Known for selling antebellum weapons and restoring centuries-old documents, an iconic part of the Alamo’s historic preservation has officially become a piece of history itself.
The History Shop – beloved by tourists the world over for its Alamo diorama and glass-cased archaeological dig – turned its keys over to the State Wednesday to clear the path for the Alamo Plaza’s $200-300 million redevelopment project.
Though his role in the Alamo’s narrative will diminish, store owner Alfred Rodriguez is thrilled by the Alamo Master Plan’s re-emphasis on reverence and diverse historic layers.
“We were a big part of that on the front end … but I’m very confident that a lot of great things are going to happen,” Rodriguez told the Rivard Report.
For 20 years, the building’s old wooden storefront and hanging “History Shop” sign imbued the feeling of a different era. After passing through a narrow hallway, visitors encountered a large diorama of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, with a 12-minute historic narration by British rock star and Alamo-buff Phil Collins.
“In a lot of senses, people felt like the History Shop was a destination,” Rodriguez said. “So many times the people would visit the shop after the Alamo … They would say, ‘Oh, we should have just come here instead of standing in line over there.'”
Before pressing play on the narration, Rodriguez would draw his audience back to 1718, when Spanish settlers founded the Mission San Antonio de Valero – known today simply as the Alamo – on the banks of the San Antonio River. The hundreds of local Native American tribes that lived and were buried on the site, the Tejanos that continued to develop the area after the missionaries secularized it in 1793, and the historic strata that went into the landmark’s salvation and preservation all factored into his story.
“To tell the story of the Alamo based on 1836 is a sin,” Rodriguez said. “Now people in Dallas might say, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’ But we can think bigger. You know, San Antonio at one point was Texas.”
Rodriguez is excited that this multi-layered perspective will play a role in the Alamo Plaza’s redesign, which seeks to foster a sense of historic reverence by permanently closing off a portion of Alamo Street, creating a single entrance, expanding green spaces, and replacing the entertainment businesses across the plaza with a museum.
Landlords Jim Guimarin, who started the business, and Collins sold the History Shop’s building to the Texas General Land Office, which is funding the project in concert with the City of San Antonio and the Alamo Endowment.
The History Shop will move operations to Northwest San Antonio, continuing manuscript refurbishment but no longer selling pre-1900s weapons and maps.
Rodriguez spoke fondly of the restoration process, where documents are delicately washed of oils and acids, hang-dried, and pressed – or, for larger books, repeatedly sprayed with an archival aerosol. Though the process is costly and can take months, many consider it a matter of preserving hundreds of years of family history.
In one case, a woman brought in two church documents dating back to 1210 and 1586. Her grandfather, she said, had rescued them from a church before it was bombed during World War II.
“I’d never held something so old,” Rodriguez said. “…It does cross your mind while you’re working on these, ‘What was it like living like these people?'”
Employees of the History Shop have also laid hands on some precious slices of Texas history. From the Collins-funded archaeological dig in the shop, they recovered a cannon ball likely fired by Texans and a bronze grapeshot discharged by a Mexican rifle.
The price? $48,000.
San Antonians have grown so used to the tourists, vendors, and occasional protesters that flock the Alamo Plaza, Rodriguez said, that they take for granted both the historical depth the place represents and the broad appeal it has outside Texas.
Many also fail to acknowledge the central role the Alamo plays in the battle defining the state and nation’s historical narratives – in particular, which aspects of history get the spotlight. In a sense, Rodriguez sees the current redevelopment project as a continuation of the original battle fought there.
“The Battle of the Alamo is never going to be over,” Rodriguez said. “…A lot of people have different perspectives. That’s why you need perspectives across the board.”