Alamo Plan: San Antonio’s Heart in a Glass Box

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This rendering demonstrates the level of visibility designers hope to achieve at Alamo Plaza for passersby on Houston Street.

Courtesy / Texas General Land Office

This rendering demonstrates the level of visibility designers hope to achieve at Alamo Plaza for passersby on Houston Street.

There is nothing more central to the identity of San Antonio, or Texas for that matter, than the Alamo. It’s not just a building, it’s not just a story: it’s who we are as a people. The Alamo is perhaps the greatest icon of our Texas mythology and the most important symbol of our city.

The Alamo complex has been at the literal heart of San Antonio for generations. A city at the crossroads of culture, San Antonio has been unique among American cities. In the tradition of South Texas, the grounds and plaza of the Alamo have always been a simple and understated setting.

Within 20 years of the battle, the plaza was developing as a civic space and within 50 years it was serving as San Antonio’s civic center. Now, faced by Paul Philippe Cret’s beautiful Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and United States Courthouse on the north, Alfred Giles’ Crockett Block on the west (1859), and the lively bandstand and the historic Menger Hotel (1859) on the south, the Alamo was the backdrop to our city life. Memories of a city have been built here: outlaws and heroes, parades, and celebrations have all played out over the many generations.

In the past, the Alamo has had many faces, and though revered, it has at times been neglected and abused. The State of Texas took possession of the church after it was determined in 2015 that the Daughters of the Texas Republic of Texas could not care for the historic complex adequately. Soon, the State announced that it would rescue the Alamo from obscurity and raise funds for a grand master plan that would give the Alamo a proper setting for its adoration. The goal of the project is to honor the 10,000 years of history on the site of the Texas Revolution and the famous battle that made the Alamo legendary.

As with many modern approaches of this type today, there is history – and then there is now – as well as architects and politicians not wishing to muddle the vision of the future with our messy nostalgia. But the common man doesn’t see it that way – he sees no separation between history and who we are today. In fact, history is who we are. We wrap our lives in tradition and memory: San Antonio is cloaked in this memory and tradition.

What the new “Reimagine the Alamo” master plan fails to recognize is the 150 years of history after the Alamo and what this history has meant to our city over time. It was the birthplace of our most treasured celebration, Fiesta and the Battle of the Flowers Parade, as it is celebrated today. It has been at the heart of our city for generations – the central plaza always accessible day and night.

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.

Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report

A vendor pulls his cart of merchandise amid tourists and locals in front of the Alamo before the 2013 Battle of the Flowers Parade.

So how do you spend $50 million and improve something everyone already loves? How, according to the new plan, do you preserve history? Well, evidently, you put the Alamo in a glass case, hermetically sealed from the world and from the city in which it lives – San Antonio’s living, beating heart in a box.

With this new plan, the physicality of the historic structures is paradoxical. The rampart walls cannot be expressed as the literal stone they once were, for that would be confusing to the public: they must be a modern interpretation rendered in glass – an ethereal reminder. However, equally perplexing is the fact that while they cannot be literal with the walls, they are determined to be literal with the Alamo’s Plaza Major, ripping out 150 year old majestic oak trees to express a dirt plain the approximate size of a football field: vast, empty, and exposed. Has there been no consideration for the South Texas weather during July and August?

I can go into other issues with the plan, such as the single entrance, traffic flow, and parking. These are inconveniences to say the least. Yet, what this plan threatens is San Antonio itself. The Alamo is ours, it is our history, our mythology, our traditions and a shared cultural memory – the image of ourselves as a people. You cannot separate the memory from the reality. The heart of San Antonio will be memorialized, but it will stop beating. It will become someone else’s Alamo.

Remember the Alamo?

19 thoughts on “Alamo Plan: San Antonio’s Heart in a Glass Box

  1. Michael
    I could not agree with you more.
    #1 No Glass Wall, Creates a unrealistic barrier. The cost to maintain it over the next 300 years will be unsustainable.
    #2 Keep Alamo street open during the week closed on weekends.
    #3 Keep existing trees and Cenotaph in Place.
    #4 Turn Crockett building in to Museum.
    This plan is way too grandiose for what needed for everyone to enjoy.

  2. The guiding principles for the Alamo Master Plan state :

    The Alamo plaza” will continue to be the community gathering place”

    The Glass Walls disrupt connectivity and exclude our community.This plan walls out our city and worse ignores the pivotal history of our city since the fall of the Alamo in 1836.

    The proposed north wall is NOT in an historic location and is placed there solely to wall out citizens and create a falsely created plaza disconnected from our history and our culture…the desire to wall out our community and create hours for visitation does not conform to the guiding principles which state,”

    Embrace the continuum of history to foster understanding ”

    The walls stop our history at 1836 ..there is termination of our historic and cultural continuum !

    “Enhance connectivity”

    The walls exclude movement and curtail the hours of visitation ……the worlds great plazas welcome access with out walls our civic experience will stop at the Alamo walls ..

    Finally the guiding principle state :

    “Preservation and Intrepretation based on historical and archaeological evidence”

    The north wall is Not in an historic location , it makes the plaza smaller than the historic plaza and confuses the history of the original battlefield , the proposed west acequia is not in the same historic location and further confuses the role of the plaza as a historic and civic place by introducing non historic elements intended for a visitor experience contained in a glass box …

  3. Michael
    I could not agree with you more.
    #1 No Glass Wall, Creates an unrealistic barrier. The cost to maintain it over the next 300 years will be unsustainable.
    #2 Keep Alamo street open during the week closed on weekends.
    #3 Keep existing trees and Cenotaph in Place.
    #4 Turn Crockett building in to the Alamo Museum.
    This plan the design team crafted is way too grandiose for what is needed for everyone to enjoy.

  4. I’m very pleased to note the recent amount of pushback from San Antonio residents against this plan to take Alamo Plaza away from us and give us a battle shrine. I hope city council, etc. understand how devastating this plan is to the civic life of SA. We need the city to understand that there are a great number of residents against this proposal and that they need to protect the city and keep the state in check on this.

  5. Thank you Michael! If those damned glass walls go up, I will feel their figurative thumbs on my eye sockets.
    Keep the trees in place! Add more trees (cottonwoods preferred, but not exclusive!)! Remember the South Texas sun!

    Great article, wonderfully put, let’s see if they’re listening.

  6. I completely agree. I did not like this plan from the minute I read about it. One of my favorite things to do when downtown is drive visiting friends past the Alamo on the way out or home or, alternately, walk to it for some late-night snapshots. When running one of the city’s many half marathon or 5k events, I often pause in front of the Alamo facade for a quick selfie alone or with race partners. This plan turns a hub of our city into a sterile museum. Is there anything that can be done to influence changing these plans?

  7. I have always known about my families and other families ties to the Alamo. The Losoya’s, Gortai’s, Charli, Herrera,Cantu and the Trevino’s. These Families loved , lived and died on the grounds, along with countless nameless Native Americans. We know this land as The Alamo, to them it was simply their home. Myself and many others had been patiently waiting for the reveal of Dr. Skarmeas design to see how the story of our families and the Alamo would be told. When I saw the reveal last week it took my breath away, so I could not wait for the meeting last night to hear more. I came away even more impressed with the design, and the thought process in which they arrived at their design. Imagine being able to walk on a plexiglass platform and gaze down upon countless artifacts representing not only the 1836 footprint but back through countless years of history representing Mexican, Spanish, French and Native American time periods. I always Imagined the time when all people of San Antonio would be represented at our beloved Alamo, but never to this level. I would like to thank everyone on the committees for their time and expertise on this project, and I would encourage my Tejano families to get involved and show your support. We will NEVER get this chance again. Annette Garcia Tynan “From the Family of The Losoya’s

  8. So the angry status quo that has controlled, neglected, and mutilated the Alamo into a tourist trap screams for attention and power yet again: “What the new ‘Reimagine the Alamo’ master plan fails to recognize is the 150 years of history after the Alamo and what this history has meant to our city over time.”

    If anything, the last 150 years of “Alamo history” are hardly suffering.
    It’s the last 150 years of misuse and abuse that has damaged the Alamo, not the plan that is still under discussion. This plan still needs lots of work, but if you’re only crying and screaming about everything post-1836 needing attention, you really don’t understand the Alamo.

  9. The glass wall and one entrance seem problematic to me. Where do people park and how far do they have to walk in the Texas heat to reach the entrance?

    Upkeep on a huge glass wall sounds expensive and a glass wall has nothing to do with the period.

    Sounds like a big waste of money to create an inconvenient hotbox that requires constant cleaning.

  10. I was in 4th grade when I visited the Alamo. It was amazing. My dad was stationed in Texas in the mid 50’s. I can’t imagine changing anything. It should be preserved in its original form. How it stood and was presented in the time it lived. Maintain it in its original historic form.

    • If we were to maintain it in its “original historic form”, we would have to remove the roof and the facade added by the U.S. Army after 1836.

  11. Thank you! Hopefully more architects will speak out. I’m gathering all the excellent articles and comments on Rivard Report and sending them to our Governor. He listened when he was Attorney General and I sent him my complaint against the DRT and their mismanagement of the Alamo.
    406 people have signed the petition and many have left comments. Please sign and spread the word!
    https://www.change.org/p/greg-abbott-remember-the-alamo-properly

  12. It is well to realize that, had there been no 1836 battle, the church and Long Barrack building would’ve been torn down at the beginning of the 20th Century to make way for a hotel. Adina de Zavala and Clara Driscoll would not have had a reason to step in to save it and we wouldn’t even be talking about it right now because there would be nothing left to talk about. At best, there would be a plaque in that hotel stating how “Here once stood Mission San Antonio de Valero.” But Adina and Clara did save it because they realized that it was so much more than just another mission. The”Shrine Of Texas Liberty” stands today as a shining reminder to all freedom-loving people in the world.

    So, in a nutshell: No battle. No Alamo.

  13. Their vision will soon be a scratched, dirty barrier. What the heck are they thinking. Cheap. Bourgeois. Not an arty vision at all. 150 year old tees! Do NOT take them out! Trees add property value for a reason. We will organize to resist this atrocious idea. Geez!

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