A protester waves a This is Texas Freedom Force flag in front of the Cenotaph in support of not moving the empty tomb.
A protester waves a This is Texas Freedom Force flag in front of the Cenotaph in opposition to moving the monument. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

More than 100 protesters on Saturday demonstrated their opposition to moving the Alamo Cenotaph as part of an estimated $450 million plan to redevelop the Alamo Plaza. Speakers and attendees met at 10 a.m. at the monument built to honor the fallen defenders of the Alamo during the famous 1836 battle there, and rallied against planners’ proposed changes.

“We believe the Alamo should be remembered and not imagined,” Kaufman County Tea Party Chair Ray Myers said Saturday, quoting a motion discussed at the Texas Republican Party convention in San Antonio in mid-June.

At the end of the convention, he said, “we had 5,650 delegates vote to … not move this [monument], not one inch.

“We want to stall anything the City of San Antonio does. We want the State Legislature to have this. We want it back in their hands. We want the Texas Parks and Wildlife [Department], the [Texas] Historical Commission involved, not the City of San Antonio.

“We have got to divorce the Alamo from the City of San Antonio.”

The conceptual master plan was developed by consultants hired by the City of San Antonio, Texas General Land Office, and Alamo Endowment.

Some citizens and public officials support the redevelopment plan’s proposal to move the Cenotaph some 500 feet away to a new location in front of the Menger Hotel. Others say the committee should further review its relocation.

Protesters on Saturday included members of groups such as This Is Texas Freedom Force and the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association, the latter of which which will continue to protest and rally against such a move in the plaza and at public input meetings, its president Lee Spencer White said.

“Obviously we’re dedicated or we wouldn’t go out in this heat,” White told the Rivard Report Wednesday. Saturday’s temperature peaked at 100 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

The association organized a similar rally last October.

“[The rally] is a chance to reach out to more Texans who are unaware of the situation at the Alamo,” White said, noting that an online petition she created on Change.org has collected more than 10,000 signatures. She has an additional 1,000 paper petitions, she added.

The conceptual master plan includes restoration and relocation of the aging, nearly 60-foot sculpture commissioned by the State of Texas in the late 1930s for the Texas Centennial. The Cenotaph, planners have said, needs to be removed to restore more closely the original mission footprint and allow for its own space for reverence.

“The entire reimagination of the Alamo project has been undertaken with the utmost care and thoughtfulness,” said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) who is also a tri-chair of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee. “Each element of the project is being evaluated and carefully considered – including community input.

“All of the decisions made will be respectful of the site and its complete history and will be made for the greater good of the project and our local and statewide communities.”

Dozens of public meetings have been held since the process began in 2014. City Council approved the conceptual master plan in May 2017. The descendants arguably have been the most vocal against moving the Cenotaph. Other groups, including architects and conservationists, are strongly opposed to other elements of the plan including fenced or “managed access” to the plaza, area street closures, and demolition of historic buildings.

“You’re telling me that ground is sacred because the Alamo defenders’ blood is on that ground,” White said, recalling conversations with planners. “And then you want to move this monument honoring them outside where you’re saying the ground is not sacred. … Why would you want to take the memorial, the empty tomb, outside the walls they died defending?”

Alamo officials last month released a professional visitor study by Missouri-based H2R Market Research that showed 60 percent of respondents supported repairing and moving the Cenotaph, 34 percent were neutral, and only 6 percent wanted to keep it where it is.

A recent push poll performed by JB Media – commissioned by White– showed the opposite result. Of the more than 2,500 Texans randomly surveyed via phone call and email, about 60 percent of respondents want to keep the Cenotaph within the footprint of the “fort” defenders protected, she said.

However, the language used in the poll was biased toward that result:

“We are calling people today about the empty tomb of the Alamo Defenders, also known as the Cenotaph, which is currently located within the fort they defended. The Cenotaph is an impressive structure commissioned in 1936 to honor the Alamo Defenders on the ground where they died.

“It has been proposed to move the Cenotaph outside the Alamo Fort to a nearby location.

“Opponents say, the Cenotaph should stay in its current location inside the fortress walls; honoring the heroes where they fought and died for liberty.

“Proponents say, the Cenotaph should be relocated to a nearby site outside the fort, providing an additional 480 square feet of space inside the Alamo Fort.”

People were then asked to indicate if they supported keeping the monument where it is, wanted it moved, or didn’t have enough information to say. Click here to download the results.

White admitted that the language she chose was a little slanted, especially when it comes to summarizing proponents’ argument. “I’ll give you that,” she said.

But that’s what planners have told her, she said, and she hasn’t heard other convincing reasons why the Cenotaph needs to be moved.

Planners have said they need the space for an “open-air” extension of the proposed museum across South Alamo Street and that extending the distance between the Alamo and Cenotaph would give each the space they deserve. Others have said the Cenotaph distracts from the Alamo.

The H2R visitor survey was not a survey of the city’s general public; rather it polled more than 2,000 “household decision-makers” from San Antonio, Texas, and the United States who participate in online surveys and have recently visited attractions and landmarks.

More than 2,000 people, most live in Texas, participated in the survey that included questions about the Alamo Master Plan proposal.
More than 2,000 people, most of whom live in Texas, participated in the survey that included questions about the Alamo Master Plan proposal. Credit: Courtesy / H2R Market Research

The graphic above from the resulting report shortens the verbiage surveyors used to: “Repair and restore the Alamo Cenotaph, etc.” The actual wording, according to the H2R questionnaire, was, “Repair and restore the Alamo Cenotaph, add the names of the missing Defenders and relocate the Cenotaph to a prominent location just outside the historic mission footprint, visible from the Church.”

Click here to download the 78-page report and analysis. Click here to download the questionnaire.

The “managed access” proposed for the plaza would prevent protests, impromptu gatherings, and other public activities that have taken place there for decades since the battle. But some of those activities in the plaza include street preachers, vendors selling souvenirs and toys, and protests about abortion, gun rights, and other causes. Planners suggest moving the venue for such activities with the Cenotaph.

“Inappropriate behaviors for families should not be part of this space,” Alamo CEO Douglass McDonald told the Rivard Report when the H2R survey was released.

Moving the Cenotaph, and with it the civic space associated with the Alamo Plaza, White said, is “insulting.”

Her organization and other groups, she said, would like to see the whole Alamo Plaza redevelopment process slowed down so officials can focus their priorities on repairing the Alamo itself and building the museum.

“I just don’t want us to make a mistake that we’re going to regret,” White said.

Bonnie Arbittier and Hanna Oberhofer contributed to this report. This article was originally published on July 25 and updated on July 28.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org