The Texas Historical Commission voted 12-2 last week to prevent the planned relocation of the Cenotaph in Alamo Plaza. Credit: Edward A. Ornelas for the San Antonio Report

The City of San Antonio’s Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) voted 7-4 Wednesday to implement phase one of the massive redevelopment of Alamo Plaza, a plan that includes relocating the Alamo Cenotaph as well as street, landscaping, and hardscaping improvements.

Commissioners voted after they were privately briefed by City attorneys on a pending lawsuit that aims to have the Alamo designated as a cemetery and listened to more than two hours of comments from citizens, most of whom opposed moving the Cenotaph. Sixty-one people signed up to speak; fewer than 10 supported the move.

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Plans to dismantle, restore, and relocate the Cenotaph was approved by the HDRC, Planning Commission, and City Council in October 2018. Still, protesters consider the 1936 monument a “war memorial” that should not be moved away from the historic battleground. It was commissioned and installed to recognize the Texas revolutionaries who died defending the former mission during the 1836 Battle of the Alamo.

Commissioner Gabriel Velasquez voted against the phase one plan because of concerns that more human remains would be found as the project proceeds. Remains of what archeologists believe to be an infant, young adult, and an adult were discovered at the Alamo last week.

HDRC Commissioner Gabriel Velasquez (District 3)

Commissioners Alvaro Arreola Jr., Scott Carpenter, and John Lafoon also voted against the plan.

City attorneys have said pending lawsuits would not interfere with landscaping and lighting around the Cenotaph’s new position outside the Menger Hotel.

“We’ll see you in court,” yelled one person after commissioners cast their votes.

Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation filed its lawsuit against the City and the Texas General Land Office (GLO) over how human remains found at the site are treated. The Native American group wants the site to be considered a cemetery, thereby potentially limiting the kind of changes that can be made to it.

A separate lawsuit filed by the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association against the General Land Office, Alamo Trust, and Texas Historical Commission and their leadership alleges that the redevelopment plan violates the Texas Health and Safety Code because the Alamo is a cemetery. The group hopes a state judge will grant a temporary restraining order to stop construction.

HDRC’s vote also approved the removal of the Lady Bird Fountain, built in 1974, and a 1976 bandstand in Alamo Plaza, changes intended to help make the area more in keeping with its historical environment. Click here to download a copy of the City’s plan approved Wednesday.

The massive Alamo Plaza overhaul – developed by the City, GLO, nonprofit Alamo Trust, and Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee through a series of public meetings – calls for the Cenotaph to be repaired and moved about 500 feet south of its current location so the monument won’t block views of the church.

The estimated $350 million to $450 million plan is slated to be largely funded through private donations that would be raised by the Alamo Trust. The plan calls for a “world-class” museum, for streets to be closed to vehicular traffic in and around the plaza, new plaza entry points, and preservation of the historic Alamo mission and Long Barrack. 

The design is aimed at bringing a sense of reverence to the plaza that has since been encroached upon by commercial and entertainment interests over the years, designers have said.

“If you had plans for reverence then you would never move it,” said Paul Gescheidle, who spoke against relocating the Cenotaph.

With restoration work on the Cenotaph scheduled to start soon, This Is Texas Freedom Force, a local group that has organized several protests against the Alamo Master Plan, is planning a gathering at Alamo Plaza on Dec. 27 to protest moving the monument.

Protestors against the relocation of the Alamo Cenotaph march through downtown on December 14th.

Alamo and City officials said restoration work on the Cenotaph will take place largely on-site

“The process of restoring and repairing the Cenotaph will occur onsite in the Plaza, in a protected but visible environment,” according to an update on the Alamo’s website. “The safest way to restore the structure is by carefully disassembling it piece-by-piece, allowing for the conservation of the individual stone elements and for repairs to address both exposed and potentially concealed damage.

“Without ever leaving Alamo Plaza, a team of engineers and materials scientists will clean, restore, and conserve the marble and granite stones, completely within view of the public.”

The Alamo’s official Facebook page posts regular updates about ongoing work in the plaza.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@sareport.org