okay! We heard you the first time… What I`m wondering is this… We have been hearing about David Lake for the last twenty plus years…and admiring his work for exactly that long… Lewis Fisher, Who are YOU sir?!? You are an unknownin my book … The first time I ever heard of you was today, right now, this moment… I`d rather go with a guy that has a solid history and reputation than some guy I`ve never even heard of…

      • Tim, when I saw Lewis Fisher was a consultant for the R Team, I automatically assumed they were referring to THE Lewis Fisher, founder of Maverick Publishing Company, who has published forty-five books on topics ranging from San Antonio’s Spanish heritage to its urban development, and from the military to sports, architecture, and multicultural legends. A former member of the San Antonio River Commission, Fisher’s works include Alamo to Espada: A Vintage Postcard Profile of San Antonio’s Spanish Missions; San Antonio’s Historic Plazas, Parks, and River Walk in Vintage Postcard Images; San Antonio: Outpost of Empires; The Spanish Missions of San Antonio; San Antonio’s Spanish Missions: A Portrait; and Chili Queens, Hay Wagons, and Fandangos: The Spanish Plazas in Frontier San Antonio. Fisher has received numerous local, state and national writing awards and was named a Texas Preservation Hero by the San Antonio Conservation Society in 2014. http://tupress.org/authors/lewis-fisher

        Wrong Lewis Fisher. The Lewis Fisher on the Reimagine team is a principal architect at Fisher Heck Architects and oversees most of their historic architecture projects. You can read about them at http://www.fisherheck.com/ . Hopefully the 2 Lewises are communicating but it doesn’t sound like it.

  4. David, Lewis, and all other Architects who interjected themselves into this process. When you men formalize a position that there will be “NO FAKE MADRE ACEQUIA” snaking across the most historically significant FRANCISCAN / MISSION INDIAN CEMETERY in our NATION! ..That of Mission San Antonio de Valero / The Alamo! .. “maybe” I’ll have a little respect for some of you gentleman.

    1724 is NOT the starting date of the Site. The 1719 to 1723″Acequia Madres”, more than one, establish as well as delineate the site. These remain as possibly the oldest Spanish Colonial Era historic resources in all of Bexar County.

    That Lewis Fischer and George Skarmeas (at City of San Antonio direction), elected not responded to ANY questions mailed to them, is demonstrative of an intellectually deficient, biased (towards an 1836 compound .. there was no Half Mooned – Lunette, Low Barracks or General Cos Palisade, aka Crockett Palisade, in the Mission Era), and manipulated process (gross negligence), that has manifested itself into a multitude of “FATAL FLAWS” including Glass Walls, Pink Balls, Fake Acequias and inappropriate creation of another “New Park” on Market Street for the Cenotaph. “Go Authentic…or Gome!” Regarding the aforementioned comments, call them the tip of the Lance.

  5. I just want to point out here that the committee is using protection of these historic buildings as the rationale for closing Alamo Street. They cite vibrations from vehicles as well as their emissions as main culprits in the deterioration of the Church and Long Barracks. There also seems to be an idea that allowing traffic to cross the original plaza outline is an insult to the people who died there.

    Houston Street is not closing according to this Master Plan. Houston Street crosses the original plaza, and comes within a few feet of the Long Barracks.

    If these concerns were reason enough to close Alamo then they were just as if not more reason enough to close Houston. If you are going to close one street, Houston is the one to close, as Houston comes within the same distance as the Church and much closer to the barracks.

    Clearly, something else is driving this move. They want to wall us out.

    If this plan moves forward as is, the GLO will post guards at every entrance. The plaza will be shut down, and our public space will die.

  6. Eric, I respectfully disagree…and agree. In my Compromise Plan of 2014 😉 I also left Houston Street open, only because it would cause less traffic problems and we were stuck with the Federal Building anyway. Alamo Street includes the location where Travis signed his Liberty or Death letter, and more Texian blood was shed. It’s all a compromise. I have a No Compromise Plan as well but it involves demolishing everything over to the San Fernando Cathedral so I don’t mention it.

  7. This design team and whoever is handling the community consultation need to go. As of May 12th there is no clear time line related to Alamo decision-making posted to the project website (reimaginethealamo.org). The actual ‘master plan’ has finally been made available to the public but it is not clear how much time the public has to review the document or if comments about the document shared via the project website will be made part of the City’s public record or will reach Council members.

    Just as troubling, the actual posted draft plan cannot be downloaded, and it is not easily viewed online even with high speed internet. The overall website is not accessible, with WAVE reports showing multiple errors negatively impacting accessibility — for example 47 errors can be detected on the homepage alone (www.webaim.org).

    The actual draft ‘plan’ that has been posted is somehow 27 pages while the executive summary is 53 pages. What has been shared with the public to date as a draft of a major ‘plan’ is so woefully inadequate and lacking useful analysis that there’s really not much here to comment let alone vote on as planning. Instead we and Council members are expected to respond to a loose collection of bad to average design ideas propped up by digital renderings, mainly borrowed from other sources and that address at best about half of the site and surrounding urban context.

    Various factors including the website suggest the planning team is outside of their depth. Trailing the sad ‘Design TV’ approach to presenting the design executive summary (‘the big reveal’), the language of ‘recapturing’ Alamo Plaza being employed by the team is deeply disrespectful to the public and the history of the site, while also reflecting an attitude of urban revanchism that San Antonians reject.

    It relates to David Lake’s critique above of the design work presented (and this team’s overall approach and sensibility) as ultimately anti-urban and anti-human. No one can explain why a planning team with preservation expertise would propose with a straight face removing mature trees, our more than 150 year history of plaza vending or Constitutional rights to peaceful assembly but not a surface parking lot on the Alamo grounds. San Antonians, downtown and Alamo Plaza deserve much better than this, including any Council that would vote to move such an awful plan and planning process forward.

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