There is nothing more central to the identity of San Antonio, or Texas for that matter, than the Alamo. It’s not just a building, it’s not just a story: it’s who we are as a people. The Alamo is perhaps the greatest icon of our Texas mythology and the most important symbol of our city.
The Alamo complex has been at the literal heart of San Antonio for generations. A city at the crossroads of culture, San Antonio has been unique among American cities. In the tradition of South Texas, the grounds and plaza of the Alamo have always been a simple and understated setting.
Within 20 years of the battle, the plaza was developing as a civic space and within 50 years it was serving as San Antonio’s civic center. Now, faced by Paul Philippe Cret’s beautiful Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and United States Courthouse on the north, Alfred Giles’ Crockett Block on the west (1859), and the lively bandstand and the historic Menger Hotel (1859) on the south, the Alamo was the backdrop to our city life. Memories of a city have been built here: outlaws and heroes, parades, and celebrations have all played out over the many generations.
In the past, the Alamo has had many faces, and though revered, it has at times been neglected and abused. The State of Texas took possession of the church after it was determined in 2015 that the Daughters of the Texas Republic of Texas could not care for the historic complex adequately. Soon, the State announced that it would rescue the Alamo from obscurity and raise funds for a grand master plan that would give the Alamo a proper setting for its adoration. The goal of the project is to honor the 10,000 years of history on the site of the Texas Revolution and the famous battle that made the Alamo legendary.
As with many modern approaches of this type today, there is history – and then there is now – as well as architects and politicians not wishing to muddle the vision of the future with our messy nostalgia. But the common man doesn’t see it that way – he sees no separation between history and who we are today. In fact, history is who we are. We wrap our lives in tradition and memory: San Antonio is cloaked in this memory and tradition.
What the new “Reimagine the Alamo” master plan fails to recognize is the 150 years of history after the Alamo and what this history has meant to our city over time. It was the birthplace of our most treasured celebration, Fiesta and the Battle of the Flowers Parade, as it is celebrated today. It has been at the heart of our city for generations – the central plaza always accessible day and night.
So how do you spend $50 million and improve something everyone already loves? How, according to the new plan, do you preserve history? Well, evidently, you put the Alamo in a glass case, hermetically sealed from the world and from the city in which it lives – San Antonio’s living, beating heart in a box.
With this new plan, the physicality of the historic structures is paradoxical. The rampart walls cannot be expressed as the literal stone they once were, for that would be confusing to the public: they must be a modern interpretation rendered in glass – an ethereal reminder. However, equally perplexing is the fact that while they cannot be literal with the walls, they are determined to be literal with the Alamo’s Plaza Major, ripping out 150 year old majestic oak trees to express a dirt plain the approximate size of a football field: vast, empty, and exposed. Has there been no consideration for the South Texas weather during July and August?
I can go into other issues with the plan, such as the single entrance, traffic flow, and parking. These are inconveniences to say the least. Yet, what this plan threatens is San Antonio itself. The Alamo is ours, it is our history, our mythology, our traditions and a shared cultural memory – the image of ourselves as a people. You cannot separate the memory from the reality. The heart of San Antonio will be memorialized, but it will stop beating. It will become someone else’s Alamo.
Remember the Alamo?