“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.”
– From Mending Wall by Robert Frost
In 1871, the Catholic Bishop of the State of Texas, Claude Marie Dubuis, sold the galera, an Americanism for “shed” referring to the rectangular structure that included the Alamo barracks, south gate, and jail, to the City of San Antonio for $2,500. The deed included the following following restriction:
“And it being understood that the property hereby conveyed is as conveyed on condition that it shall be dedicated to the public use as an open space, and be made a part of and one with, the public plaza above and below it, now known as the Alamo Plaza and the Plaza de Valero.”
The initial design of a reimagined Alamo Plaza ignores the deed restriction of 1871, and specifically creates a structural glass interpretive wall to provide an enclosure of the historic setting, rather than studying the documents of the past.
In May 1836, after the Battle of San Jacinto, Gen. Vicente Filisola, second in command of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna’s army, ordered Gen. Juan José Andrade to dismantle the fortifications of the Alamo. Eyewitness reports noted that all the single walls were leveled, the ditch filled up, and the pickets torn up and burnt. The galera remained.
In 1848, when the U.S. Army moved into the Alamo complex, it cleared the rubble, made major repairs to the structures, and replaced the original flat roofs with pitched, shingled ones. The galera was referred to in different descriptions as low stone barrack, carcel, and old prison building, depending on its use at the time.
By 1865, as San Antonio grew, there was a need to clean up the debris that still littered the plaza from the days of the battle. The old galera still separated the north and south portions of the plaza. When the City began to clear the ruins, a controversy arose over the ownership of the building between the Catholic Church and the City, and work was halted.
Pressure continued from the citizens and the press: The San Antonio Daily Express on March 7, 1869, wrote, “The Alamo Ruins – Why are the ruins opposite the Alamo Church left standing like a grim phantom, with its ghastly smile, looking out for relief, but all in vain. These ruins should be looked after, and demolished.”
The land in front of the galera was a quagmire when it rained, and remained a muddy pond for weeks. Pedestrians carried lamps at night to avoid falling into the mud hole. When the City finally began to remove the ruins in 1871, the newspaper suggested that the pond be filled with the earth that was being removed.
The plaza was scraped level to create better drainage and a neater appearance, but it removed or scrambled most of the archaeological evidence of earlier periods. In 1889, mesquite block paving was laid in the plaza, and the wall footings were again uncovered, perhaps damaging them more. The top soil that was brought in to create a park is still there.
In 1913, Texas Gov. Oscar Branch Colquitt, who had a deep interest in the Alamo, presented the 33rd Legislature with “A Message Relating to the Alamo Property.” It included the various deeds and rental agreements for the Alamo between the Church and the State of Texas, as well as the City of San Antonio. A map was included to show the various sections, including the galera.
In 1976, The University of Texas at San Antonio’s Center for Archaeological Research conducted a study of Alamo Plaza, which included a detailed history of the plaza.
Will the City of San Antonio honor the deed restriction of 1871? There appear to be two arguments for invalidating a deed restriction:
- Waiver/abandonment through non-enforcement
- Radically changed conditions
Courts and the Texas Property Code operate under a presumption that properly-recorded restrictive covenants are valid. Overcoming this presumption requires compelling evidence.
We haven’t had a wall dividing the two plazas since the deed was issued in 1871, and conditions have not radically changed. While there are several local opinions ranging from reconstruction of the galera to a glass wall and to an open space, the open space should, by deed, prevail.