Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
The much anticipated “Reimagine the Alamo” plan has now been on the street for three months. The response from the public as well as from many amateur and professional historians, at least those not involved in creating the plan, has been underwhelming at best.
To be fair, there is no plan, from any source, that could be unveiled to universal acclaim. It’s the Alamo, and while it’s loved and revered by virtually all Texans, for the last 300 years it’s been an object of controversy and conflict more often than a place of peace and unanimity. Why would we expect things to be different today?
Those commenting at the public meetings over many months often cited their dislike, frequently with great passion, with some of the elements now part of the Reimagine plan, but they offered few alternatives. My hunch is if they had offered up an alternative there would’ve been immediate disapproval from the same audience who had just enthusiastically applauded their previously stated complaint. So much for consensus.
Now that the Reimagine details are known, the complaints continue…from even more complainants.
For those of us who aren’t happy with some or all of the proposal, we need to move from opposition to proposition – we need our own proposal. Now is the time to “put up or shut up.” Now is the time to restore the Alamo to a place of reverence, remembrance, and honor.
While specifics of what we would like done at the Alamo are important, the principles upon which those specifics are based, are even more so:
It’s actually quite simple, the focus should be 1836.
When asked, “Why not restore the Alamo to its 1836 appearance?” the answer from the Alamo chief planner, George Skarmeas, was always “The events of 1836 were just one small chapter in 10,000 years of history.” That’s just absurd. The Alamo exists today solely because of what happened in 1836. People from around the world go there because of the battle, not because they’re seeking to stroll through a community gathering place to buy souvenirs and cotton candy. Absent the siege of the Alamo, there would likely be a parking lot or high rise, instead of the iconic symbol of not just Texas liberty, but liberty everywhere.
We don’t need, nor should we seek, approval from any entity outside of Texas.
While it’s reasonable to listen to the experts, or inquire about national or international historic preservation standards, none of that matters when it’s time to decide. The recent revelation that the General Land Office (GLO) asked the National Park Service (NPS) if the Reimagine Plan complies with UNESCO standards indicates that priorities are wrong, and that Texas and San Antonio elected officials need to take charge and represent their constituents, not the NPS or UNESCO.
Texans want elected officials held accountable, not their surrogates.
Currently it appears the folks we elected to state and local office have delegated their responsibility to surrogates and hired hands. Gene Powell, appointed by Commissioner George P. Bush to the Alamo Endowment Board, and George Skarmeas’ firm, hired by the Alamo Master Plan Committee composed of City, state and Endowment representatives, are in charge of – or at least the face of – all things Alamo. San Antonio City Councilman Roberto Treviño has been active and visible in the process, and whether you agree with him or not, he sets a good example. We deserve our elected officials, not their surrogates, to explain it, to defend it, and to be accountable for it.
The Alamo is not art, nor is it a park.
I have to admit, the Reimagine plan glass presentation is architecturally stunning. Problem is, I don’t want to be stunned, I want to be inspired. Frankly, I want to be humbled by how little I have done for liberty when compared to those who have gone before. While San Antonio may have enjoyed the use of the Alamo as a community gathering place or convenient backdrop for over a century, that is not its highest and best use. When the Travis “Victory or Death” letter returned to the Alamo in 2013 for the first time since 1836, visitors waited in line for up to six hours to enter the darkened chapel and view the letter for a few brief moments. When they exited the chapel many were tearful. They were moved and inspired. We need to create that inspiring environment permanently. Where community gathering space conflicts, inspiring history should prevail.
What is needed, and what those responsible should be advocating for, is a restoration of the Alamo to as close to its original footprint and appearance as reasonable. The experts and consultants tell us that restoration is frowned upon these days, but if Stonehenge, sections of the Great Wall of China, and even Mission San José can be reconstructed, why not the Alamo? Of course, complete restoration is not possible – we know the federal building is here to stay although it could make an outstanding museum and visitor’s center. We know the hump on the Alamo façade, as well as the roof will remain. And, if the Alamo footprint is to be recreated, the cenotaph needs to be moved. Notice I said “needs to be moved,” I didn’t say “needs to be moved away.” A cenotaph just south of the low barracks and defensive lunette would be equally as prominent and connected to the Alamo as it is today, while finally giving the Plaza some badly needed interpretive space.
I’m not alone in this belief. Historian and filmmaker Gary Foreman (see below) has already developed a plan that brings focus to reverence, education, and quality interpretation. This plan, and a similar one published by the San Antonio Express-News in 1994, are good starting points for discussion.
We have one chance to get this right, and that chance occurs now. We’ll get rolled if we just whine and complain. Let’s put up or shut up, and do it now.
God bless Texas.