Coming Attraction: It’s Alamo Plaza Week in San Antonio

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Gift shops, amusement rides, and wax museums make up the businesses at Alamo Plaza.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Gift shops, entertainment businesses, and a wax museum make up the west side of Alamo Plaza.

This is the week many have been waiting for: The Alamo Plaza brain trust and its team of designers, preservationists, and placemakers will unveil the draft site plan for the redevelopment of  the historic plaza.

Local media, including the Rivard Report, will be briefed next week, and the public will get its first look at the plan when the four-year-old Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee meets Thursday, June 7, from 6-8 p.m. to receive a presentation of the draft site plan, its central elements, and the timeline for moving forward with public hearings and City Council consideration.

That meeting is open to the public, and it's clear that the principals have learned from the ill-fated plan presented more than one year ago. For starters, Thursday's public meeting will be held in the Witte Museum's Prassel Auditorium at 3801 Broadway St., a far more accessible locale for most than the Henry B. González Convention Center, site of the 2017 limited public hearings.

This year, a full schedule of public hearings will be held throughout the 10 City Council districts, meaning everyone lives close to at least one meeting locale. Locations are forthcoming, but four public input meetings are scheduled for June 18, 19, 20, and 21 from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

The Alamo Plaza project ranks with the San Antonio River Improvement Project in terms of historic, cultural, and economic importance. Citizens have invested $384 million to date in the San Antonio River, and with the Park Segment of the Museum Reach still to be undertaken it will ultimately exceed $500 million in cost, with an almost incalculable return on investment in terms of city-building along its 13 miles.

The Alamo Plaza carries an estimated price tag of $350 million, with $200 million coming from private donors, but the truth is the project could cost more if a world-class museum and visitors center eventually replaces the hodgepodge of buildings on the plaza's west side that currently house entertainment businesses, which will move to a still-undisclosed location elsewhere downtown.

We can debate which project – the San Antonio River or the Alamo Plaza – will matter most to the redefining of San Antonio as a 21st-century city with an urban core as welcoming to locals and visitors. Together, the two projects are essential elements of the rare UNESCO World Heritage designation given to the Alamo and four Spanish-colonial Missions in 2015.

What is not subject to debate is that the Alamo Plaza project has proven to be far more contentious with many more conflicted stakeholders and a highly engaged public.

None of the stakeholders will get everything they want, but if there is a single bond that joins them all, it should be that the status quo is an urban embarrassment – a significant historic site and central civic plaza, its great potential left untapped in a state of neglect for decades.

It would be tragic if conflict over elements of the redesign devolve into a level of social and political conflict that derails the redevelopment. That is possible, but everyone involved should realize such an outcome would say more about this city to the rest of the world than any of us would like to live with in the coming years.

I write this as someone who was flabbergasted by the plan first unveiled more than one year ago that called for cutting down heritage trees and enveloping the Alamo's historic footprint in locking glass walls. I also remind myself that the clock is ticking and perpetual disagreement that thwarts progress will cause state leaders and donors to lose interest and take their money elsewhere. I am prepared to join others and give ground to gain ground.

That's especially important this year. Let's not allow San Antonio to become a city where angry firefighter union officials run City Hall, and where discord makes us paralyzed to urban renewal and progress.

Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library Collection Committee Chairman Susan Riedesel walks through the Presidio Gallery in the Bexar County Archives Building.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library Collection Committee Chair Susan Riedesel walks through the Presidio Gallery in the Bexar County Archives Building.

The brain trust I mentioned is not an easy sentence to diagram. It consists of the Alamo Management Committee, which is overseeing the project and includes two representatives from three entities: the Texas General Land Office, the City of San Antonio, and the nonprofit Alamo Endowment. The Endowment was organized to raise private funds for the redevelopment project and preservation of the Alamo as well as educational initiatives, and it exercises significant political influence over the project; and the Alamo Trust, formerly known as the Alamo Complex Management, which the General Land Office formed to take over day-to-day management and custodial responsibilities from the Alamo and its grounds from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in 2015.

While the Daughters lost a bitter battle with state officials to perpetuate their century-long custody of the Alamo, they did win a court battle to retain ownership of the collection of 38,000 books and manuscripts, maps, artworks and photographs, and more that today is housed in the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library in the Presidio Gallery in the Bexar County Archives Building at 126 E. Nueva St., site of the former Federal Reserve Building here. The treasured archive's relocation is a reminder that the Battle of the Alamo, while most famously fought over 13 days in 1836, remains a pitched engagement even today.

Flickr / jpellgen

Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

As the new design is shared and then considered in the coming weeks, city leaders would be wise to visit the one other urban streetscape in the United States that is a World Heritage site: Independence Hall and its contemporary National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. San Antonio should aspire to achieve the same heights in Alamo Plaza.

First we have to agree we want to move forward.

28 thoughts on “Coming Attraction: It’s Alamo Plaza Week in San Antonio

  1. Something has to be done. A visit to the mission town of San José is a “WOW!” experience. A visit to The Alamo is typically an “Is there all there is?” experience.

    Because of the attraction of the famous battle at the Alamo, a meaningful visit to that site could serve as a gateway to discovering all of San Antonio’s 300+year Wow! history.

    Let’s not miss the change to make that happen!

  2. The Alamo Project and Reimagine the Alamo initiatives are the latest efforts in the telling of Texas history to perpetuate a system of dominance and cultural hegemony in our community.

    Cultural hegemony is defined as the domination of the ruling class who manipulates the culture of society’s beliefs, perceptions, values, and mores so that their worldview becomes the accepted cultural norm. More and more research and books are today acknowledging the true cause of the Texian revolution to have been about establishing and maintaining slavery as the economic model for the development of Texas rather than a noble quest for freedom. The Texian revolution was, in fact, a precursor to the American Civil War

    Most of the organizations mentioned in this article (Alamo Endowment, Alamo Endowment, Daughters of the Texss Revolution) are comprised predominantly by white, wealthy elites with a biased view of history. What does this say about the overall community participation in these projects?

    The Alamo story has served as myth and folklore to reinforce the dominance of white southern mores and values over local, indigenous Native and Hispanic populations. This has had devastating consequences for the economic, political and social development of San Antonio that is today recognized as one of the most econically segregated cities in the U.S. This is the fundamental source of “social and political conflict” that is currently playing out in the public sphere. Rather that spending millions of dollars on the updated retelling of the Alamo story, how about investing dollars to address poverty in the inner core of San Antonio as well as educational inequities in our grossly underfunded school districts?

    If we are to move forward, we must acknowledge the false history that was created around the Alamo and begin addressing inequitable and unjust conditions that many San Antonians have to face every day.

    • You’re so right! And we need to recognize EVERY Texan’s history not just an unlucky bunch of rifle-toting white men. (True, there were Mexicans, Texicans and a slave among them, but those heroes don’t seem to be celebrated.)
      For example, the dime store lunch counter at the corner of Alamo Plaza is a very historic site. Around 1963 it was the scene of the first successful lunch counter sit-in and quietly led to the end of Whites Only signs in San Antonio. Our city was thus saved from the riots that tore apart so much of the South. Now that’s a nice bit of history! Instead of tearing down a century of interesting architecture (in what Rivard dismisses as a “hodge podge” building) we should restore a working lunch counter to honor brave people who fought against segregation.

      • I’ve had the same thought about recreating a lunch counter there. I know they’re planning on having concessions as part of the project, so why not showcase another piece of history at Alamo Plaza?

        Making Alamo Plaza better doesn’t need to be unnecessarily complicated. I think the following changes should happen: close the plaza to traffic, while allowing parades to have access. Allow 24 hour pedestrian access through the plaza, but, due to “soft target” concerns, restrict access to the area around the chapel when it’s closed. Keep the trees, of course, and plant new ones along Houston. Move the cenotaph behind the chapel, in the gardens. Turn the gardens into a city park, and remove the stone walls. Show the location of the south wall of the mission in some way that’s better than the way it’s shown now. These changes, combined with the proposed museum, would make the Alamo experience much more interesting, and may find majority support.

      • You’re both just completely racist against white people. There is a lot of that in San Antonio like you see nowhere else in the world.

        I’ve traveled Latin America and I have never experienced as much hatred for white people as I do in South Texas and this city specifically. I’m 31 and I experience so much racism against whites here. The butt of every joke is predictably white people or Donald Trump, in which case he gets to be every joke.

        The true racists and bigots are the ones who feel so justified in their anger today they don’t care about trashing entire groups of people based upon their skin color. Which is exactly what you’re doing.

        What if I went on RR and just start talking about how San Antonio’s Alamo isn’t here for just a bunch of ‘unlucky masa toting poor brown people’ that wouldn’t go so well. But because this city is so extremely liberal you think its completely okay to publicly trash white people. The message of the left is: any color as long as its not white! I wish you and I would meet one day so that you could tell me all about me and my race to my face. I doubt you’d say half of this crap.

    • Too bad you fail to mention the absolute cultural hegemony of the Spanish – the original purpose behind the mission — the conversion of the language, religion, culture, dress, laws of the natives. Maybe you don’t mention that because your forefathers were Spanish and that would make you just as ugly as everyone else historically speaking. Just a bunch of gun toting white people right? How about that the Spanish and the Portuguese could be thanked for firing up the North Atlantic slave trade in the first place. So anyone with Hispanic roots in this community can just go ahead and thank their great great relatives as well for their contribution to the cultural hegemony and enslavement of nations.

      You’re version of history begins at the evils of the white Anglo man because if you went back any further you’d have blood on your own hands. What you want, is an opportunity to express your hatred of white men. Which you have accomplished. You’re completely unoriginal in this city and I’m sick of your racism towards whites.

      The only inconvenient truth in this city is that the missions which we protect were the centers of cultural conversion and hegemony — not just a bunch of Anglos looking to perpetuate what the Spanish had already established in the Americas for about 300 years prior to the Anglos fighting for it.

      300 years. That’s how long your forefathers supported the cause of slavery if any part of your genetic make up is Hispanic. Remember that. Get off of hating white people its just makes us white people hate you right back.

      • Don’t leave out the enlightened institution brought here by the Spaniards, the Inquisition. Maybe we should have weekly reenactments of an auto de fe , or real ones.

    • Well, if you will accept that hegemony exist and it is part of “our” history why not accept it and let it be? IF not why don’t we move it or tear it down like we did Lee’s statue in the middle of the night? Isn’t it all the same? Slavery had it’s time and thankfully that time in the U.S. is OVER, has been for some time. IT still exist in many places in the world. Indentured servitude is the modern day version of the story. Slavery included all races by the way. Native people all over the world have suffered under oppression. IT is OUR human history, ugly and not limited to one race. HISTORY is NEVER FALSE, just misinterpreted. You may not like it but those men died fighting for independence so that they could have the freedom to live and create their own union, unfortunately it DID include the ownership of slaves, but that was not the sole issue. This is history (his story not your story).

      • Historical interpretation is never unbiased and objective. It all depends upon the writers of history and their political objectives. For too long Texas history had been told primarily from a conservative, Anglo perspective.

        The intent of my comments is not to hate white people but rather to offer a socio-political analysis of history. We must move beyond the simplistic narrative of the Alamo that says Texians good, Mexicans bad. This narrative continues to be told and retold.

        Why are some white people so fragile that anytime someone offers an alternative version of history or reality they immediately claim the role of the victim rather than searching for the truth and accepting some semblance of responsibility for white power and privilege. These were after all the dominant ideology of the conquest of the U.S. southwest. Let us not forget about the role Manifest Destiny played as a propaganda tool for ideological and political hegemony.

        It is it important to remember that racism is ultimately about power. This means power of one group of people or race over another. Since indigenous and Hispanic people have little or no power, particularly economic, racism is predominantly acted out by whites against racial/ethnic people in this country.

        Yes, I acknowledge the brutality and savageness of my Spanish forebearers and reject it completely. Can you do the same for the sins of of your forefathers and dedicate yourselves toward working for a more just society?

    • Pretty tough to move forward (whatever that means) with someone who espouses hatred and revels in ignorance. Slavery a cause of the revolution? Nothing supports that claim, no matter what you learned at some La Raza meeting.

      Indigenous folks. You mean those the padres didn’t manage to work to death?

      And. btw, as I recall the Spaniards. Canary Islanders, and Mexicans who came here were not invited. They just thought to take the place from others, but weak as they were they couldn’t hold onto it. Sounds like you’re a sore loser, bub.

      • Bob,

        Who is being ignorant now?

        Please read Phillip Tucker’s books
        • Exodus From The Alamo: The Anatomy of The Last Stand Myth, and
        • America’s First Forgotten War for Slavery and Genesis of The Alamo.

        There is plenty of documentation to support the role of slavery in The Texian rebellion.

        Tucker is a Ph.D., military historian and someone who has never attended a “La Raza meeting”, whatever that is supposed to be.

        • Read Matthew Karp’s book, This Vast Southern Empire. The revolution in Texas was later seen as important to slave-holding states but slavery was not an underlying cause. Texas was important not only for its riches, but also served as a buffer against British-Mexican attempts at imperial abolition. British abolitionism had much to do with destroying slave-based economies (including Brazil and Cuba) so as to secure markets got the empire’s Indian production.

          As for the Alamo, we did not need to wait for Tucker to get a better understanding of the battle. Read,e.g., Texan Iliad.

  3. The reason San Jose is “wow” is because it is exactly that! So was the Alamo. Multiple people and groups fought long and hard battles to keep San Jose that way! Roosevelt Ave. was originally intended to skirt the church’s south wall, with the remaining elements of the mission to the south to be demolished.

    Unfortunately, the Alamo hasn’t had the multiple defenders since the original battle! It takes a coalition of stakeholders, not a single one, to keep these invaluable places to have the “wow” factor they originally were when built. It’s up to all of us to participate, preserve and restore these invaluable resources!

    • The Alamo had Adina de Zavala Were it not for her and the DRT the
      place would not exist.

      I don’t think you would call de Zavala an elite white.

  4. Thanks for adding some vision to the refurbishment of Alamo Plaza. We should be thinking big as Independence Hall and the National Constitution center.

  5. It’s easy to freak out about the Alamo when the New York Times has just called it “disappointing” but for better or for worse, a town and a tourist trade have grown up around it and it will never resemble a John Wayne movie set again.

    That said, Alamo Plaza is **almost** all right, and fairly pedestrian friendly, just way too much traffic and nowhere to slow down and soak it in. With a museum in the Crockett Block (instead of a wax museum) more access to the park space behind the Alamo, and more comfortable shade (especially close to Houston Street) , the problem would be calming down the tourists and calming down the traffic.

    I didn’t hear much detail about traffic in last year’s plan so I’ll suggest the obvious: All of the Alamo Plaza traffic is northbound, heading more or less to Broadway. It would be easy enough to divert all the northbound traffic onto Losoya from the Sebastian monument circle, and reconfigure Losoya and Crockett as needed (mostly just to accommodate the Hyatt and Menger entrances.)

    The puzzle then becomes: how to get southbound Broadway traffic (already a mess) to Commerce Street. But it could be diverted along Third Street to Bowie, and reach Commerce and Market at the Grand Hyatt & Marriott garages. Downtown traffic could turn right. It would put some pressure onto Commerce street around the Rivercenter, but pedestrians and parade routes would be largely unaffected. The rub, but also the opportunity: Southtown traffic could either turn left and follow Cesar Chavez, or turn right to reach South Alamo.

    Disagreeing a little with Independence Hall as a role model: I’d look at a European cathedral close instead. (The Alamo was, after all, once a church, and maybe one day it could be again.) It allows us to retain surrounding buildings and uses, allows plenty of opportunities to build the kind of inexpensive little gates and parks on approaching streets from all directions that tourists and architects love, and doesn’t require a huge scorching empty space. Instead of sledgehammering Alamo Plaza with Brackettville-style emptiness, a little bit of comfort, small scale, and traffic calming could go a long way to preserving what locals enjoy: a genuine public space that is NOT just a tourist attraction.

  6. I agree. Independence Hall’s area transformation has always been an inspiring comparison. Citizens of San Antonio and all stakeholders, please take a long look for 3,4, 10 generations for what is best for preserving this important, truly sacred, part of our history in a way that is dignified on the battleground/mission footprint. This is our last chance in our generation to bring integrity to this area buried by asphalt. The parked bus exhaust coating the Alamo church and long barrack, daily near-miss pedestrian accidents and daily trampling over important San Antonio history can be restored. It is time to move forward.

  7. I remember dreading to go into 7th grade history because the teacher was going to repeat the “evil Mexicans” narrative. That old song has changed somewhat; it is now a Federalists (good) vs. Centralists (bad) story. It certainly needs a lot more work, as someone has commented.

    Still, the battle is famous and can be turned, as I suggested, into a gateway to trace the state’s and our city’s history beyond the conflict related to the secession from Mexico. The Alamo is at the heart of downtown, near the attractive RiverWalk. Other important historical landmarks are not as accessible.

    As things stand, most visitors leave San Antonio and talk about the RiverWalk, not about the Alamo — and certainly not about our fascinating history. They leave happy, to be sure, but not longing for a return visit.

    As for locals, well, they went to the Alamo on a 5th grade field trip and leave it at that.

  8. It is important to notice that the Alamo and Alamo plaza are not the same thing. While somehow marking the boundary of the historic Alamo walls, and making the Alamo more important in the space of the plaza, the plaza has historic meaning on it’s own. The designers need to reconcile these two functions, and it is something worthy of checking in the design. The glass wall is not really the issue, the segregation of the two spaces/functions is. A correct integration here will be a positive step.

  9. Hey folks, the Alamo would be just another run-down adobe if it wasn’t for us white imperialists. Get over it. 😉

  10. I found Dave Bouvier’s innocent and unrelated comment in this thread hilarious! Regarding the other responses, the racial hatred expressed by those like Sarah Reveley and Downwithculturalmarxism is sad and disgusting.

  11. Ohh I will be watch this closely. I think it is a huge waste of money. I don’t know what kind of authentic time traveling experience they are trying to have. In case they have not noticed the Alamo is in the heart of downtown. There is a major shopping mall and hotel just 1 block away(if that). Busy streets filled with traffic on every side. It is downtown. I have no problem with the way it is now and see no reason to design it.

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