New Alamo Proposal Ignores Connectivity, Guiding Principles

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This rendering shows Houston Street reimagined into a pedestrian friendly street with gated access to Alamo Plaza.

Courtesy / Texas General Land Office

This rendering from the official design team's proposal shows Houston Street reimagined into a pedestrian friendly street with gated access to Alamo Plaza.

The revised Alamo Plaza Interpretive Plan presented on June 6 features beautiful renderings and some thoughtful ideas on the visitor’s experience. Missing in the presentation is how the plan improves our city beyond the Alamo Plaza – our citizens’ experience.

The current plan fails to address two pivotal Alamo Plaza Guiding Principles: enhancing connectivity and embracing the continuum of history. Alamo Plaza should become a vital destination for everyone and make our city a better place, not only for visitors, but for all San Antonians.

Alamo Plaza guiding principle: “Enhance connectivity and wayfinding to the River, neighborhoods, La Villita, the Cathedral, and the other plazas.” 

The most disturbing element of the plan is the four-foot-tall fence and gates that surround the site. This design would wall out citizens and forever disrupt connectivity. In addition, it would create a state park with hours of visitation and limited access.

Alamo Plaza is one of the most memorable places in our state. Limiting access and limiting freedom of speech in this space – by way of moving the free speech/protest zone south – is an attack upon the very freedoms the Alamo represents. Connectivity is about linking and welcoming, not disrupting and “pushing away” the public. Connectivity does not mean accessibility to just pedestrians. Connectivity is about flexibility of use and access to vehicles, bikes, and, yes, even the occasional parade.

There are great and distinctive plazas throughout the world that feature iconic architecture and honor historic events without shutting down access. From Independence Hall in Philadelphia to Boston’s many Battle for Independence sites, these places are connected by pedestrian, bike, and vehicle access.

Hemisfair and Alamo Plaza will become catalysts for a revitalized downtown. Fifty percent of the commercial blocks north of Houston Street (bounded by the San Antonio River and St. Mary’s Street to the west and Interstate 37 to the east) are still undeveloped while more than 40 percent of the commercial and non-historic blocks south of Market Street, including Hemisfair, are yet to be developed.

The State of Texas would prefer that the City of San Antonio cede its rights to the control of Alamo Plaza to create an “Alamo Park.” The current plan ignores the potential impact of a lively future downtown with easily more than 10,000 downtown residents and well more than 150,000 office workers supporting new restaurants and retail.

The City is proposing to spend more than $55 million to upgrade Broadway Street from Houston Street to Interstate 35, and Alamo Street from Commerce Street to Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Curiously absent is the linkage from Commerce to Houston streets. The closure of Alamo to all traffic would eliminate three lanes of traffic and does not consider the impact of the future development of 35 adjacent blocks.

Diagram and descriptions of road closures related to Alamo Plaza.

Courtesy / David Lake

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Closing Alamo Plaza would create a tourist mega block from I-37 to Losoya Street. The Convention Center, Rivercenter Mall, and now the Alamo would stretch five blocks (1,630 feet) east to west without means to travel north or south. The Alamo closure would ensure the exacerbation of traffic congestion due to the continued closure of so many blocks over time. The plan would disrupt the momentum of our revitalized downtown. The plan would ignore the idea that Alamo Plaza is our open space and the heart of our city.

Alamo Plaza guiding principle: “Embrace the continuum of history to foster understanding and healing.” 

The very well-respected design team has artfully addressed Alamo Plaza as a singular moment in our city’s history. However, the current proposal creates a static visitor space shaped by the Battle of 1836.

Courtesy / David Lake

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The proposed museum location considers the removal of the historic west block opposite the Alamo, including the Crockett Building and the Woolworth Building, all in favor of demonstrating the physical edges of the mission.

Do not demolish the west block. Preserve the Woolworth Building, the site of the first successful desegregation of a lunch counter in San Antonio. This is our history, too.

What if the Alamo visitor experience was memorable and exemplary? What if Alamo Plaza made our city exemplary in every way? I urge this gifted planning team to craft an alternate plan to truly meet Alamo Plaza’s guiding principles of connectivity and continuum of history:

  • Define the historic mission grounds and battle site without disrupting the ground plane – no barriers, no gates, no fences, no hours of visitation, fully open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • Do not convey Alamo Plaza to the state.
  • Do not close Alamo Street. Keep Alamo Plaza an open flexible welcoming space. There are many ways to design streets that focus on pedestrians. Encourage flexibility and intermittent street closure.
  • Include an urban planner on the master plan team to balance the visitor/tourist experience while strengthening our citizen’s experience. The Plaza should strive to become a welcoming and dynamic place for all.
  • Do not demolish the west block of Alamo. Consider the east use of Alamo garden as a potential museum and visitor experience due to its non-historic character.

What if Alamo Plaza felt like Las Ramblas in Barcelona or the great plazas of Mexico – alive with a variety of experiences, something for everyone. What if Alamo Street remained a great boulevard with slow moving traffic, no buses, lots of pedestrians, bikes and sidewalk cafes and local retail?

I urge the mayor, City Council, and the Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee to seek a plan which adheres to the Alamo Plaza Guiding Principles.

This site plan outlines David Lake's suggested changes to the Alamo Plaza Interpretive Design.

Courtesy / David Lake

This site plan outlines David Lake’s suggested changes to the Alamo Plaza Interpretive Design.

37 thoughts on “New Alamo Proposal Ignores Connectivity, Guiding Principles

  1. I am a fan of all Lake/Flato architecture and appreciate you taking the time for putting thought into the future of downtown. I agree that there should be no tall fences. I have to respectfully disagree, however, with your view that moving the free speech/protest zone south is an attack upon freedom. People who protest at a cemetery or memorial usually do so without being disredpectful by doing it outside the actual cemetary or memorial. Alamo Plaza is long overdue for establishing it as a respectful quiet zone, as a Memorial should be. I also believe that if the pedestrian access is maintained, pedestrian connectivity is maintained. It is great that you point out the limitations of the current connectivity downtown, especially north-south. Although the solution is beyond me, there needs to be creative thinking to solve this, perhaps an elevated north-south bus or tram route or two, away from the Alamo. Wurzbach Parkway is a great example of creative San Antonio thinking that improved east-west connectivity across the north side of town. I’m confident that you and the other creative minds in town can come up with another innovative, unique, ‘San Antonio’ solution to this problem. Another thing that came to mind in looking at your diagrams is that perhaps Broadway could be converted to one way south and Alamo its north counterpart thus making more room for landscaping and pedestrian and bike lanes on Broadway. At the same time, this would enhance commercial property value and room for Broadway-like development on Alamo Street. Alamo street is already naturally configurued to make Broadway two way again, north of downtown, at Cunningham Avenue. The intersection there at Cunningham could even be made into a large roundabout with some sort of fountain in the middle. Thanks for a great article.

  2. Yes! Lake has addressed the fact that this plaza is a vital part of the fabric of downtown San Antonio. I’ve been shocked that council voices have not been raised to protect San Antonio from this reimaging of Alamo Plaza as a single use battlefield memorial. The historic place of the plaza in our civic life and the importance of it, as public accessible space, with beautiful existing streetscapes (the west block of alamo) needs to be integrated into any reimagining of the plaza. The experiences of local residents and tourists don’t have to cancel each other out.

  3. Captures what I have not been able to articulate beyond the feeling “What about me?” What about me, the local resident who wants to be able to see/be part of the Alamo without having to turn into a tourist? Mr. Lake, please attend and speak up at all the citizens meetings so others can hear this message.

  4. This description of Alamo Plaza sounds a lot better than a closed-off shrine that will be dead except to those who are visiting the Alamo. I get the impression that so much of the planning is based on two factors: 1) Trying to go back in time to be as close as possible to what the Alamo was like at the time of the battle without regards for what exists and is needed in terms of the life and development of the city, and 2) Making sure that the entertainment venues currently on the plaza are closed down which, based on walking through the area regularly, are far more popular to tourists than the Alamo itself making this effort seem to be sort of a revenge against the tourists for prefering Ripley’s, etc., over the Alamo.

  5. Thank you, Mr Lake, for articulating so well the concerns that I have heard voiced in my conversations with friends and neighbors.
    The Plaza has so much potential without changing the space so drastically. Your vision sounds lovely and inviting. I really hope we will get this back on track.

  6. This superb consideration
    by David Lake says to me again:”why aren’t we using local talents and local control for our Alamo?” (I think it’s a control factor). Thank you, David Lake, for seeing and IMAGING (not reimagine, not creating ones own reality) like a local! Like an Alamo City person!
    We own the 3/4 block at the NE corner behind the Alamo (450 E Third) and we welcome ideas how we can help the Alsmo plan. We are currently planning a coffee shop/wine bar and later condominiums,

  7. Perfectly articulated! Many, including our some in our city’s leadership, just don’t want to hear what the citizens of SA have to say or how it might affect our future… They seem to be solely concerned with how this is seen from a state view… there is no reason the two can’t be thoughtfully merged together. Mr. Lake you are a rockstar and I appreciate your expert eyes and opinion on this important subject!

  8. Honestly, I have given up listening or engaging in downtown plans or anything COSA related. It’s as if San Antonio has been taken over by people who have no idea of the real San Antonio. People who are trying to make it into something it’s not, people who have ruined it already. The Riverwalk, Convention Center, Municipal Auditorium, San Fernando Plaza, Houston Street, Main Street, KWEX Channel 41 building demolition, Hays Street Bridge. All of it just a cash cow for the development industry. Nothing of value for us locals. Colonization all over again. What a farce.

    • “Colonization?” Oh please. Get a grip. I get your sentiment, and San Antonio officials could do better at planning and listening to the locals’ concerns, but statements like this completely undermine and effectively ruin the argument with unnecessary histrionics and creating a “victim” scenario where there is none. San Antonio is long, LONG overdue for much needed, fundamental improvements to our economy, education and infrastructure that will BENEFIT locals. We need to change.

  9. Please. San Antonio needs to grow up. Stop all this whining. Either the city moves forward with development or it will die populated with uneducated people with minimum wage jobs. We will continue to be an upgraded Laredo texas.

  10. Definitely the best piece I have read so far on this subject. In fact, I was actually kind of happy with the latest design plans until I read this piece. Mr. Lake is absolutely right. Why can’t we hire local firm “Lake Flato” to do the design?

    Or, Mr. Lake, why don’t your team come up with such an amazing design plan and present it to City Council..so great, they can’t say no? Seriously, how awesome would that be.

    • In 2014, the Alamo Plaza Committee gave locals the opportunity to come forth with comments, suggestions, and ideas. It was an opportunity for all of us to speak out, submit sketches, give opinions. Same with the Reimagine gang, and now this group. Hopefully all of you are submitting your comments to them, and not just to social media.

  11. Closing the streets is one of best aspects of this design. The promenade to the river and Hemisfair is very nice. Closing part of Houston Street is also good. Actually all of Houston should be a retail mall but I digress. The Centopath should be relocated to the center of the promenade to “welcome” people from the river and Hemisfair. I agree that the rails should be removed and that the museum be relocated to an empty parking lot to the east adjacent to the garden. That whole area is hideous. But I have no problem with removing existing buildings. Btw Mr. Lake doesn’t speak for all San Antonians. Just saying.

  12. The best compromise (and only one) I have heard thus far. Thank you, Mr. Lake, for your sound advise and suggestion. I hope your voice is heard. A local well-respected architect would have been a boon to the committee. A local understand’s the importance of the sense of place Alamo Plaza has to its citizens, not just it’s tourist.

  13. I hate street closings. It bollixes up traffic. You can’t get there from here. It creates tacky pedestrian malls with useless stores along them. And why would we narrow major arteries when the population is growing? David Lake should have been hired to design the Alamo plan.

  14. Thank you for these statements in particular:

    The plan would ignore the idea that Alamo Plaza is our open space and the heart of our city.

    Define the historic mission grounds and battle site without disrupting the ground plane – no barriers, no gates, no fences, no hours of visitation, fully open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

    Do not convey Alamo Plaza to the state.

  15. I agree that the plaza should not be blocked off and that the buildings on the western end should not be demolished. However, I disagree with your take on keeping Alamo street open. I believe that closing off the road and expanding pesdestrian space is perhaps the best part of the overall plan and will be transformative in creating a much more inviting space for locals and tourist a like to get out of their cars and walk. Roads are meant to connect distant locations, sure. But a road spliting the plaza does not connect the residence with the urban fabric, I would argue that it effectively takes away a personal sense of connection by providing an excuse to drive passed the area without actually staying to enjoy the area.

    Las Ramblas are a boulevards meant for automobiles with heavy foot traffic, much like what Broadway, Ceasar Chavez, or Houston street can become and I would love to see the city take that idea into account for their complete street projects. The Alamo plaza is not a boulevard, rather it is a singular plaza that has been accessible to automobiles, but it is not specifically meant to be used for auto traffic. We should be comparing the Alamo Plaza to Plaza Mayor in Madrid, which is a public plaza filled with cafes, history, and life, that is closed off to automobiles.

    I agree that we should re-invent downtown for locals, adding more mixed used buildings with retail/office/restaurant space on the first level and residential units on the upper levels and I believe creating a more comprehensive affordable housing policy is also imperative to welcoming locals into the Downtown neighborhood, though these are other topics for another discussion. Your point on the “tourist-centric super blocks” is valid to a degree, though I would argue that these public and private pedestrian spaces are/can be a great asset for locals as well. Simply because a car can not drive through these spaces does not make it unaccessible nor should car access be used as a qualifier for being a connector for the general public within the context of public space.

    Thank you for sharing your opinion, I enjoyed the article,

    Alexander

  16. Please be aware this unveiled plan is not our CURRENT, HISTORICAL, 127 year Battle of Flowers Parade Route. In 1891, the Battle of Flowers® Association started fiesta as we know it today. In honor of the fallen heroes of the Alamo, and the Battle of San Jacinto where Texas won its independence, every entry in our Parade respectfully lays a floral wreath tribute on the lawn directly in front of the Alamo as they pass by it. The Parade route has been historical for 127 years which is what makes it part of the Alamo history. Please keep our history in place with the Parade Route as it it is today!

  17. I understand the consultants who drafted the Alamo redevelopment plan presented to the public Thursday were employed and instructed by the six member Management Committee. That committee includes two representatives from from the Texas General Land Office, the Alamo Endowment, and the City of San Antonio. Reading David’s commentary, it is difficult to understand why the Management Committee would continue to support the decision made to create a gated park in the center of downtown San Antonio. Alamoworld.

    At this point, I believe our representatives on the Management Committee, City Manager Sheryl Sculley and Councilman Roberto Trevino, understand the importance of keeping the Plaza open to the City. I am certain that they have come to understand the concerns expressed by the citizens of San Antonio, which focus on the importance of the Plaza to the urban character of the City.

    Recognizing that they are in the minority position on the management committee, we need to offer them our strong support so that they may educate the other members to the value of the plaza to the City.

    There is nothing in the desire to create a great plaza with connectivity to the urban fabric of the city… people, bikes and cars… and the goal of preserving the historical Alamo, enhancing the Plaza in support of visitors which enhancement also benefits the citizens, and educating those who visit about the history of our Great State of Texas.

    The arguments for recognizing the urban environment of the Alamo are compelling, and our representatives on the Management Committee should be empowered by our support.

  18. Please be aware this new plan is not our CURRENT, HISTORICAL, 127 year Battle of Flowers® Association Parade Route. In 1891, the Battle of Flowers® Association started fiesta as we know it today. In honor of the fallen heroes of the Alamo, and the Battle of San Jacinto where Texas won its independence, every entry in our Parade respectfully lays a floral wreath tribute on the lawn directly in front of the Alamo as they pass by it. The Parade Route has been historical for 127 years which is what makes it part of the Alamo history. Please keep our history in place with the Parade Route as it is today!

  19. David Lake nailed it. Having spent my entire career working in and studying commercial districts around the US, this effort has all the makings of a wasteful and pointless exercise. This effort was born out of frustration over the carnival like atmosphere across the street. This could have been simply solved by purchasing the lease option on each of these spaces and in turn leasing the spaces to more appropriate and respectful business. It’s far better to keep these buildings on the tax roles than it is to take them off. This is some of the most valuable space in downtown and you want to be able to leverage the traffic that the Alamo brings to downtown. Again this can be done in a respectful and dignified manner.
    Blocking off more streets is downtown, especially north-south streets, is slowly and steadily dividing downtown in half, making it hard for one to go from north of downtown to south of downtown. We lost streets where the convention center is now located, we lost Main Street and Soledad to the new plaza (often underused) in front of Council Chambers and now Alamo is being considered. David brings up a valid point when you consider that downtown is just now starting to show signs of residential density, a critical element for a downtown that wants a more livable core with amenities. Quite simply, you need population density and we lack that right now. If we see more growth that means more demand for a functional street system. In a city that is mass transit adverse and doesn’t have diverse transit options we don’t want to limit that growth. The simple solution is to establish a combination street/plaza that can be closed when needed, but open the vast majority of time.

  20. Hire David Lake’s architectural firm. Me Lake’s ideas are the best I read or heard regarding Alamo Plaza. Alamo Plaza should not be fenced or inclosed in any way. It belongs to all of San Antonio as well as tourists & be accessible by foot, cars or bicycles, etc.

  21. Thank you David Lake for your voice of reason. I wish you had served on the planning committee. Surely there is an alternate plan that would preserve the historical Battle of Flowers Parade route that has for 127 years brought honor to the history of the Alamo.

    As you stated, one of the Guiding Principals is to embrace the continuum of history to foster understanding and healing. The Battle of Flowers Parade is not the only event or organization that uses Alamo Street to tell the Alamo story. Again, thank you David. You are speaking for many people who love our city and want to preserve our heritage.

  22. Thank you for taking the time to write this and to share your well-informed viewpoint. Hearing your views on this important topic has made me re-think my own.

  23. David Lake is right. The proposed plan separates the Alamo and Alamo Plaza from the city and its citizens rather than connecting it. If you look at any city in Europe you will see historic buildings/areas in city centers with reduced traffic, but not entirely cut off from traffic. There should be a street running in front of the Alamo that allows vehicular traffic for businesses and residents as well as special events like the Battle of Flowers parade – the event which has at its heart (for over a century) the lying of wreaths in front of the Alamo. These events bring the citizens of the city downtown to the Alamo and keep it in the forefront of our minds. The proposed plan will create a stagnant, isolated island that is no longer part of who we are and who our children are. Rather than encouraging a connection to the Alamo, the Alamo will be removed from the life of San Antonio.

  24. Thank you Mr. Lake! I totally agree! I believe most people in San Antonio (residents and visitors) would agree with your ideas and comments. Blocking off streets and enclosing this area would not only ruin our beautiful downtown area, but it would change and destroy historic annual events in our city. Please continue to spread the word and stop this from happening!

  25. You cannot save history by demolishing history.

    The buildings across from the Alamo are mostly – if not all – historic buildings in their own right. Do not destroy them in some wrong-headed scheme to make the Alamo into some sort of Disneyland recreation. By all means continue to restore and preserve the Alamo but not at the cost and expense of destroying more history across the way.

    That is not the worst error of this extremely flawed plan. That error has to do with cutting off the vehicular circulation that proceeds from south to north on Alamo Street. Not only will this be inconvenient, it will remove the Alamo from the daily experience of the residents of San Antonio and leave circulation headaches and chaos in its place. The Alamo is literally the beating heart of San Antonio. It belongs to all of us citizens, and we want to be able to access it whenever we want. Cutting the connection between the Alamo and our casual encounters with it will also crush the heart of the city and transform it from a lively place to a dead zone.

    I hope that by now the architects and planners who proposed the glass wall have gone back to the drawing board because this so-called transparent wall is a very bad idea. The last thing this city needs is an ill-starred barricade that separates the city and its residents from The Alamo.

    Similarly, I take exception to the notion of moving the Coppini memorial to another location. I have just one question: Why? Were the planners in 1936 so clueless that it was erected in the wrong place? The answer is – No.

    With respect to closing and gating the Alamo grounds with designated hours of operation: this is a hostile and very unfriendly act against the citizens of this great city. Don’t do it. Angry citizens might find it within themselves to dismantle barriers that prevent access to the site.

    San Antonio’s downtown is not Disneyland. We do not need fake additions and selective demolition of historic buildings to remind us of the tragic battle that took place there. What we need, want and must have, is the Alamo as part of our daily lives. David Lake is right: it’s all about connectivity.

  26. Thank you, Mr. Lake, for putting together this thoughtful and IMPORTANT response to the current plan.
    Our long history of access to the Alamo – not only for the storied Battle of Flowers and Flambeau Parades – but for everyday connection to our city’s crown jewel, should not be jeopardized.

  27. David Lake has done a wonderful job of questioning the current plan and its long-term impact on the City. By blocking off the street to cars, this would move the parade route for the Battle of Flowers Parade, which was founded to honor the fallen heroes of the Alamo. I encourage everyone to sit at the Alamo each year during the Parade to see the bouquets of flowers laid in front of the Alamo by each Parade participant. With a change in the parade route, this could no longer occur.

  28. I am in agreement with David Lake. I am puzzled by the design concept as it appears similar in appearance to many a city park throughout the country. The Alamo is unique not only to Texas but the United States. Brick pavers and a wrought iron fence hardly convey anything special. It certainly is not inviting nor memorable.
    Someone with an understanding of our history and an appreciation for making it accessible to all who visit and live in SA is critical. History and 21st century can be beautifully dove-tailed together with the right design firm in place.
    Furthermore, with congestion already an issue downtown, even when there isn’t construction, this hinders movement particularly with the previously mentioned Hemisphere Park, the river expansion and Main Plaza. The last thing a progressive downtown needs is more blocked streets.
    Lastly, the Battle of Flowers Parade was begun 127 years ago to honor the fallen heroes of the Alamo and to commemorate the victory at San Jacinto. Every entry who lays a wreath at the Alamo is acknowledging the great sacrifice made there. To alter the Parade route marginalizes the cornerstone event for Fiesta.

  29. David well said! Yes (Walgreens) it is our History thank you! I see this as a land grab. Much more planning and thought needs to go into this. The key word they need to remember is PLAZA, Plaza’s are open, note gated or fenced.

  30. Great commentary, I hope the council listens. It made me recall my first trip to Washington DC many years ago when I was volunteering with a PAC. Arrived late in the day and met women from all over the country. We took an evening walk and visited the moments all beautifully lit and accessible. The idea of walling off the Alamo goes counter to what our city is about.

  31. Thank you for this well written article and voice of reason. I hope that we can continue to keep Alamo Plaza open and keep our historical Battle of Flowers and Flambeau Parade Routes in it’s present format.
    The first Battle of Flowers Parade was established on April 21, 1891 to commemorate the fallen heroes of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto by City Leaders in San Antonio. The 23rd President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison and Governor Hogg attended the parade along with many prominent citizens. The parade was held on Alamo Street and Alamo Plaza where participants threw fresh flowers at each other to honor our fallen Heroes. President Harrison encouraged the parade to be celebrated each year to keep the historical memories fresh in the minds of our younger citizens. Each year since 1891, the participants in the Battle of Flowers Parade stop on Alamo Street and present fresh wreaths and fresh flowers at the Alamo to commemorate the Fallen Heroes of the Alamo and San Jacinto. Let’s keep the Plaza open! Let’s keep Alamo Street open! Please keep the integrity of our history and the parades in it’s present format. Please do not close off the streets around Alamo Plaza. Please do not interrupt the history of our great city.

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