The $450 million Alamo redevelopment plan could hinge on a long-awaited vote Tuesday by members of the Texas Historical Commission (THC).
Commissioners are set to decide whether to allow the restoration and relocation of the Cenotaph, a 1930s-era stone monument to Texas revolutionaries killed in the Battle of the Alamo, to a new location approximately 500 feet south outside the Menger Hotel in downtown San Antonio.
The meeting begins 9 a.m. Tuesday via Zoom videoconference. Instructions for accessing the public meeting are on the Texas Historical Commission’s website.
Restoring and moving the Cenotaph are key pieces of the redevelopment plan, along with closing the streets of Alamo Plaza to vehicles and creating a museum focused on the site’s history. Last year, Alamo Trust, the site’s nonprofit steward, began work to preserve the Alamo’s Church and Long Barrack, structures that date back to the Spanish colonial era.
Many of the redevelopment’s supporters say moving the Cenotaph is critical to evoking the historical footprint of the Alamo during the iconic battle, when the invading Mexican Army eventually overcame the Texas defenders after a 13-day battle. An Alamo Plaza with no Cenotaph is also key to conveying the broader history of the site, they say.
“Reclaiming the plaza would more than double the size of the historic site, permitting us to expand on telling the story of 1836 siege while also revealing the story of Spanish Catholic missionaries and their Native American converts, as well as the later history of the Alamo,” Alamo Trust board chair Welcome Wilson Jr., wrote in a Sept. 7 letter to THC commissioners.
A no vote on moving the Cenotaph would put the entire plan in jeopardy, supporters say. If the THC does not approve the monument’s relocation, “there may not be another opportunity to reclaim the historic Alamo Plaza and build a world-class visitor center and museum for a long time,” Wilson wrote.
“Too much time and expense has been invested over the past five years by a broad cross-section of stakeholders to have it crumble,” Wilson continued.
Opponents question why a vote against moving the Cenotaph would scuttle the entire redevelopment.
“It’s ludicrous to say that if you can’t go forward with this plan or that the whole plan would fall apart unless you move the Cenotaph first,” said Lee Spencer White, president of the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), the City’s lead representative behind the Alamo plan, said moving the monument out of Alamo Plaza is in line with telling the complete history of the Alamo site. That’s one of the guiding principles that has shaped the redevelopment since 2014, when the City formed the Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee.
“You can talk about the indigenous period, you can talk about the mission period, you can talk about any part of that history without there being this dominant monument in the middle of that,” Treviño said.
Treviño went on to call a failure to move the Cenotaph “a potential domino that could affect the rest of the project” by opening up the possibility that pieces of the plan could be abandoned. The City owns the Cenotaph and Alamo Plaza, while the Texas General Land Office owns the Alamo itself. The partnership between them is based on a commitment to all of the guiding principles, he said.
“I, for one, can say that we have all worked very hard to arrive to this point in this plan and feel strongly about how it tells history,” Trevino said.
Instead of allowing the monument’s relocation, the THC could vote Tuesday to block the move or allow Cenotaph to be restored but not moved from its current location. If the City wanted to propose another new location, it would have to file an amendment and face another THC vote, according to meeting documents.
The application to move the Cenotaph has been in front of the 15-member commission, whose members are appointed by the governor, since December. At its Jan. 28 meeting, the THC requested more information from the design team about an alternative location for the Cenotaph, among other details, ahead of a planned March 24 meeting that was canceled as the coronavirus began to spread in Texas.
Over the subsequent months, the Cenotaph’s relocation became the subject of controversy that’s pitted Republican politicians against one another. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has sided with many grassroots conservative activists who don’t want to see the monument moved, in contrast with Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who supports the redevelopment.
White said many Texans want to see the monument stay inside the bounds of the historic fort because it represents an empty tomb, the “closest thing we have to a headstone” for Alamo defenders Placing the monument outside the defenses, where the Mexican Army would have been positioned during the battle, is an “insult,” she said.
She praised other parts of the redevelopment, including plans to restore walls, fortifications, and cannons Alamo defenders had placed ahead of the battle. Alamo Trust released renderings of the renovated Alamo plaza in August that show the new structures.
“It looks like they went from an urban park to more of a fort,” White said. “I wholeheartedly agree with that.”
Alamo Trust’s plans for preserving the Cenotaph and fixing some of its historical errors have proven also less controversial. Engineers with CVM, a Pennsylvania-based consulting firm leading the Cenotaph restoration efforts, have said the concrete structure and aluminum anchors holding the monument’s marble slabs in place are deteriorating and need repair.
The restoration would also correct misspelled names inscribed into the monument and include names that were omitted. The corrected names would be added into the blank marble surfaces below the band of names at the base of the Cenotaph, with interpretive panels nearby to provide more historical context, consultants say.
If the THC approves the relocation, moving the Cenotaph is supposed to take 269 “work days” – 98 to disassemble the monument and 171 to reassemble it, according to consultant architects HKS. Consultants and Alamo officials are withholding specific dates “due to security concerns” following recurrent demonstrations at the site by armed protesters.