Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Many San Antonians have called, emailed, and attended Council meetings to ask their district's representative one burning question: What is City Council going to do about the Alamo?
At this point, all that remains for Council to weigh in on are street closures and land leases. A May 2017 vote on the conceptual Alamo plan, which included only four current Council members, laid the path forward for several items in the current proposed Alamo plan, including the relocation and repair of the Cenotaph.
While most San Antonians agree the Shrine of Texas Liberty should be protected and enhanced for all to enjoy for years to come, many of us – including myself – remain unconvinced the proposed changes to the Alamo are warranted and necessary.
The Cenotaph should not be relocated
As many times as I have visited the Alamo, never once have I heard someone claim the Cenotaph ruins the view of the Alamo or the experience of walking the grounds. Instead, visitors immediately recognize the battle site memorial as a tangible marker of the sacrifice made.
A monument honoring the fallen heroes of the Alamo does not need to be subject to a potentially damaging move in order to make way for a larger pedestrian area and grander view. The Cenotaph's location is both stoic and historic, and the reasons for moving it do not appear to be in the best interest of the Cenotaph or families of the soldiers it memorializes.
For many Alamo-defender descendants, the Cenotaph is a family headstone, and to move it without their blessing would be a dishonor. This isn't just the opinion of a few folks who continue to address City Council – it’s a feeling shared across town. Six new members have joined City Council since the Cenotaph’s fate was first decided – Let’s revisit that yes vote from May 2017 to see if our current Council feels differently.
The three historic buildings in Alamo Plaza should be converted into a new museum
Though many citizens across San Antonio believe the Crockett Block, Palace Theater, and Woolworth buildings are historically and architecturally significant, their fate as standing monuments of time remains unclear. These buildings can and should be converted into a new museum for the Alamo, not torn down to make way for a new development.
Many other historic buildings in San Antonio have been successfully converted for new uses, and the State should be willing to repurpose the three in Alamo Plaza in the same spirit.
Historic preservation is a familiar concept for San Antonio – We pride ourselves on salvaging old buildings and repurposing them with new life. The historic buildings in front of the Alamo have major significance to the changing times in San Antonio, and we should continue that pattern with the heart and soul of our city.
A Request for Qualifications is underway for the Alamo Museum that includes a historic assessment component. I hope the State and the firms competing for this contract share the same interest in retaining and converting these buildings into a museum.
We should not close streets surrounding the Alamo
We need to rethink closing Alamo Street and partially closing Houston and Crockett streets to all vehicular traffic and placing additional pressures on other surrounding streets. I would prefer to see those streets, especially Alamo Street, undergo a shared-space design that would include pedestrian improvements and controlled access to allow for parades, vehicles, pedestrians, and if needed, emergency vehicles to share the new plaza. Shared-space streets remove traditional curbs and reserve priority for pedestrians but allow for low-speed vehicular access, often only at certain times. An adaptable plaza invites multiple uses, satiates concerns, and helps merge the historic site with the modern city built around it.
Alamo Plaza grade should not be lowered
As a retired construction engineer, I remain unconvinced lowering the grade in Alamo Plaza would better preserve the Alamo from damp grounds damaging the structure’s foundations. If you look at historic photos of the rear of the Alamo when it was at a lower grade (circa 1870s), the damp line along the walls is clearly visible and much more pronounced than it is today. Why lower the entire site, not just the area around the chapel, 16 inches to the original level when planners know it will cause issues?
There are other treatments that can be applied instead of digging up the entire site and lowering it. A dig around the Alamo would most certainly lead to extended project delays and additional costs every time remains and artifacts are located, further restricting guests and residents from exploring the Alamo grounds. Planners should perform more studies and research through historic photos and accounts before making this decision.
Open access to Alamo Plaza should be guaranteed
As the plan stands now, Alamo Plaza will remain open to the public to enter freely, but behind controlled access points. I have issues with this concept, as it goes against the Catholic Church's conditions when it deeded the Alamo to the City in 1871: The property was “conveyed on condition that it shall be dedicated to the public use as an open space.”
The openness of the plaza represents San Antonians' open hearts and the trust they place in people who visit the Alamo. To be able to stroll through downtown and find oneself in front of the Alamo is a hallmark of many residents’ and visitors’ experience. While we have been assured that there will always be free and open access to Alamo Plaza through various entrances, we have no guarantee that this policy will remain in place once the State takes over management. We must press for language in the lease agreement that binds the State to upholding the Church's original wishes to keep the plaza open and accessible to all, free of charge.
My office has received emails, phone calls, and letters regarding the Alamo from people from all walks of life, but they all carry the same message: San Antonio residents and organizations are not in favor of the proposed revisions to our Alamo. If you share the same concerns, or have other concerns, please let the mayor and City Council know. The Alamo is too important a topic on which to remain silent.
I encourage citizens to attend or watch online the Council briefing on the Alamo Master Plan on Oct. 10. To review the current proposal for the Alamo and the surrounding area, click here.