Work is set to begin over the next few months on the first phase of the Alamo site redesign, involving moving the Cenotaph monument to the Alamo defenders to its new location near the Menger Hotel.
As part of the $450 million redevelopment of the historic battle site and surrounding plaza, Philadelphia-area engineering firm CVM Professional will deconstruct the Cenotaph and reassemble it less than 500 feet to the south.
In the new location, a bandstand currently sits in the a shady grove of live oaks. The City’s Parks and Recreation Department is working to relocate the bandstand, officials said.
“What you’re seeing in this first phase is really the delineation, the creation of this new civic space,” said Doug McDonald, CEO of the Alamo Trust, in an interview Monday. Alamo Trust is the nonprofit set up by the Texas General Land Office that manages the Alamo.
Also included in the first phase is the new Fiesta parade route and a “free speech zone” that promoters of the redesign say will incorporate the ways people have historically used Alamo Plaza.
“There’s a promise we made to the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee … to tell a more complete story, to be inclusive of all the stories in this area,” said Councilman Roberto Trevino (D1), one of the committee’s three chairs. “We are going to be more inclusive of different layers of history.”
Funding for the first phase will come out of the $38 million the City of San Antonio has committed to the Alamo redesign.
To restore and relocate the Cenotaph the City and Alamo Trust have retained CVM, which has experience moving the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and restoring the Washington Monument in Baltimore, among other historic monuments.
“What’s nice about the Cenotaph is it’s been respected so well over the years,” said Tracy Marcotte, an engineer and materials scientist with CVM. “You’re not seeing evidence of poorly concocted repairs and conservation treatment. It’s actually nice I don’t have to worry about reversing someone else’s damage to the structure, but it’s also a huge responsibility.”
The Cenotaph, designed by Italian sculptor Pompeo Coppini and built in 1936, commemorates the Texian revolutionaries killed in the 1836 battle defending the Alamo from the Mexican Army.
Its relocation has been a flashpoint in the debate of the Alamo’s future, with many not wanting to see the memorial moved from its current spot in Alamo Plaza.
McDonald said they don’t know yet when the Cenotaph will be moved but said it likely will not be done until after January or February of next year.
“Everything’s going to be highly visible,” McDonald said. “It’ll be highly communicated. All of the conservation work will happen on Alamo Plaza. The public will watch every aspect of this project.”
The relocation will involve closing off streets around Alamo Plaza in early 2020. The closures will be on Blum Street and Alamo Plaza Street in front of the Menger and East Crockett Street from Alamo Plaza Street to Bonham Street.
At the new location, master planner PGAV Destinations and landscape architectural firm Reed Hilderbrand are handling the interpretive displays and design of the space, with Fisher Marantz Stone doing the lighting.
Reed Hilderbrand senior associate Claire Fellman said the intent of the new civic space is to balance reverence for the Alamo with daily life of downtown San Antonio.
“We’re really looking at the materials and the architecture of those existing buildings and synthesizing the design with that fabric,” Fellman said. “We’re not looking to create something that’s really loud and contemporary as far as our design language goes.”
Still, many said the Cenotaph should stay where it is. Charisma Villarreal, a Helotes resident who traces her lineage to Alamo defender Jose Gregorio Esparza, said moving the structure will detract from the meaning Coppini intended with his placement of the monument.
“The fact that they’re moving it away from the Alamo, it’s not going to have the same meaning,” Villareal said. “Those stone faces are not going to be looking on the Alamo; they’re going to be looking at the Menger.”
Though it might look from afar like a solid structure, the Cenotaph is essentially a set of marble slabs seated on what Marcotte called a “concrete superstructure.” She praised its design and preservation over the years but said that water is seeping in through widening cracks in parts of the marble. Interior “cramps” that hold the stone in place might also be made of aluminum, which could be corroding in such an environment, she said.
“The safest way to handle the individual pieces is to take it apart,” Marcotte said. “Many times, damage is buried within, and in trying to glue it back together superficially, it doesn’t really work that well.”
New interpretive signs or displays likely will focus on the Alamo defenders themselves, but also on the choice of a cenotaph-style monument to commemorate them, and the backstory on Coppini.
The list of defenders currently inscribed on the structure contains 35 inaccuracies, and 10 defenders aren’t even listed, according to Alamo Trust. PGAV vice president John Kasman said the intent is not to make changes to the monument itself.
“We do feel it’s important to identify and tell the story of missing names, misspelled names, et cetera,” Kasman said.
Questions still remain about the future of the Woolworth building, the site of a milestone in San Antonio’s civil rights history. The former department store and lunch counter began peacefully serving black patrons on March 16, 1960, as a result of activism by local organizers and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
After the World Monuments Fund in October put the Woolworth on its watch list of 25 threatened monuments around the world, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff wrote to Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush calling for the building to be protected as a site one of the “great events in the heritage of Bexar County.”
Renderings the design team showed the Rivard Report this week show no Woolworth building on Alamo Plaza. McDonald noted that City Council and the Historic and Design Review Commission had approved the renderings, but would not say what the current plans are for the Woolworth. He cited ongoing studies on the building’s role in local history.
“There’s numerous studies going on,” he said. “We’re planning around that process, and we don’t have any outcomes on that at this point.”