The Alamo Trust plans to transform the historic Woolworth and Crockett buildings in downtown San Antonio into a museum and visitor center for Alamo Plaza, museum designer Patrick Gallagher told Bexar County commissioners Tuesday.

The announcement resolves the uncertainty that had surrounded both the buildings and the plans for a museum that was considered a key piece of the Alamo master plan. Advocacy groups lobbied to save the building, while others said the buildings should be torn down. The two buildings are owned by the Texas General Land Office (GLO) and had been bound by an amended lease agreement to be “repurposed.”

Gallagher presented conceptual renderings of the Alamo museum and visitor center on Tuesday, stressing that they were not actual designs for the space. In addition to housing the Alamo museum, the Woolworth building will display its own civil rights history as well, Gallagher said. The Woolworth lunch counter served Black customers for the first time in 1960 and is remembered as a key location for the peaceful integration of San Antonio’s lunch counters. 

“That’s why the Woolworth building needs to be preserved and needs to be embraced, because it’s part of the legacy of San Antonio,” said Gallagher, founder of museum planning and design firm Gallagher & Associates. Gallagher is working as the program manager for the Alamo Trust, the Alamo’s nonprofit steward. 

Gallagher presented the conceptual design for the Alamo’s museum and visitor center to commissioners Tuesday to explain what funding for the project would go toward. Commissioners voted Tuesday to identify $5 million each year over five years to help fund the Alamo museum project for a total of $25 million. As part of that county-provided funding, the Alamo Trust must provide a matching grant. The County’s involvement comes after attempts to raise money for the museum from philanthropists have so far fallen short of the Alamo Trust’s previous goal of more than $200 million in private fundraising.

The state will also provide $50 million for the project, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Tuesday.

“This is the first major infusion of capital. … The gifts from the state and county are really important because as we work in earnest to jump-start fundraising, it’s a vote of confidence in the project,” Alamo Trust Executive Director Kate Rogers said.

A conceptual rendering shows the possible future of the historic Woolworth and Crockett buildings across the street from the Alamo. Credit: Courtesy / Alamo Trust

The Alamo Trust oversees fundraising for the museum, a responsibility that has been made more challenging after wealthy donors withdrew their commitments after the Texas Historical Commission denied the request to relocate the Cenotaph, the 1930s-era monument to the Alamo defenders. With the county and state contributions combined, the Alamo Trust is already halfway to its current $150 million fundraising goal, Rogers said. The new Alamo Plaza plan carries a $250 million price tag, which will cover the museum and visitor center, plaza additions, and improvements to the existing gift shop, annex, and Alamo hall, Rogers added.

The City of San Antonio has committed $38 million in bond funding to infrastructure and landscaping for the Alamo Plaza. The state had previously invested $130 million toward redeveloping the plaza, including acquiring the Woolworth, Crockett, and Palace buildings, Rogers said.

A possible design layout of the Crockett and Woolworth buildings shows the two structures connected via bridges. Credit: Courtesy / Alamo Trust

Patrick and Land Commissioner George P. Bush both spoke to commissioners via videoconference to thank them for their financial commitment. 

“I know you, being on the court, have dedicated a considerable amount of time and have been thoughtfully part of the process since the beginning. … I sincerely thank you for that leadership,” Bush said.

Before construction can start on the buildings, architects and engineers must thoroughly examine them due to their age, Gallagher said. There also must be a “top-to-bottom renovation” in order to outfit the historic buildings with new ventilation, heating, and utilities. 

“It’s going to be a careful process,” Gallagher said. “They’re important buildings and we’ll take every measure to do as much adaptive reuse as we can.”

The buildings are currently occupied by businesses catering to downtown tourists, such as gift shops, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, and Tomb Rider 3D. The fate of those businesses was not discussed Tuesday.

But even before architectural design begins, the museum needs to establish the story of the Alamo it wants to convey in order to guide its own creation, Gallagher said. That will require input from stakeholders and community members to ensure it tells the full story of the Alamo.

A conceptual graphic imagines a 4D theater in the new museum at Alamo Plaza. Credit: Courtesy / Alamo Trust

“Sometimes stories can be challenging,” he said. “Sometimes stories can be painful. Sometimes stories can be rich and dynamic. … This is our chance for the diverse communities of San Antonio to see their voices back in the museum.”

Alamo Trust board member Francisco Cigarroa said he hoped that gathering that comprehensive narrative “will tell the full story of our rich and diverse heritage.”

“It is so important, not only for the ancestors of all of us, but also for future generations,” he said via videoconference Tuesday.

Commissioner Trish DeBerry (Pct. 3) stressed the importance of including Bexar County historians in the Alamo museum project. She and Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores (Pct. 1) will serve as liaisons between the county commissioners and the historical committee contributing to the Alamo project. DeBerry, along with Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, spearheaded the effort to find county funding for the museum.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get this right,” she said. 

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.