A street vendor pulls his cart of merchandise amid tourists and locals in front of the Alamo before the 2013 Battle of the Flowers Parade. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
A street vendor pulls his cart of merchandise amid tourists and locals in front of the Alamo before the 2013 Battle of the Flowers Parade. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Just about everyone seems to agree the Alamo Plaza falls short as an important historical site that attracts millions of visitors, but how it should be improved could be the most complex challenge San Antonio’s elected leaders face as they seek to better tell San Antonio’s most important chapter in Texas history. That isn’t stopping them from trying.

How would you change Alamo Plaza to better tell the story of the 13-day Battle of the Alamo in 1836 and convey the historical importance of the space? What about the history before 1836 when the site was home to Mission San Antonio de Valero and surrounding mission lands that extended to the San Antonio River and beyond?

The Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee will hold a public meeting Tuesday, 6-8 p.m. to seek feedback on the vision and guiding principals of the Alamo Area Experience Plan, a draft document that will lead to a new master plan for the City-owned Plaza, and the report and reccomendations from the Alamo Plaza Study Committee.

District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal
District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal

“The Alamo is the most important piece of history in Texas, but many people do not agree that Alamo Plaza reflects that history today,” said District 1 Councilmember Diego Bernal, who originally recommended the creation of a master plan last November.

Bernal is one of the committee’s tri-chairs and seen as the driving force behind the initiative. Witte Museum President Marise McDermott and San Antonio Conservation Society President Sue Ann Pemberton are also tri-chairs.

On March 6, City Council passed an ordinance approving a process, strategy and next steps for the development of a comprehensive master plan for Alamo Plaza and the surrounding area. In essence, the committee’s charge is to update the 1994 Alamo Plaza Study Committee Report and Recommendations produced during the administration of Mayor Nelson Wolff. Most of that report’s recommendations were never implemented.

The committee’s 21 members are drawn from every part of the city and represent different interest groups with a stake in Alamo Plaza and its history.

The committee includes:

  • (3) tri-chairs
  • (10) members appointed by individual City Council members
  • (1) member from the 1994 Alamo Plaza Study Committee Report
  • (3) members from the fields of history and archaeology
  • (1) member representing the State of Texas
  • (1) member representing the federal government
  • (1) member representing private property owners
  • (1) member from the field of tourism

The master plan will build on the 1994 report and will address interpretation, signage, traffic calming, design guidelines, zoning overlays and other strategies and include opportunities for public and stakeholder input.

The committee’s goal in the mid-1990s was to tell the story of the environment of Native Americans, the Spanish settlement’s Mission-Led Indian Town, Soldier and Settler Town and Civilian Town and the story of the Mexican and Anglo American Settlement and the coming of the Revolution, according to the report.

It also strived to tell the story of the native Americans who lived in small tribes, gathered food, made pottery and baskets and used the San Antonio River and other creeks and springs in the area, known as the sacred Yanaguana region.

“The Alamo Plaza should be an orientation point from which visitors can find other destinations,” the report states. “Changes in the plaza should be sensitive to the tourism industry. The plaza should be regarded with reverence for all who died there and better represent a respectful entry point to the Alamo Church.”

A recent Trinity University study conducted with students in urban studies and art and architecture shows less interest in recreating the past as weaving it into modernity.

(Read more: Alamo Plaza: Three Views From Studio Trinity.)

Consultancy firms such as Team Better Block in Dallas and the New York-based Project for Public Spaces have previously set up shop in San Antonio to create a community conversation and redefine the Alamo Plaza and other important sites, if only for a day.

A representation of the main Alam0 Plaza gate as it stood in 1836.
A representation of the main Alamo Plaza gate as it stood in 1836 as part of the August 2012 Better Block event. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The committee eventually will be involved in the selection of a master plan consultant to help with the future projects selected for Alamo Plaza.

The city’s approach to change at Alamo Plaza reflects a pattern with river improvement and Hemisfair Park projects it has undertaken in the past. Both locals and tourists should be drawn to the Alamo and Alamo Plaza, and its rich history as a Spanish colonial mission, center of commerce and military activity and as the “Shrine to Texas Liberty.”

Critics contend that the Alamo Plaza is unlike many important historical sites in that it celebrates tourism and commerce at the expense of history told amid a more dignified setting. Carnival-like tourist attractions and the future of adjacent buildings have long been the topic of debate.

The committee held nine informational meetings to date, including six informational meetings and three work session, and is now meeting to focus on what recommendations it will make to date the 1994 plan. Tuesday’s meeting will provide an opportunity for people to voice their desires for future designs of Alamo Plaza and surrounding areas while also giving city leaders a platform gather public comments for an eventual request for qualification to identify a master plan design team.

Tuesday night’s meeting will be held in Room 103 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center at 200 E. Market St. Free parking is available after 5 p.m. in the Marina Garage at 401 Bowie St.  For more information call the Center City Development Office at (210) 207-3914 or visit the Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee’s website here. An Aug. 27 morning meeting has been rescheduled for Sept. 15.

*Featured/top image: A street vendor pulls his cart of merchandise amid tourists and locals in front of the Alamo before the 2013 Battle of the Flowers Parade. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Councilmember Diego Bernal submitted a master plan in November. Bernal submitted a recommendation for the creation of a master plan. 

Related Stories:

Bernal Targets Vacant Buildings, Sets Sights on Alamo Plaza

Alamo Plaza: Three Views From Studio Trinity

San Antonio’s Big Bet on Public Art: Hemisfair Park and the San Antonio River

Alamo Plaza: A View From the 1909 Bar

For One Weekend, Team Better Block Transforms Alamo Plaza

Katherine Nickas was born in San Antonio near Fort Sam Houston but grew up in southern Indiana. In 2007, she began working for Indiana AgriNews where she covered topics ranging from corn and soybean production...