The Alamo Master Plan proposed by the Texas General Land Office, the City of San Antonio, and the Alamo Endowment will breathe new life into an 18th-century civic center of the city. The plan envisions an urban transformation that will finally create a respectful environment for an American icon while creating civic spaces worthy of a great city. The master plan, though a first step in defining this important place, has many attributes:

The plan is community-driven. The Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee was appointed in 2014 to develop the overarching philosophy for how the Plaza would be improved. The committee produced an outstanding document, the Vision and Guiding Principles, that has directed the Management Committee and the Master Plan design team throughout the process. In the master plan phase, the community process has included more than one hundred meetings with groups and citizens of San Antonio, including four public forums held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. The design team is listening and has incorporated ideas from these meetings into the master plan.

The plan is comprehensive. It includes areas to interpret the history of the site before it was a mission, as a mission, as a battlefield, and as a place in San Antonio’s urban history. The plan contains large civic gathering places for the enjoyment of our citizens. It has places to sit and enjoy a coffee or an ice cream cone and places for a romantic dinner with soft music. There will be places for our holiday gatherings and for dignified ceremonies.

The plan is connective. The re-envisioned civic space connects to all the adjacent zones around the site. The plan connects with other City efforts to re-imagine South Alamo Street and create strong and vibrant connections with Hemisfair and with La Villita Historic Arts Village. Arms of the plan stretch to the River Walk, into the Shops at Rivercenter, and connect to Southtown. Losoya Street will be enhanced with trees and pedestrian amenities as an extension of the Broadway Corridor improvements. Houston Street will be strengthened by having an iconic historic site and museum along its path eastward.

The plan is porous, meaning there are numerous ways to get in and out of the district. It allows for a network of entrances and exits. While the new district will contain a dignified and peaceful historic site, that site can be entered from all four directions.

The plan is expansive. For too long locals have heard that “the Alamo is so small.” That is because it has been interpreted as a small shrine along busy streets with bustling urban activity. The proposed plan expands the footprint of the site to interpret the mission courtyard and the burial sites of Native Americans. Through the use of glass interpretive walls, the plan allows the extent of the battleground to be understood while not blocking views of the church. The master plan stretches to the life-giving river and to the historic Alameda (East Commerce Street) where the bodies of the defenders were burned and interned.

The plan is climate-appropriate. The heat island effect of the city is real and will be addressed by significantly reducing the area of paved surfaces, retaining most of the existing trees, and by adding many new shade trees, landscaped beds of plants, lawns of grass, and by the refreshing presence of water in the form of interpreted acequias. Lanes of South Alamo Street will be removed and replaced by a rippling acequia lined with native plants and by the shade of the pedestrian promenade. All heritage trees will be preserved or relocated.

Alamo Plaza as a space that is associated with a World Heritage site is being re-imagined so that all visitors can understand the context of the historic site. Alamo Plaza as a civic space (extending from Commerce to Houston Streets) is being enhanced by the activation of Plaza Valero and the tree-covered sidewalks of the promenade connecting to the Torch of Friendship Plaza. From there, the plan connects to the proposed Civic Park in Hemisfair. Rather than the two acres of street pavement and sidewalks that we now call Alamo Plaza, the plan creates a pedestrian spine encompassing almost 20 acres of civic space, most of it shaded by trees, and stretching from Houston Street to César E. Chávez Boulevard. This urban district will provide a landscaped spine for the eastern half of downtown. The plan is big and bold, something quite rare for an American city or a state to propose.

The Alamo Master Plan is the outcome of a four-year process. It is a dynamic, multi-purposed transformation of an entire urban district. It deserves the support of the citizens of San Antonio and Texas.

James W. Gray, Jr.

James W. Gray, Jr., FASLA, is a principal at local landscape architecture firm Rialto Studio, which was chosen to serve on the Alamo Master Plan team under Preservation Design Partnership.

Lewis S. Fisher

Lewis S. Fisher, AIA, is president of Fisher Heck Architects. In 2016, Fisher Heck was chosen to serve on the Alamo Master Plan team under Preservation Design Partnership.