Don’t Like a Reimagined Alamo? Time to Put Up or Shut Up

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The Battle of Flowers Parade passes in front of the Alamo.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The 2017 Battle of Flowers Parade passes in front of the Alamo.

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.

Italia Aguilera (right) holds up a sign at the public input meeting for the Alamo Master Plan.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Italia Aguilera (right) holds up a sign at a public input meeting for the Alamo Master Plan in May.

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.

This rendering shows Alamo Plaza (looking northeast from above) at dusk.

Courtesy / Texas General Land Office

The proposed rendering shows Alamo Plaza (looking northeast from above) at dusk.

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.

44 thoughts on “Don’t Like a Reimagined Alamo? Time to Put Up or Shut Up

  1. “A Star Reborn” presents great ideas… that could use a couple of tweaks:
    1) Restore the second floor of the long barracks
    2) Keep Houston Street open
    3) Keep the buildings on the West side of the plaza as the museum
    Everything in “A Star Reborn” is good, restoring structures to 1836

  2. I guess I missed the notices about the Alamo meetings because this is the first I’ve heard we can have input.
    I don’t see why we just can’t convert the space to complete green, keep the areas where they wanted to dig up but use technology to tell the story, multilingual, of the Alamo right in the plaza through VR technology to minimize funding for construction and maximize for technology development. People can use their own phones and VR devices but make available for sale inexpensive cardboard VR for visitors and for a trinket/souvenir and/or make have “fancier” ones available for rent.
    Then build a story of the Alamo of then until down to be told in the VR device that lasts maybe up to 20 or 30 minutes and people can stop and continue at various times. This could lead to advertisements within the app or story as a sponsor of the history.
    Just a random thought of what is least impact to now but can be utilized for at least 15 years and allows for easy updates.

    • I love your idea of incorporating VR and smartphone technologies to tell the stories! I hope we can keep all heritage trees in their current places. Does the visitor really need to stand under the hot South Texas sun, in a barren plaza, just to recreate some authenticity? Let the VR be in its place!

  3. I’m SO sad because I know that this money is being spent SO unwisely on a project that will have to be redone in years to come. SUCH a travesty !

  4. Sure rebuild the Alamo if you fill in the shell and mortar holes in the structure then history can be rewritten and the Mexicans in this country can deny that the battle never took place and that 180 men never died there just like taking down the civil war monuments then the blacks can say that the civil war never happened either.

    • Brian I agree with you referring to the blacks destroying all of the Confederate Statues. You can’t change or get rid of history and that’s just what the Alamo is. HISTORY.

    • This is a lot different than taking down and moving Civil War monuments. Now I’m for removing those early monuments of CW heroes because they basically fought to break up our country and create another one that condoned slavery. That makes them traitors in the eyes of the winners , aka the north.
      Texas fought this battle in hopes of breaking away from a corrupt and tyrannical leader, much like the Patriots did in the Revolutionary War. If Sam Houdton had lost the war, which thankfully he didn’t, then we’d be talking about something very different in regards to this old ancient church.
      Because of the brave souls that held at bay the Mexican army for 13 difficult days, this building has become and should remain a shrine in memory of their brave fight.
      We (every Texan school child on) learn(s) about the settlement of Spanish priests and their missions. San Antonio is full of them and they are beautiful to see. Everyone should follow the mission trail at least once in their life. We all learn in Texas schools about the Spanish and Mexican treatment of the Native Indians and how they were told to convert or basically starve to death. We all learn as we get in 7th grade and even college Texas History classes about the Native Indian revolts against forced Catholic conversions and slavery.
      But those even older events are not why this once crumbling mission continues to stand today. It stands today to remind all Texans that for 13 glorious days 136 immigrants, Mexicans, slaves and women fought together and gave their lives or the lives of a loved one in order that their deaths would bring about victory and independence from a tyrannical government, just as had happened about 40 years or so before in a neighboring country. Has the battle at the Alamo been glorified? Of course it has, and we must never forget what these men gave up. Because of them “Remember the Alamo” became a rallying cry a few weeks later that brought the brutal war to an end. From 1836-1845 Texas was it’s own country. Was it perfect? No. Did it have economic reasons to want to join the USA? Definitely. Did Texas allow slavery to continue? Yes, unfortunately the time had not come for some wealthy influential men to change their minds on that.
      In 1845 Texas joined the Union as a slave state and less than 20 years later seceded from the country that had so proudly welcomed into the United States.
      We cannot allow Texas’ one great symbol of our original freedom to be turned into an amusement park. If Unesco is interested in taking on the project, I recommend working with them very closely to educate this organization on what it means and stands for in our great state. Don’t let them trivialize any of it’s history, but it must highlight the importance of Texas as a nation and as a state in the United States of America.

  5. Please respect the earlier history of the Alamo site.
    Next year we are celebrating the 300th Anniversary of San Antonio. It is hypocritical to block out downtown’s San Antonio de Valero Mission archaeological assets from 1718.

    Some of the Alamo fallen were born at the Mission where they also died.
    The Alamo Church was built by Mission Native Americans.

    One short bit of history cannot be separated from the whole of history of the site. San Antonio is a Southwest city. Let’s celebrate the diversity of San Antonio, and not just white-wash it. I believe visitors and unborn children would get more out of the Alamo site is they were given the whole truth about their heritage, and thus dignity. Why dummy down the site?

    This site could be a very positive national and international destination if the whole tapestry of interwoven threads of history was depicted.

    Some of us are working on a real plan using a GIS. This site does not deserve to be white-washed and neither does the multi-cultural fabric of our City.

    I am related to ancestors of the Alamo, both Tejano

  6. Sorry, Jerry Patterson, but you represent the TGLO. This process needs to be a public planning process, no a pay under the table as you go private party.
    Humans should make all they do as artful as they can. To do less is just mediocre. The presented “Re-Imagine Alamo Master Plan” was just that, mediocre. It was missing the creative spark of vitality. Alamo plaza is beating heart of San Antonio. Of course, we can do better. But please stop sanitizing our colorful and rich history.
    We are coming up with another plan for the site. Do not rewrite history.

  7. Brian, I represent the GLO? No pay under the table as you go to a private party? Rewrite history? Please be specific. After reading your post I can’t say whether I agree or disagree with you it was so nonsencical. JP

    • Jerry, the poster was not Brian but Teresa Yantis Stoker. I like what Brian had to say. This entire ordeal which operated quietly by George P. Bush, Yeb’s Kid-go figure ( gonna work on replacing him next time) and we all really only found out the meat of it when a period group complained that they would be shut down from frequenting the Alamo with wreaths in a solemn ceremony to continuously honor the fallen. No one wants the roads shut off and the plan is PLEXI GLASS. YUK! How awful! You get the UN people involved (that have already taken over the Grand Canyon (which most do not realize) ) and it’s a LOSE, LOSE for the State of Texas. Now you have Strauss up there yapping about removing a PLAQUE. What is going on with the numbskulls right there in Austin?I could expound but it would be POLITICALLY INCORRECT! I AM a Native Texan. GEorgie P…are you?

  8. I liked the video presentation from Gary Foreman, thank you Jerry! His proposed placement of the Cenotaph would please me, and keep the sacrifice of the defenders front and center with visitors.

    I still vote for keeping heritage trees in their current place, so that all may pause and reflect on the solemnity of the site, in shade from the South Texas sun, while in the plaza. Heck, let’s add a cottonwood tree-lined approach to the Cenotaph and/or the main gate, and let the VR and smartphone apps, and tour guides, create the realism of the rest of the area.

    And I would be very relieved to never, ever hear about, and never, ever see plastic-fantastic or glass walling at the Alamo. It just turns my stomach to even mention it. I would be “stunned” if they go through with that blasphemy, as I’m sure other birds would agree.

  9. Jerry, thank you for your impassioned plea, but you left me hanging. Would you please be a little more specific in how we can accomplish some of your suggested goals?
    1. To whom does one submit an alternate proposal?
    2. Who undoes the responsibility delegated to surrogates and hired hands?
    3. How does one change the rules we pledged to follow when we submitted the application to make our missions a part of the World Heritage?
    4. Since the city owns the plaza, by what legal means can we start over, and who would judge the individual submissions?

    A number of us have been following this battle from the beginning. The public comments on the Rivard Report and other forms of social media have indeed made an impact, without the need for three dimensional renderings and elaborate websites. First, the state acknowledged the need for attention to the preservation of the Alamo. Then the state heard the outcry about the disrespectful vendors along the west wall, and purchased the Crockett Buildings. When the city heard the public outcry at the meetings, social media, journalists, and letters and phone calls about the re-imagine design, they stepped back and restored the trees to the plaza, delayed the decision on the glass walls, and made the preservation of the Alamo church top priority.

    We still have some hitches between open space or south wall, mainly because of the deed restriction of 1871 and the lack of an actual representation of the south wall itself. I have always wanted the roof taken off the church because with it on, it will NEVER represent 1836.

    Some of us have been working behind the scenes, and because of our emails to top officials at UNESCO, the National Park Service, and the Secretary of the Interior, we are making them realize that if they want us to be a World Heritage site they had darn well better hold up their end of the bargain and disallow glitz and disrespect.

    Over 700 people have signed the petition to the Governor and the the legislature. The Governor said regarding our request for an audit by the State Auditor’s Office, that SAO serves under the general guidance of, and is responsible to, the Legislative Audit
    Committee, and gave me the members of the committee. They have all been sent letters and copies of all the comments on the petition.

    I for one have quit – well almost quit – preaching to the choir. I urge everyone to write the City Council and the State Legislature. They make the rules, folks.

    Remember the Alamo and God Bless Texas!

    • Sarah,
      1-Not sure we would need to “submit an alternate proposal”. We rather need to inform the electeds in charge that components of the current proposal are unacceptable, and that there will be electoral consequences for not fixing it to our satisfaction. We also need to recognise “our satisfaction” does not mean we will all agree on the fix, or that we will get all that we seek.
      2-Undoing the responsibility delegated to the surrogates can only be done by those who did the delegation, and the primary delegator is the GLO Commissioner. He is above all concerned with the next election and will need to be convinced it is to his political benefit to actually make decisions and lead.
      3-There is no contract, agreement, or letter of intent to comply with, unless the current commissioner signed one and I doubt that-I could be wrong. We (the GLO) didn’t submit an application for WHO site designation. The GLO agreed to allow the Alamo to be part of the application submitted by the NPS. There is no statutory or contractual obligation to do what WHO/UNESCO/NPS require. In fact, I am fairly certain the changes we seek do not run afoul of any guidelines published by those 3 entities. It’s a non issue, even thought George Skarmeas seems to imply otherwise.
      4-You are correct the co-operation of the city is needed and to the extent the city digs in with their insistence on the “gathering place” concept being superior to the “reverence, remembrance and honor” theme there is a problem. I don’t think those goals are mutually exclusive however. The “gathering place” advocates are more “don’t change nothin’ we like it like it is” in my view.
      The 1871 deed you mention is not an impediment. What it says is the space needs to be open to the public for public use. Walls, that allow 24/7 access don’t violate that requirement.
      Who’s gets to decide? Commissioner George P Bush and the San AntonioMayor and Council – NO ONE ELSE! We need to convince them it’s to their benefit to do the right thing, and in very short order we need a consensus delineating what the looks like, and doesn’t look like.

  10. Designers and politicians “are failing” to remember “all” who lived, built, fought, died and are buried at The Alamo / Mission San Antonio de Valero World Heritage Site.

    Furthermore, the destruction / “cultural cleansing” of both Alamo heritage as well as Franciscan Mission-Indian heritage (of Mission San Antonio de Valero), outside the shrine over the last several years, is an international embarrassment. This matter was brought to GLO’s attention (in a meeting at the General Land Office in Austin) on June 12, 2014.

    Your help, in this regard would be welcomed.

    • Lance, It is your wish to tell the entire 300 plus year story of the Alamo, not just the 1836 story. That is my wish as well. In order to do that we need folks to go there and visit the site and museum/.visitors center. What is most likely to attract visitors from across the nation and world: 1-community gathering place 2-Mission Valero 3-indigenous population site 4-the historic center of San Antonio or 5-the Alamo siege and battle? Clearly the answer is #5. If you want the entire story told to millions of people who know about the battle and nothing else and will go there to see the site of the siege and be then informed that there’s more to the story 1836 is the only way to do that. JP

  11. Nothing like the Marine corps. To prepare you to be an urbanism, huh. Perhaps a degree in film making? I was sitting to the left of the two young people holding the sign in the above photo. I am not at photogenic, though.
    Mark E. Kellmann, Architect, NCARB
    San Antonio, Texas

  12. Architects and “urbanists” are like lawyers/accountants/etc. Be sure and check with them and listen to what they have to say, but also realize you hired them for expertise, not to make any decisions for you. I am far better prepared than you to know what the citizens of Texas want to see at their cradle of liberty and it has nothing to do with “urbanism” whatever the H that is. It does have to do with Reverence, Remembrance and Honor. Our children need lessons of that nature, not lessons in urbanism. JP

  13. Thanks for your response, Jerry. Couldn’t another option be included and have the legislature re-write the existing law that made the GLO the custodian? What should it say in Legislatureze?

    SA’s new mayor is for “no wall” and he told me the wording of the unsuccessful amendment was based on the deed restriction, so we still haven’t heard the end of that issue. The next design will be in the hands of the Historical Review Board.

    Perhaps another petition is in order. The present one about budget has plateaued at 700+ so I need to get with my advisor on the wording of the next one and the appropriate recipients. From your experience with the Alamo as former GLO Commissioner, is there anyone in Austin with influence that can change the GLO’s actions now?

    We always manage to disagree about something but your input is always appreciated.

    • I don’t think we have enuff time for the lege to write a new statute. However, they don’t have to if they and the Gov/LtGov, Land Commish/Speaker express their dissatisfaction. The only one who can change the GLO’s direction is George P, and he’ll need a push from likely R primary voters or other state electeds. JP

  14. Bush give a public opinion? Take a position on something controversial? Not likely unless its on something in the R platform that is a completely safe thing to say and generates no risk of having to defend his position in a primary. JP

    • Bush’s absence from this whole discussion is odd. If he truly believes in the concept then he should be willing to spend political capital on it. Leaving everything to be explained by Skarmeas and other subordinates hasn’t worked well and really it’s not their job.

  15. Thank you Mr Patterson for your insights. I believe Mr Foreman’s ideas are a great starting point. The closing of so many streets around the Alamo would be a big issue for the citizens who work in the area. Some ideas to address but all in all it is the best I have seen so far.

    • Kaye, Your correct. It’s a starting point that is far better than glass walls. Thanks for your comment. JP

  16. HB 4349 was killed in the Texas Senate by the action of a few patriotic Senators. Their action stopped state funding of the project of this terrible project pushed by the Texas Land Office. This battle has been won, but the fight is not over.

    • Richard, The Alamo received $75 million from the legislature. Funding wasn’t killed. Funding is needed and necessary. It’s the Reimagine plan that’s the problem, not the funding. JP

  17. Gary Foreman’s concept of moving the Cenotaph to the South Plaza is a great idea. The museum in the Federal Building is the best idea for the museum. Other than those two thoughts, I cannot agree less with any of the video he’s produced. Moving or demolishing any buildings on the West Plaza is simply a non-starter. Gutting them is a bad idea as well. We need office buildings downtown and these make perfect office buildings. As the Crockett Block was intended to be used.

    Closing the street entirely, is a bad idea. Witness the recent loss of a firefighter and the memorial parade. Without #OurPlaza, we won’t ever be able to do that again. Imagine the Battle of Flowers relegated to marching behind the Alamo. We can find a way to allow our 100+ years of ceremonial use of this space.

    “Extrude” the Cenotaph and do long, low, pragmatic seat walls from simple, timeless concrete, etched with designs of stories, names, similar to what Anne Wallace does with her art on the walks of Lavaca. There are many design solutions to an awkward and untenable concept of reimagination.

    • Mary, In my opinion the premise that “we need office buildings downtown” has zero importance as to what we do at the Alamo. It’s not our mission to insure the availability of office space is adequate in the San Antonio CBD. The buildings on the West have no particular historical significance other than they’re old, and particularly have no significance when compared to the Alamo. At the end of the day, they may in fact remain as the Alamo Visitors Center/Museum and I could be OK with that, but the Federal Building would be my first choice. Who knows, at some point 50 years from now the federal building may house the Alamo Museum. I can live with the other location as a permanent or temporary location nonetheless. . JP

  18. Please do not put glass walls around the Alamo area because it is too hot.
    We need less concrete, glass and asphalt.
    We need more trees and more shade.

  19. The Alamo is a sacred shrine…the symbol of Texas freedom. George P Bush is no Texan. Making a “theme park of The Alamo” is a sacrilege. “Remember The Alamo” and leave her alone. I have visited this shrine many times and have always been emotionally affected.
    Why don’t you money grubbing traitors find something sensible to do with your time?

  20. The Alamo is a sacred shrine…the symbol of Texas freedom. George P Bush is no Texan. Making a “theme park of The Alamo” is a sacrilege. “Remember The Alamo” and leave her alone. I have visited this shrine many times and have always been emotionally affected.
    Why don’t you money grubbing traitors find something sensible to do with your time?

  21. Thank you, Judge. You express my emotional feelings about our sacred Alamo. I suggest this Bush, who apparently has no feel for our ‘Remember the Alamo’, who is not a Texan, go back to where he came from, and leave our sacred monuments to Texans, whose hearts lie in Texas history.

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