In a show of unity and Texas pride, state and local officials gathered on Alamo Plaza Friday to celebrate the restarting of a redevelopment project that almost ground to a halt last year.
A military band played patriotic tunes behind a color guard. Seven historical reenactors in Texian Revolutionary dress crammed powder into their muzzle-loaders and fired three blank shots down Alamo Street.
The occasion was to unveil a replica of a Swedish-cast 18-pounder cannon and carriage used during the 1836 battle between Texas revolutionaries and an invading Mexican Army. The cannon exhibit will remain open to the public free of charge daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
At the newly built Losoya House on the plaza’s west corner stood Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), a descendent of Alamo defender José Toribio Losoya and the City’s newest elected representative heading the Alamo effort. She pressed a button and revealed a mural-sized interpretive panel explaining what the site would have looked like in 1836 and telling the story of the Losoya family.
“We honor not only the Alamo today but all of the [Tejano] families and all of our proud history,” Viagran told onlookers.
The event echoed a similar ceremony on Alamo Plaza in 2015, when a previous slate of San Antonio officials met their state counterparts to sign an agreement that officially started the plan. Some left office, such as former Mayor Ivy Taylor and City Manager Sheryl Sculley. Others left the committees spearheading the Alamo Plan, including fundraisers Ramona Bass and Gene Powell.
Still, the crowd Friday clapped after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, wearing Alamo-emblazoned cowboy boots and showing off his custom-made coin in the shape of the Alamo Church, called Friday’s event “the true liftoff day.”
“Today is the liftoff to get this project truly started and finished so all Texans can come and see the history of this great place in the near future,” Patrick said.
Tourists watching from the sidelines Friday would never have suspected the spat that erupted last year between Patrick and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who stood next to each other smiling and shaking hands with San Antonio politicians. Patrick had called the plan “badly off track” and threatened to take Alamo responsibilities away from the Texas General Land Office, where Bush had first become commissioner in 2015.
But on Friday, Bush praised Patrick for his passion for the Alamo. The two recently came to an agreement around the new version of the plan, Bush told Texas legislators in a hearing last month.
“There’s nobody in the state capital who cares more about Texas history, that cares more about this holy shrine that we honor today than Dan Patrick,” Bush said Friday.
Discontent over the previous version came to a head in a September vote by the Texas Historical Commission to block a planned move of the Cenotaph, the 1930s-era monument to the Alamo defenders. Following the vote, several philanthropists tapped with fundraising for a planned museum walked away.
More questions than answers remain in the new Alamo plan about whether the museum and visitors’ center will become a reality. The fundraisers were supposed to bring in up to $200 million for the museum, and it’s not clear where that money will come from now.
A January state auditor’s report says that the GLO as of October 2020 had $46.4 million remaining of the $136 million in allocations from the Texas Legislature to preserve the complex from 2016 to 2021. The budget legislators are currently considering includes only $9 million for Alamo operations for the 2022-2023 biennium.
Patrick doubled down on his pledge to find funding for the project, telling attendees that the the “state Legislature will be stepping up to the plate to help fund a large portion of this great site.”
“We all had to be comfortable with the design – the Legislature, the City, the Land Commissioner,” Patrick told the San Antonio Report later. “I think the new design is still a work in progress but is going to be terrific, and I think I won’t have too much trouble rallying the Legislature to support the investment over time.”
Patrick added that he would like the Legislature to make “that first investment” either before the end of the current legislative session or “when we come back in the fall, because we will be back in the fall for a special session.”
Many San Antonio leaders are glad the Cenotaph delay gave them a chance to lock in guarantees to keep the plaza open to pedestrians and parades, among other concessions. Former Mayor Phil Hardberger was among those to endorse the plan at a City Council meeting Thursday.
“The problem of moving the Alamo forward is not that we don’t love the Alamo,” Hardberger said. “The problem is we love the Alamo so much that every detail seems to be the most important thing in the world.”
No one paid much attention to the Cenotaph on Friday. Instead, the focus was on the newest addition to Alamo Plaza.
The Losoya House looks like a small adobe-walled fortification, each side 28 feet in length. Politicians and visitors ascended a walkway built in the same position as a ramp that allowed Alamo defenders to scale the structure during the battle.
Visitors standing on the wooden deck 12 feet above the pavement can view a display showing how the cannon points toward San Fernando Cathedral, now obscured by the downtown buildings that have sprouted up at the site of the former battlefield. In the 1830s, the views would have been of prairies, scattered low buildings, and sparse trees.
Kolby Lanham, a historical researcher who’s worked at the Alamo since 2012, spent months sleuthing out the historical clues needed to recreate the cannon. One step involved using a person standing next to an original cannon in an antique photo for scale.
Lanham said he hopes to let the historical writings, documents, evidence, and artifacts left speak for themselves. Visitors can then make up their own minds about what the Alamo story means to them, he said.
“They will each come away with a slightly different version of what happened here,” Lanham said. “Not everyone is from the same cookie cutter.”