This rendering shows Houston Street reimagined into a pedestrian friendly street with gated access to Alamo Plaza.
This rendering from the official design team's proposal shows Houston Street reimagined into a pedestrian friendly street with gated access to Alamo Plaza. Credit: Courtesy / Texas General Land Office

The revised Alamo Plaza Interpretive Plan presented on June 6 features beautiful renderings and some thoughtful ideas on the visitor’s experience. Missing in the presentation is how the plan improves our city beyond the Alamo Plaza – our citizens’ experience.

The current plan fails to address two pivotal Alamo Plaza Guiding Principles: enhancing connectivity and embracing the continuum of history. Alamo Plaza should become a vital destination for everyone and make our city a better place, not only for visitors, but for all San Antonians.

Alamo Plaza guiding principle: “Enhance connectivity and wayfinding to the River, neighborhoods, La Villita, the Cathedral, and the other plazas.” 

The most disturbing element of the plan is the four-foot-tall fence and gates that surround the site. This design would wall out citizens and forever disrupt connectivity. In addition, it would create a state park with hours of visitation and limited access.

Alamo Plaza is one of the most memorable places in our state. Limiting access and limiting freedom of speech in this space – by way of moving the free speech/protest zone south – is an attack upon the very freedoms the Alamo represents. Connectivity is about linking and welcoming, not disrupting and “pushing away” the public. Connectivity does not mean accessibility to just pedestrians. Connectivity is about flexibility of use and access to vehicles, bikes, and, yes, even the occasional parade.

There are great and distinctive plazas throughout the world that feature iconic architecture and honor historic events without shutting down access. From Independence Hall in Philadelphia to Boston’s many Battle for Independence sites, these places are connected by pedestrian, bike, and vehicle access.

Hemisfair and Alamo Plaza will become catalysts for a revitalized downtown. Fifty percent of the commercial blocks north of Houston Street (bounded by the San Antonio River and St. Mary’s Street to the west and Interstate 37 to the east) are still undeveloped while more than 40 percent of the commercial and non-historic blocks south of Market Street, including Hemisfair, are yet to be developed.

The State of Texas would prefer that the City of San Antonio cede its rights to the control of Alamo Plaza to create an “Alamo Park.” The current plan ignores the potential impact of a lively future downtown with easily more than 10,000 downtown residents and well more than 150,000 office workers supporting new restaurants and retail.

The City is proposing to spend more than $55 million to upgrade Broadway Street from Houston Street to Interstate 35, and Alamo Street from Commerce Street to Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Curiously absent is the linkage from Commerce to Houston streets. The closure of Alamo to all traffic would eliminate three lanes of traffic and does not consider the impact of the future development of 35 adjacent blocks.

Diagram and descriptions of road closures related to Alamo Plaza.
` Credit: Courtesy / David Lake

Closing Alamo Plaza would create a tourist mega block from I-37 to Losoya Street. The Convention Center, Rivercenter Mall, and now the Alamo would stretch five blocks (1,630 feet) east to west without means to travel north or south. The Alamo closure would ensure the exacerbation of traffic congestion due to the continued closure of so many blocks over time. The plan would disrupt the momentum of our revitalized downtown. The plan would ignore the idea that Alamo Plaza is our open space and the heart of our city.

Alamo Plaza guiding principle: “Embrace the continuum of history to foster understanding and healing.” 

The very well-respected design team has artfully addressed Alamo Plaza as a singular moment in our city’s history. However, the current proposal creates a static visitor space shaped by the Battle of 1836.

` Credit: Courtesy / David Lake

The proposed museum location considers the removal of the historic west block opposite the Alamo, including the Crockett Building and the Woolworth Building, all in favor of demonstrating the physical edges of the mission.

Do not demolish the west block. Preserve the Woolworth Building, the site of the first successful desegregation of a lunch counter in San Antonio. This is our history, too.

What if the Alamo visitor experience was memorable and exemplary? What if Alamo Plaza made our city exemplary in every way? I urge this gifted planning team to craft an alternate plan to truly meet Alamo Plaza’s guiding principles of connectivity and continuum of history:

  • Define the historic mission grounds and battle site without disrupting the ground plane – no barriers, no gates, no fences, no hours of visitation, fully open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  • Do not convey Alamo Plaza to the state.
  • Do not close Alamo Street. Keep Alamo Plaza an open flexible welcoming space. There are many ways to design streets that focus on pedestrians. Encourage flexibility and intermittent street closure.
  • Include an urban planner on the master plan team to balance the visitor/tourist experience while strengthening our citizen’s experience. The Plaza should strive to become a welcoming and dynamic place for all.
  • Do not demolish the west block of Alamo. Consider the east use of Alamo garden as a potential museum and visitor experience due to its non-historic character.

What if Alamo Plaza felt like Las Ramblas in Barcelona or the great plazas of Mexico – alive with a variety of experiences, something for everyone. What if Alamo Street remained a great boulevard with slow moving traffic, no buses, lots of pedestrians, bikes and sidewalk cafes and local retail?

I urge the mayor, City Council, and the Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee to seek a plan which adheres to the Alamo Plaza Guiding Principles.

This site plan outlines David Lake's suggested changes to the Alamo Plaza Interpretive Design.
This site plan outlines David Lake’s suggested changes to the Alamo Plaza Interpretive Design. Credit: Courtesy / David Lake
David Lake

David Lake

David Lake, FAIA, lives in Alamo Heights and co-founded Lake|Flato in 1984. A native of Austin and a University of Texas graduate, David has built his career around merging regional and environmental design...