Nearly two years ago, in an interview that got somewhat heated on the eve of the City Council vote to approve the $450 million Alamo master plan, I asked District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño: If he could change any part of the public process, would he?
"I wouldn't even dare think of a way I would change it," Treviño told me in October 2018.
A few days later, the City Council approved the plan, a vote so historic, one that had received so much pushback from a diverse range of groups, that there was almost an exhalation, Treviño, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and other supporters celebrating the way pro athletes do when they traverse the gauntlet of the regular season and playoffs on the way to a championship. A sigh of relief for the partnership of the City of San Antonio, the Texas General Land Office and the Alamo Endowment.
This past Tuesday was a different feeling.
The Texas Historical Commission (THC) denied the city's permit request to repair and relocate the 1930s-era Alamo Cenotaph from its current location in front of the Long Barracks to in front of the Menger Hotel. The denial effectively kills the Alamo master plan, according to the city—at least for now. Treviño, who serves on the Alamo Management Committee, and who's been the face of the project in recent years, and city officials have said without relocating the Cenotaph, the overall master plan doesn't work.
The plan is to reclaim the Alamo footprint, to reorient visitors who enter the site, not just the church, and to give the site's various epochs equal billing—from the Coahuiltecan tribes who lived on the land even before the Spanish established the Mission San Antonio de Valero, aka the Alamo, in 1718 to the plaza's modern history—not just the famous 1836 battle. The plan also includes a new museum and the restoration of the church and Long Barracks, which is already underway.
Those who oppose the relocation say the monument to the fallen from the Battle of the Alamo should remain where it is, within the footprint of the fort, where the defenders died—and not relocated outside the gates, where the Mexican army laid siege for 13 days.
On Saturday, I asked Treviño the same question I asked him two years ago: Would he change anything about the process?
"I think we made all the necessary points, followed all the rules," Treviño said, "and, most importantly, we made a compelling case: Telling the complete story at the Alamo is at the heart of everything we are doing. Obviously, I'm disappointed that the THC does not see that."
My question was based on the premise that the THC's denial was somehow tied to the perception by many that the plan lacked a true public process. Throughout the master planning process, in 2018, several groups openly opposed the plan. This is Texas Freedom Force, which opposes relocating the Cenotaph, aka "The Spirit of Sacrifice," was the loudest. But there were others. One of them remains the Conservation Society of San Antonio, whose main concern is the preservation of the Woolworth, as one of the first Southern lunch counters to desegregate on March 16, 1960, and Crockett buildings.
"Over the past year, we’ve made numerous written requests for the Waite report and the Latimore report and we’ve made in-person requests for architectural concepts, but the constant reply is, 'Not ready yet'," Patti Zaiontz, the Conservation Society president, said in an email while referring to studies by the architectural firm of John G. Waite Associates and Trinity University associate history professor Carey Latimore, respectively. "Makes one wonder ... So, of course, we’re concerned about having a plan put out without any public input."
Treviño said those reports, one that examines the Woolworth building's history (Latimore) and the other that explores preservation options (Waite), are just now being completed. The team designing the actual museum, HKS Inc. (Dallas) and Machado Silvetti (Boston), has begun work, but it's been preliminary.
The museum's location is said to be where the Woolworth, Palace, and Crockett buildings stand across the plaza from the church facade. The Conservation Society's concern stems from the fact that the Woolworth's demolition was always been kept as an option.
Treviño said the emphasis was on the first phase, the relocation of the Cenotaph, to get that approved, before diving into the museum.
Treviño contends the public process was sound, and that the THC rejected the plan for other reasons.
The THC meeting revealed two ends of the spectrum when it comes to how Alamo Plaza should be remade: the one Treviño endorses vs. that of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Treviño, citing the project's vision and guiding principles, crafted in 2014 by the Alamo Citizen Advisory Committee, says the strategy to remake the plaza has been one of inclusivity.
"Let's be clear, we've been inclusive," Treviño said. "We followed all the rules, and sadly you can do all those things and still fall victim to politics."
At the start of the 9-hour-plus THC meeting, Patrick gave an impassioned speech to commissioners, urging them to vote against the Cenotaph relocation, believing the Alamo Plaza makeover should focus on the 1836 battle.
"Those who want to tell a broader story, that story can be told as part of (the 1836 battle), for sure," Patrick said. "But that's not the main emphasis."
He continued, "Yes, it was only 13 days, that was the battle out of hundreds of years, but the most important 13 days in the history of Texas and Western civilization."
"Our goal is to tell the complete story of the Alamo, not a Hollywood dramatization."
Both sides have accused the other of introducing politics into the debate.
Treviño said the THC decision didn't come as a surprise. Commission Chairman John Nau, President and CEO fo Silver Eagle Distributors, told the councilman in March that he "didn't see a compelling reason why the Cenotaph had to move," according to Treviño.
"Everyone has known it's an up or down vote," Treviño remembers telling Nau, given that the entire plan, in the works since 2014, hinges on the Cenotaph relocation. "It's not an opportunity to change the plan that has been agreed upon."
"His response was simply, 'Well, every contract can be changed and every design can be changed.' I did everything I could to tell him or warn him that's not the case."
So, where does the plan go from here? Treviño declined to comment on the 50-year ground lease of the plaza between the City of San Antonio and the state. He said the Alamo Management Committee has met to weigh their options, and the Alamo Citizen Advisory Committee will meet this week.
"Nobody's saying everything was perfect, but we do feel like we had a good thing," Treviño said. "And certainly, I guess I'm left wondering if anybody thinks that the THC was impacted by process and not by politics."
Many in this debate seem to agree that the Alamo's current state is underwhelming, and that the plaza is in desperate need of a makeover worthy of the site's significance.
"For the moment the answer to the question of many Alamo visitors—'Is that all there is?'—remains a resounding yes," Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said in a statement after the THC vote.
Nau agrees with that sentiment; it seems to be the "how" where opinions clash.
"I'll go back to what so many people said today: As they walk out, they turn around and say, 'Is that all there is?'," Nau said as the meeting closed. "We cannot forget that's the image, and we need to work to help provide the totality. And with that, do I have a motion to adjourn?"
Visitors can once again enter the hallowed Alamo church starting today.
Officials announced a new timed-ticket system, which will allow visitors to practice social distancing while inside the church. Today marks the first time the church is being reopened to the public since March, when it was closed at the start of the pandemic.
Touring the inside of the Alamo remains free. Tickets can be reserved at tickets.thealamo.org/events by clicking on "Alamo Free Timed Entry."
Up to 50 people will be allowed inside the church at any given time at 30-minute intervals, Alamo spokesman Kevin Femmel said.
The grounds reopened two weeks ago, after being closed March 16, and do not require a ticket and have no time limit.
Face coverings are also required while on Alamo property. Hours are 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily.
The San Antonio Conservation Society on Tuesday released its own plan for an Alamo museum that would incorporate the historic Woolworth and Crockett buildings, rather than raze them, which remains an option.
The conservation society’s concern over the fate of the Woolworth building hasn’t waned since drafts of an Alamo Plaza master plan last year showed the demolition of the 1921 building as a possibility to make room for a new museum structure. Even after the City Council approved the plan in October after a five-month public process, the potential for demolition remained.
In December, the society joined three other preservation groups—San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum, Westside Preservation Alliance, and Esperanza Peace and Justice Center—to form the Woolworth Coalition, which wants the former dime store saved and recognized as one of the first Southern lunch counters to desegregate on March 16, 1960.
The unveiling this week comes as the Texas General Land Office continues negotiating with an unnamed architecture firm to design the Alamo museum, an integral piece of the larger $450 million plan to remake the plaza, said District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, who also serves on the Alamo Management Committee. Treviño and other officials have said an assessment of the Crockett, Palace and Woolworth buildings, which is currently underway by John G. Waite Associates Architects of Albany, N.Y., and the design of the Alamo museum would determine the buildings’ fate.
The conservation society’s “compromise” plan shows the 1882 Crockett and Woolworth buildings still standing. The 1923 Palace theater building, which is wedged between the Crockett and Palace, would be demolished for a museum gateway structure that leads into a courtyard. The buildings were built on the location of the 1836 Alamo compound’s west wall and the Treviño house, which served as Lt. Col. William Barret Travis’ quarters. The conservation society wants both histories of the Alamo and the Woolworth building incorporated into the museum.
“A good designer can do both,” said Vincent L. Michael, executive director of the San Antonio Conservation Society. “You can walk down this arcade, turn to the right and learn about the Battle of the Alamo, and turn to the left and learn about the Woolworth counter.”
An arcade would be built over the same area where the Alamo’s west wall once stood.
“The arcade leads visitors to areas within the Woolworth building footprint that includes the approximate locations of the Treviño house that served as the Travis’ headquarters, and the Castañeda house … also includes space to interpret the Woolworth lunch counter,” said Susan Beavin, conservation society president.
The plan also calls for the construction of a four-story museum extension, including a basement, on the remaining space between the buildings and a parking garage west of the plaza.
In the plan, the conservation society concedes the inclusion of a barrier that outlines the Alamo compound walls on the plaza—an aspect of the plan the group vehemently opposed for most of the public process last year.
The proposal has drawn harsh criticism from Treviño and Alamo CEO Douglass McDonald. Treviño said the conservation society’s plan raises ethical questions in regards to the the request for qualifications (RFQ) process, in which more than 30 architecture firms applied for the job. Alamo Architects of San Antonio, which produced the conservation society’s massing study, was not one of the more than 30 firms.
“I just find it very, very problematic,” Treviño said. “We find ourselves in a position where—what’s to say every project in the future doesn’t go through this kind of an insertion by a group who decides they want their design or their architect, to insert their values into it? And skip all the process of an RFQ (request for qualifications) and an evaluation? How do you justify that?”
Beavin said Tuesday’s press conference was the conservation society and coalition’s attempt to promulgate the significance of the Woolworth building.
In a statement, McDonald said the Battle of the Alamo is what the site is known for, that it’s the only place in the world where that history can be told.
“We are committed to honor all the history of this site,” McDonald said. “However, the story of the Texas Revolution is what the world comes expecting to learn here and what Texans expect to be honored.”
The Woolworth on Alamo and Houston streets was one of several lunch counters to peacefully desegregate in March 1960, following an agreement between local faith and business leaders.
Everett Fly, a local historian and landscape architect who went to the Woolworth lunch counter as a boy, argued the building is important because of its prominent location at Alamo and Houston streets, which was a major intersection for bus routes at the time. And for another reason, he described.
“San Antonio, despite our infrastructure, despite our policies, despite our rhetoric about being inclusive, San Antonio has a very poor record of preserving, conserving, acknowledging and celebrating African-American history and culture particularly physical landmark and sites such as this,” Fly said.
On Friday, the conservation society will appear before the Texas Historical Commission to request the Woolworth be designated a state antiquities landmark, which, Beavin said, won’t completely save the building from demolition, but it could help. The building is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
According to the city of San Antonio, which, in December, agreed to lease Alamo Plaza to the state of Texas for 50 years with two 25-year extensions, the Alamo museum architect will be announced “in the next few weeks.” The firm Waite Associates will complete its assessment of the Crockett, Palace and Woolworth buildings this summer.
Treviño described the assessment as one that looks at “what is historic, what has been removed, what is missing, what is original, what is not original” from the three buildings.
Treviño also said another firm will also be hired to conduct a cultural assessment of the buildings.
More than 200 people, many of whom were direct descendants of the garrison that defended the Alamo in 1836, gathered in front of the Cradle of Texas Liberty Wednesday morning for the annual Dawn at the Alamo ceremony. Each year on March 6, the gathering observes the final day of the 13-day siege, when Mexican soldiers took over the compound.
During the historic 13-day siege on the Alamo, which began on Feb. 23 in 1836, Lt. Col. William Barret Travis called for reinforcements, who arrived on the first day of March. Thirty two men came from Gonzales ranging in age from late-teens to mid-40s. The "Immortal 32," as they are remembered, would live and fight another five days within the confines and walls of the compound.
Friday morning, 183 years later, 32 men from Gonzales—many of whom are descendants of the original 32—walked into Alamo Plaza to cheers and an introduction by Alamo CEO Douglass McDonald. A list with the names of the "Immortal 32" was read and a moment of silence followed. Many attendees were children whose schools allowed them to come to Alamo Plaza on a Friday morning and see the ceremony. McDonald gifted Gonzales Mayor Connie Kacir a flag to commemorate the sacrifices of the 32.
The re-enactment and ceremony was part of the Alamo's series of events remembering the 13-day siege that took place here in 1836.
At 12:30 p.m. today, a ceremony will be held in front of the Alamo, recognizing Texas Independence Day.
On Sunday, the festivities continue with the Crockett Fiddle Fest, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., which includes performances by fiddlers and country music bands.
The festivities wrap up on Wednesday, March 6, the final day of the siege. The day begins with Dawn at the Alamo, a ceremony that begins at 6 a.m. that include members of the San Antonio Living History Association. Later that morning at 10 a.m., a ceremony lead by Scott McMahon, director of the Presidio La Bahia in Goliad, will speak about the aftermath of the battle.
At 2 p.m., a roll call of each defender's nation and state will be read during a memorial service. Finally, at 6 p.m., the final ceremony remembers the defenders.
All events are free and open to the public.
On the afternoon of Feb. 1, 1960, in Greensboro, N.C., four North Carolina A&T students sat down at the Woolworth’s “whites only” lunch counter and ordered coffee. Denied service, they were asked to leave but remained seated until the store closed. Within weeks, their sit-in movement had spread to dozens of cities across 13 states.
On March 16, 1960, San Antonio became the first Southern city to negotiate a city-wide desegregation of lunch counters. One of those counters was in the downtown Woolworth on the corner of Alamo and East Houston streets, which remained a Woolworth until 1997, when the retailer left San Antonio. Many San Antonians probably know more about the 1997 closing of the retailer than realize it’s a special place in the civil rights movement.
Four days later, Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball’s first African-American player, told The New York Times the story of San Antonio’s peaceful lunch counter integration “should be told around the world.”
Now the 1921 building is home to a Jimmy John's, a dessert shop called Belgian Sweets, a Tomb Raider 3D ride, and Ripley's Haunted Adventure, and with nothing to signify the events that transpired nearly 59 years ago. And its future—along with the adjoining 1923 Palace theater and the 1882 Crockett buildings—is uncertain.
In December, two months after the City Council approved the controversial Alamo Plaza plan on Oct. 18, one that's intended to turn the plaza into a museum and larger public space, four preservation groups formed the Woolworth Coalition—San Antonio Conservation Society, San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAACAM), Westside Preservation Alliance, and Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. They want the former dime store and its historical significance preserved and not be shoved aside for the 1836 battle between Texian and Mexican forces.
The Alamo plan, which was approved by a series of committees composed of citizens and officials at local and state levels, places a museum where the three buildings stand on the plaza. However, renderings released to the public last year show variations of what the museum could look like—including, preserving the buildings, retaining the facades, or razing the buildings to make way for new construction.
The one certainty, officials said, was the location of the ground’s main entry point—through the Alamo museum and visitors center where the Crockett building currently stands across from the Alamo facade. Whether that meant the building would stay or be razed, no one could—and still can’t—answer.
In recent interviews, District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño said an architect to design the museum and a firm to study the "integrity and the value historically of the (Woolworth) building" would be hired and announced this month.
“We don’t have a demolition list," Treviño said. "We have no preconceived notions about what is going to be designed. That is up to the architect that we select.”
But vagueness of the plan, and the refusal by leaders, such as Treviño and others, to assure the buildings won't be razed for a new Alamo museum, continue to spike concern.
“No one has said we’re definitely tearing it down, but as you see from those pages, it's sort of … you’re setting it up for failure,” said Vincent L. Michael, executive director of the San Antonio Conservation Society and a member of the coalition.
During the public process last year, Alamo Plaza planners floated the idea of demolition. One of the reasons was because the floors of the Woolworth, Palace and Crockett buildings don't align—an explanation the Conservation Society found unconvincing.
“It’s really a stupid argument,” San Antonio Conservation Society President Susan W. Beavin said. “I can’t think of a nicer adjective.”
Beavin continued, “Most good architects will tell you that a lot of your famous museums in Europe have uneven floors. It’s like they’ve just pulled everything they can out of the air that they think might be believable to be an argument.”
In response, the conservation society has hired its own architect to provide renderings of how the three buildings could be repurposed into a museum without having to demolish them.
"These will be ready soon," Beavin said in an email this week, adding that her group will announce the architect at the same time.
During the public debate last year, some people—such as Forrest Byas, a member of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee who was interviewed by the San Antonio Express-News—argued for the razing of the buildings for the reconstruction of the west wall, which was “the scene of some of the heaviest fighting during the famous 1836 battle,” Express-News reporter Scott Huddleston wrote.
Using that logic, Michael and Beavin asked: Why not move the Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse? The federal building stands on the location of the Alamo’s north wall, where Mexican Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna marched through, and where Lt. Col. William B. Travis died, they said.
Beavin later added, “Everybody is stuck on the Alamo, ‘Oh, let's take down the buildings so we can show the west wall.’ Well they’re not suggesting taking down the federal post office, which was the north wall. So it's like pick and choose: you want it all or not? And it doesn’t address any of what went on at the Woolworth, the significance of any of the African-American heritage and culture that was very prevalent.”
The Alamo Management Committee, which includes Treviño, and two members each from the Alamo Endowment (the plan's primary funder) and the Texas General Land Office (GLO), continues to meet, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said in an email.
“The concerns about the Woolworth building have been discussed and will continue to be discussed until a recommendation is made,” Houston said, referring to the team that will design the museum and assess the buildings.
Representatives at the GLO did not respond to interview requests, and Douglass McDonald, CEO of the Alamo Trust Inc., declined to be interviewed.
During an East Side meeting Feb. 7 at the Claude Black Community Center, District 2 Councilman Art Hall said, “My understanding is that the (Alamo) plan is amended so that the Woolworth building is not going to be part of the demolition. I’m getting more info as we move forward, but that’s my understanding.”
Hall changed his position slightly the following Wednesday. Following a City Council B session meeting, in a joint interview with Hall and Treviño, Hall deferred questions about the Woolworth building to Treviño.
When asked why a historical assessment of the Woolworth was needed, considering the fact that no one disputes the civil rights events that transpired there in March 1960, Treviño said, “What this person is going to document is the actual history of the building both tangible and intangible.”
Despite uncertainty as the Alamo plan moves forward, La Juana Chambers Lawson, a leader at SAAACM, is optimistic that if things are handled correctly, and the former home of the Woolworth is preserved, there will be new opportunities to tell the largely unknown stories extending past 1836 in the plaza.
“What we would like (is) for us to have the opportunity to tell the story of African-Americans here in San Antonio,” Lawson said. “Preserving the Woolworth building would give us the opportunity to really bring out those stories that we just forgot about.”
Beavin added, “The whole story of the African-American presence, not just at Woolworth, but there in the plaza, is something that most people—even most of the African-American population—are unaware (of). It’s significant, so it’s another reason the building needs to tell the Woolworth story as well as being part of the museum.”
The question remains why this Woolworth has received so much attention given that it was one of seven locations that desegregated its lunch counters, according to the conservation society’s research.
Beavin mentioned the other notable location is the Kress building, two blocks west on Houston Street, which is home to a Texas de Brazil steakhouse; and the building’s owner, GrayStreet Partners, is planning to convert the upper floors into office space. Others around the plaza include the old H.L. Green building, which is the current home of Ripley's Believe It or Not!.
The Houston and Alamo corner is the focus of preservation because of its prominent downtown location, according to members of the coalition.
Also, most of the sit-ins across the South occurred in places with larger African-American populations and more pronounced racial turmoil. That San Antonio would be the city leading the nation in desegregating lunch counters and doing it quickly, and with no conflict, makes the downtown Woolworth even more noteworthy. Coalition members credit city and religious leaders of that era and cite the heavily-trafficked bus stop near the downtown Woolworth as a melting pot where many cultures met from farther reaches of the city.
“Being at the prominent corner of Houston and Alamo, the Woolworth corner was where many people changed buses,” Michael said. “Especially if they were heading to the East and West sides they would catch the bus on Houston at Alamo.”
Despite the significance of the events, the desegregation was quiet. In the days following March 16, 1960, local newspapers gave the story very little coverage, according to Heron research.
“You know why the story doesn’t get told? Because there wasn’t any conflict. You know conflict—if it bleeds it leads. Conflict sells papers,” Michael said. “To try to tell the story of a city that did it peacefully where everyone gets along is not a good story.”
Editor Ben Olivo contributed to this report.
Setting It Straight: The original version of this article misstated the year the Woolworth building was built, which was 1921.
» "From Crockett to the Civil Rights Movement: Layers of Significance on Alamo Plaza," prepared by the city's Office of Historic Preservation (2018)
» San Antonio Express-News: Historic events collide at the site of Woolworth building (Sept. 24, 2018)
This series explores five big questions following the City Council's 9-2 approval of the Alamo master plan on Oct. 18. Consider this food for thought as the process moves forward.
Two weeks ago, the City Council made history by approving, in a 9-2 vote, the Alamo master plan—a $450 million remaking of the plaza that had its supporters, but also a wide and diverse group of detractors.
By far the most vocal was This is Texas Freedom Force and the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association, which strongly oppose moving the Cenotaph. How strong?
"We are prepared to get into a physical altercation with them and surround the Cenotaph," said Brandon Burkhardt, president of This is Texas Freedom Force. "I can't say a whole lot about what our plan is. We already have about 200 Texans signed up, and it keeps growing daily."
Burkhardt said the strategy is to buy the lawyers time to file an injunction; they assume the city will try to move the monument in the dead of night, just as the city did with the Confederate statue in Travis Park in September 2017.
"We have eyes on the Cenotaph 24/7 right now" Burkhardt said. "We have people who are taking shifts and covering different parts of the day and night."
The restoration and repair of the Cenotaph is scheduled to be completed by 2020, City Manager Sheryl Sculley told the City Council three weeks ago. But other details related to the timetable other than that remain murky.
For Burkhardt and his group, the part of the master plan that moves the circa-1940 Cenotaph roughly 500 feet to a spot in front of the Menger Hotel is akin to moving The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or other war memorials. It's especially disrespectful to the Alamo defenders, they say, because the monument would be located outside the walls they died defending.
The architects behind the plan argue the Cenotaph needs to be moved to recreate the openness of the original Alamo fort, and to orient visitors as they enter the grounds. This strategy is pulled from the vision and guiding principles that were adopted in 2015 by the Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee, District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, the plan's most vocal advocate, has said repeatedly.
Arguments have been made on both sides as to whether the Cenotaph needs repair.
At the Council meeting, the group's founder Lee Spencer White portended some kind of clash between members of her group and police officers. When asked about whether her group will sue, she declined to comment.
We've seen similar situations when a group of citizens sues in an attempt to overthrow a Council's decision.
The property currently under dispute is the one on Cherry Street next to the Hays Street Bridge. In early September, the Texas Supreme Court heard arguments from the city and the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group on the case. Without getting diving too much into that wormhole, the decision is still in court after the City Council approved the sale of the land in 2014 for a development. The restoration group has argued the land was deeded to the city for use as a park.
Having covered a few trials, plaintiffs have to prove two things: do they have standing (do they have grounds to sue), and can they prove how they are damaged by the thing they're trying to stop.
If the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association were to sue, for example, they could argue they have grounds because the memorial was build for their ancestors. I'm not a lawyer, I just play one on this site.
In the case of the Alamo plan, throughout the course of the months-long discourse, there were many legal matters that were broached. Perhaps the biggest one is the deed from 1871, when Spain handed over the plaza to San Antonio, in which it states that the plaza should remain "dedicated for public use as a public space." So far, it's been City Attorney Andy Segovia giving his professional opinion, and many, many, many people interpreting the one-main entrance during museum hours as contradicting the language.
For Treviño, he said the city is prepared to handle any incoming litigation.
"We're prepared to tackle all the issues as they arise," he said. "We have a goal, and we hope to meet that goal, what definitely have is a path forward. So we're going to stay focused on that."
The outcome of the Nov. 6 election could play huge.
Burkhardt and others are hoping that if Prop A is approved by San Antonio voters, it opens the door for a referendum that puts the Alamo plan up for a vote. How exactly that would play out, nobody knows.
This is Texas Freedom Force is preparing to start the process.
"If they pass, we're going to be able to hit the ground running," Burkhardt said.
The other election is that of Land Commissioner, which George P. Bush is attempting to keep. His challengers are Libertarian Matt Piña and Democrat Miguel Suazo.
delay with the Texas Legislature ...
our goal is to get him out ...
suppor this opponents, we've been supporting them for months, right now, we're not doing it as an org, but individuals are going across texas, to houston and dallas, they are talking to people as they go into vote ...
we do lean more towards matt pena,
when it comes to the cenotaph, at the very minimum, ...
other than that, just writing and emailing representatives, bieiderman is not alone, bob hall, donna campbell ...
i believe there's 12 total ...
hopefully yhey won't move anything until january, and then lege can convene and watch
we;re not against the restoration of the alamo, or the cnoetaph if it's done in place, the way that this whole thing has been handled, not even listening to people ... they were brought to the table, and their request was met, but when it came to the C not one of our org, not the TTF or the descendants, were not brought to the table.
try to cut the funding, or he's going to attemp to take it out of the GLO's hands, that way texans will actually ahve a vote on this, this is something we have preached at CC, we believe that texans should be the ones that vote on this, not just SA, but the entire state,
At around 5 p.m. Thursday, after five hours of debate culminated in the City Council voting 9-2 in favor of the Alamo master plan, after months of heated public meetings, District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño could final exhale.
He and Mayor Ron Nirenberg immediately shook hands and emitted the kind of joy professional athletes display after winning a championship. He then walked off the dais and embraced his mother a good 20 seconds, then members of his staff.
"A couple of weeks ago, I had a discussion with my uncle ... about the Alamo, and I asked him what he understood," Treviño said before the vote. "He said, 'Quite honestly, very little.' He didn't understand how it's connected to so many world events, how it's connected to the many things that were happening on this side of the hemisphere."
"The only way we can be victims to history is if we don't understand it. This is going to help us understand our history here in San Antonio."
By the time the Council voted, many of the plans' opponents, who had secured their seat well before the meeting's 9 a.m. start, had already left the Council chambers, either because they had other commitments to attend to, or because they already knew what the outcome would be. They were a mixture of conservationists who oppose any form of demolition to the three historic buildings—the Crockett, Palace and Woolworth—which remains a possibility; Alamo defenders descendants and Texas history groups who have pushed hard against the plan to relocate the Circa-1940 Cenotaph; and others who believe the railings and other barriers that will be used to recreate the Alamo compound footprint will mark the end of the plaza as a public space.
Joining the dissenters were District 9 Councilman John Courage and District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry, who both shared many of the same concerns as the opponents, and who both attempted to amend a 50-year lease (which contains two 25-year extensions) that will hand over control of Alamo Plaza from the city to the state of Texas, which already controls the Alamo grounds.
"I'm concerned that the public access to the plaza will be limited," Courage told his Council colleagues. "It has been noted that this adds to the visitors experience. The tourists certainly, the residents, not so much. Rather than enhancements, the enclosure proposal will create a barrier to this citizens public civic space."
Courage later moved to strike language in the lease that would relocate the Cenotaph from its current position in front of the Long Barrack to an undetermined place in front of the Menger Hotel. Following Courage was Perry, who attempted to amend language in the lease that would keep the Alamo grounds barrier-free.
Perry asked Assistant City Manager Lori Houston about the thought process behind having one primary entrance, roughly where the Crockett building stands directly across from the shrine, during museum hours, which Treviño has recently described as 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Houston, gleaning from the vision and guiding principles adopted in 2015 by the Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee, told Perry that visitors needed to be oriented as they enter the site—the exact point Treviño has made time and time again—to be able to tell its 300-year history.
"That way when someone walks onto the plaza, they immediately know they are on the historic mission plaza or the battlefield," Houston said. "Right now, the visitor, whether they are a tourist or resident, they go straight to the church to enter what they believe to be the Alamo. We want to make sure people look at the Alamo as a place, not a building. And a primary entry point will help us do that."
The plan describes two additional entrances—roughly by the Menger and Emily Morgan hotels—that could open up during high-traffic times. During non-museum hours, people could enter the grounds using six entry points.
Perry asked Houston to explain why the main entrance was not the same as the compound's original south main entrance, especially when most visitors will be approaching the Alamo from Commerce Street.
"We're trying to reimagine the whole plaza the way it was back then, but yet we're not going to use the main entrance that was actually used ... I don't understand that," Perry said.
Houston said public feedback last year showed concerns over how a south gate would affect north-south pedestrian traffic flow across the plaza.
During a back-and-forth with City Attorney Andy Segovia, Perry disagreed with the city attorney's interpretation of the plan in relation to the 1871 deed that says the plaza should remain "dedicated for public use as a public space."
"Again, I'm not a lawyer, the way I listen to that, we are not honoring that with this, to me it is not an open space—we're closing it," Perry said.
There was another debate among the Council members and Segovia about how Courage and Perry's amendments would affect the lease. Segovia clarified that the Texas General Land Office, the Alamo's current landlord, would back out of the lease if any part of it were altered.
Nirenberg strongly urged the rest of the Council to vote against the changes proposed by Courage and Perry as to preserve the city's relationship with the GLO.
Both motions were voted down by all Council members except Courage and Perry.
In the audience, sitting behind the opposition, were members of One Alamo, a group that seemed comprised mostly by Alamo employees.
One of them, Sherri Driscoll, who has served as the Alamo's director of education for about 14 years, talked about the need to make all of the plaza a reverential place, away from what she described as a circus-like atmosphere. She talked about how she takes students to the southwest corner of the fort, where, in 1836, William Barret Travis and James Bowie contemplated their options.
"I ask students to kneel down behind the wall and look back toward the Long Barrack and shrine," Driscoll said. "I want them to put themselves it the shoes of the Alamo defenders. What's their next move? Can they survive? Should they try to make a run for the Long Barrack or church? I ask them to imagine the sound of the artillery and muskets, and the sound of men dying around them. The bugles and drums of the Mexican army. When I do this, the children become quiet. They look at me intently, and they get it. They understand where they are and how important the ground they stand on is to Texas the world."
"But when should this moment happen? It should happen for every visitor, the moment they step on the footprint, the moment their bus pulls up to the curb, the moment they come around the corner and see the historic buildings."
Brandon Burkhardt, president of This is Texas Force, a group who has opposed the relocation of the Cenotaph, asked the Council why the city doesn't do anything to regulate the street preachers and other distractions, similar to a point Courage made about how most of the plan could be accomplished with city ordinances.
"The city owns the plaza," Burkhardt said. "Why don't you have the Texas Rangers or SAPD out there 24 /7 to stop that."
He also said about the Cenotaph, "We've told you time and time again to leave the Cenotaph where it is. The blood of the Alamo defenders soaked inside the walls on that ground . It didn't soak outside by the band stand (the proposed relocation spot). It didn't soak down the street. It didn't soak 20 miles from here."
On Thursday, the City Council is expected to approve the Alamo master plan, a $450 million endeavor that includes closing portions of Alamo, Houston and Crockett streets; leasing the plaza to the state of Texas; moving the Cenotaph while recreating much of the 1836 compound using barriers of some form; building a museum and visitors center where three historic buildings are located across the street; and rerouting the historic Battle of Flowers Parade.
The overall process, which has included representatives from the Texas General Land Office, the Alamo Endowment, state and city officials, and dozens of community members, began in 2014. Early June, however, is when things really started to heat up. That's when the current version of the plan was released to the public, and the criticism hasn't stopped since. Whether the plan is more unpopular than popular, or the other way around, depends on who you ask.
But much of the incessant protest has had to do with process. No one has drawn more ire from critics, no one has been yelled at more, no one has received more ridicule than District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, who served on two key committees—the Alamo Management Committee and as tri-chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee—during the approval process. On Wednesday, as this phase of the process winds down, I sat down with the councilman and asked him to answer some of that criticism.
Editor's note: This isn't the entire interview. Some parts I've edited for the sake of brevity. Others I'm saving for future posts.
Olivo: If you had to do it over again, in what ways could this process have been done better?
Treviño: Hindsight is 20/20. I'm really proud of this process, and to even try to say that there's a better way would diminish what we've really accomplished. I can tell you this—I can say this wholeheartedly—we, and I say we, worked very hard on this project. We were thoughtful. I think everybody saw the responsibility. And so working together the way we did was the most important aspect of this entire process—how much everybody took their role to heart. I don't think I could change the process. I was so impressed with the people involved and their heart that was in it. It wasn't just their intellectual connection to this, but that emotional one, too—the heart that went into it. People put a lot of time and effort. We met as often as possible. We talked about this as often as possible. From the (Alamo) Management committee to the Citizens Advisory Committee, you won't find anybody that says they would change anything, or that they were rushed.
In one of our meetings we had, that was that one meeting we had to have an executive session, because people were very disruptive in a lot of the public meetings, we only went into executive session to allow people to speak freely and not feel like there was going to be any repercussions from a very aggressive group. But the comments were amazing. The comments were, "Hey, we're ready." I have to admit, I wouldn't even dare think of a way I would change it. I'm so proud of the way it occurred and how it occurred, and, yes, despite having some people trying to disrupt the meeting and trying to interject things that just weren't so, trying to suggest that we were rushing something, trying to be as disruptive as possible—and in many cases aggressive—how steadfast everybody was. And so I'm proud to have been a part of that. I'm proud to continue that. There's more work to do, and I'm just very proud of this entire group.
The plan as it is today, it was explained to me by someone on the Citizens Advisory Committee that this is the master plan. It's like a canvas. You're defining the canvas. And then what fills the canvas will be the interpretive plan. Is that accurate?
So what's the timetable for the interpretive plan? Figuring out, like you were explaining earlier, it's not just 1836, it's not just the battle. There's a whole lot of history there. When will that process start? How long will that take to figure out how to tell that multifaceted story?
That's ongoing now ... we presented this to the Citizens Advisory Committee a while back. I'm going to be entering into the record those presentations on Thursday to show it's not very difficult to at least talk about what we mean by that, and what we mean is that we're telling more than just 1836. We even included some language today in the lease, just clarifying language: Look, we're going to tell indigenous, Tejano, Texian, Mexican history on site. And so it's more complex than that, too. What I can tell you is we'll present that—it started as early as the 1500s. What period that is, the pre-Mission, the Mission era, the many periods of our city, and what that's about.
We have every intention, and we have demonstrated that in our discourse.
Will there be public meetings on the interpretive plan like there were on the overall master plan?
The management and citizen committees continue, and I think that there will be a lot more discussion when it comes to the museum design itself and the other elements. I expect that there will be some sense of connection to what we're producing. Certainly, I would put it this way: Between now and our goal—and our goal ... is to be done by 2024, January, that's a little over five years away—in that, we rehabilitated the church and the Long Barrack, recaptured the mission footprint, expanded Alamo Plaza, redone a lot of streets in downtown San Antonio, designed and built a world class museum, all these elements in place. And then inside of that are the exhibits and how that lays out. That is coming. At the heart of this we continue to utilize the vision and guiding principlessa. That helps us sort of lay this out. Like I said, I'll be entering into the record some of those presentations that we gave to the Citizens Advisory Committee. Our intention is to tell a complete story.
I've asked you before about the op-ed that you co-wrote in the (San Antonio) Express-News, about Alamo Plaza, the need for it to be remain a civic space, and you've defended it and stated your case that this plan accomplishes that. But I wanted to ask you, because during the B session last week, there were more than a few Council members who described this plan as if the Alamo grounds are now for visitors, because of the one entrance ... this is what they said. I'm talking about Councilwoman Sandoval, Gonzales and, of course, Perry and Courage. I wanted to see if you can respond to this idea that the plan sort of favors the visitors experience and takes away from people who use the plaza ...
Well, words have meaning. So let's examine this whole thing. I'm not trying to parse anything. I think we all want to be visitors. Maybe you're trying to say, because I don't remember exactly, because I don't know that they said "visitors." I want to say "tourists." Maybe you meant tourists? Right? So let me respond to that assuming that's what they said—
Because I don't remember exactly, but I think they meant tourists. And there's a difference.
First, I would just point out that 95 percent of the people that currently visit the Alamo are tourists. Our goal is to create a place that welcomes more locals. And so we like to use the word "visitors." We want more visitors. It shouldn't matter where they're coming from. A great site, a site that attracts many visitors, tends to attract locals. Hemisfair is a good example of that. Hemisfair doesn't look at, "Hey, we only want to look at this group of people coming." They want to prove that people are coming from all ZIP codes because it's a great place. At the heart of what we're doing is trying to design a great place. It's a great place because it's telling all its history. And that is, it's one of the priorities, is making sure we're being complete in our storytelling,
And how people arrive into the site, I've given many tours as we walk around to talk about this, is what it might look like and feel like and the reality is that there is an expanded plaza. It's really going to feel much, much bigger that it is today. And so we're saying, a bigger plaza with a portion of it that is seen as the original mission historic footprint is a more sensitive site. You have a site that is different and it requires—this is quoting the vision and guiding principles—a sense of orientation. And to provide a sense of orientation, you have to have a sense of arrival. And so what the design teams have come up with is that. We think that asking for there to be a sense of arrival and a formal entry point from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the rest of the time, it's (open) from all angles. That is about as good a compromise as we can achieve while trying to achieve the goal of orienting people. We have to orient them into that experience.
You can literally sit outside the footprint and always look in. You can go in and look out. You have many options. We know that most people who are locals who are going to visit, they visit after working hours. After 6 p.m., it's open. But again, we have to emphasize, it is a different site. It's a sensitive site. We're not going to allow things like scooters to simply just run all over this sensitive archeological site. We want there to be sort of a meaningful threshold, and now I'm just kind of speaking metaphorically. Hey, I'm kind of standing on different ground.
Should people look at this (site) differently now. One of the diagrams y'all showed was the historic footprint in the middle surrounded by the plaza. So many people now associate that space in front of the facade as being Alamo Plaza. Is it now that that space is the Alamo grounds and the plaza is everything else?
The mission historic footprint is a part of the Alamo Plaza. It's all Alamo Plaza.
Obviously, the vote on Thursday is a historic vote, and some people have been critical of you specifically saying the reason y'all want to get it done by 2024 is the whole feather-in-your-cap argument. And I wanted to see if you can respond to that. I realize that 2024 is the 300th anniversary of the founding of the original mission, but why can't it be done in (say) 2030?
I think being in these kinds of positions, we're always going to be open to criticism. So, no, I won't respond. That's not worth a response.
I can say, I'm not the only one who wants it done by 2024. This wasn't my singular choice. I just agree with it. I think we talk about how this process started in 2014. Much of it started in 1994, '95. And there's been other (people) that have tried to put this together. I would say there have been generations that have tried to do this. And while I'm flattered by anyone who thinks this is what I want, I can say this is what we want. And you know really, time is our most valuable resource. And quite frankly, go back to what this means to our city, if I could snap my fingers and see the impact of all the things I mentioned happen tomorrow, I'd do it. Because I think it helps the city that has some pains, some historical pains, that go back to this, that wants to be proud of who it is. If it's identity, we want to benefit, we want to tell our story and we want to be proud of it. (The year) 2024 just happens to be achievable by this timeframe, but it was never a priority. It just is. So why are we going to wait?
Can you say definitely that how we got to this point was based on the process that we saw or are there other folks making decisions out there?
Here's where I do take some exception. Let's not spread rumors. You're going to have to tell me what you mean by that. What do you mean by other people making decisions?
Y'all have said that a huge portion of the money is being raised philanthropically.
The Alamo Endowment.
Right. So have those—and you can't blame me for asking this because people think this.
OK. I know. I want to help you sort of ... I don't want to be a part of some conspiracy theory. That's for some TV show. This is reality.
I understand it. I'm just trying to acknowledge ... there are a lot, a lot of people out there who feel that—For example, the donors. Has the capital campaign started?
No, not that I'm aware of.
When will that start?
When we have a project. And we won't have a project until the vote on Thursday. And if the vote fails, then what? We don't have a project. That process has not started. In that management committee, I know of the two people that were constantly there, and then there are a couple of other people who are also part of the (Alamo) Endowment. I would never describe them as pulling strings. In fact, I would defend them. We worked very well together. They were very open minded, they were respectful. We were all very accommodating to one another. I think rather than try to take that story that way, hey, how about the fact that this was actually a great process. These were great people, and we all sort of came together on common ground.
That's what I know. And so if people want to spread rumors, I can't do anything about that. But I won't add to that either.
I'm not trying to spread rumors, but I think it's worth acknowledging that there are a lot of people who question the validity of this process. There are people who think—and, it's not like this stuff doesn't happen. There are people who believe some folks who may be pledging large amounts of money to make this thing happen are somehow pulling strings.
Man, you know ... And, I'm not saying you're spreading rumors, I'm talking about the other people, I'm not saying to you.
While I can laugh at it, you're right. Do these things happen in the world? Hell, I just saw a journalist get chopped up. That's unreal. It almost feels like it's not even real. I understand that. But what this world also needs is to also see that there are people with integrity here. There are. All I can do is my best to provide that level of integrity and transparency. I believe this in my core that this is a good project, much like many of the members of the Citizens Advisory Committee. I don't think I have that kind of willpower or authority over of these many members who are very, very strong individuals on their own, and who provided incredible insight into this whole process.
You start with the management committee ... you really can't tell me that (City Manager) Sheryl Sculley is a pushover. The two members on the endowment are not. The two members of the GLO ... Just go down the list of the Citizens Advisory Committee.
Our approach was to be open, to provide discussion, to be willing to disagree at times. But we did it in a way to agree to always move things forward. This was too important. And many of the reasons it's failed in the past is because of those reasons. Sometimes people just get too hard-lined, and what we have is a historic chance to get this done.
I would never say there is no evil in the world ... but I will defend this process. I can only speak for myself. Nobody's pulling my strings.
I wasn't trying to imply that it was nefarious. Some people may be OK with that. They like the plan ...
There's never anything OK with that. I'll say this, too, I would say that while I understand that people can be cynical about the world, especially today—and there are some really bad examples of how we can be cynical, just look at the border, which is where I'm from, and it's easy to lose hope and lose faith in our ability to trust others—but I'm not asking people to trust me. I'm asking people to trust what they're seeing, to trust the language we're using, the completeness of the story, the vision and guiding principles, the fact that we're trying to do something. And we admit, it's not perfect, but nothing ever is. And when we get to a stumbling block, I'm simply committed to working with everybody on it. Whatever it is, we'll work through it. It may not be perfect. We'll work through it. Sometimes it might be better. And that's been the history of this project. And this is something I'll be truly proud of the rest of my life.
The set of public meetings on Wednesday on the Alamo master plan swallowed up eight hours. The proceedings were in many ways a regurgitation of the presentations, debate and all other types of discourse that has transpired since the latest version of the plan was released in early June.
There were, however, what I would call mini revelations that came Wednesday's meetings—which began with a City Council discussion (before its full vote on Oct. 18), and votes taken in a joint meeting by the Planning Commission and the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC), which both approved the plan.
The Planning Commission voted 5-1 in favor of the plan; Jessica Brunson opposed, June Kachtik abstained. The HDRC voting 8-1 in favor (District 10 rep John Laffoon voted against it).
Let's dig in.
We knew there would be barriers that outline the walls of the Alamo compound, and we were told they hadn't been designed. We didn't know they were going to be 3½ feet in height.
When asked by Sandi Wollf, the newest member of the HDRC, about the railings—what those railings may look like—she received this response from Assistant City Manager Lori Houston:
"In May 2017, we were looking at the glass walls—8 to 14 feet. Now we have taken those glass walls down and we do have barriers, but we're calling them 'the railings.' They have yet to be designed. We think they'll be about 42 inches in height around that historic mission plaza. And it could be a landscape barrier. It could be a metal barrier. Those have yet to be designed."
In the few minutes HDRC chairman Michael Guarino spoke, the architect dropped a boatload of knowledge and opinion about the circa-1940 Cenotaph and its creator, the immigrant sculptor, Pompeo Coppini.
"Reading through Coppini's own memoirs, he was furious that the state of Texas and the federal government, which was funding it, didn't pony up $3,000 to waterproof the interior of it. So it's been leaking like a sieve since it was erected."
"If you look at it very carefully, there are many openings in it, and they're in all the wrong places. The leading capstone ... that you see on the south end of it, above the allegorical figure—you can see daylight through it. And so after the kind of rain we've had this last month, all of that has been cascading throughout the interior."
"It's held up by an armature, which is concrete, but we don't know what condition it's in. And concrete that is constantly wet, as this has been for almost 80 years, can have the danger of the reinforcement bars it it expanding and bursting."
"So, we don't know if it's doing its job holding up the interior. So this is an urgent investigation and there's really no way to do it from the outside. We can x-ray it. We can do ... surveys over the surfaces on the outside and we (can) certainly detect if the blocks have been moving. But we don't know what the inside looks like until somebody opens up and looks at it.
"Whether it moves or doesn't move, it's going to have to be at least partially disassembled. This is my professional opinion."
"By the way, everybody's been talking about their ancestry. My is Italian. And, so, Coppini is a figure that's very important to me and to other Italian Americans in Texas, because he's sort of our hero. He's the first one of us who got public credit for his work ..."
"I've worked and been to visit the quarries and bronze foundries in Italy, where he would have worked as a young man, and there is a tradition of the way the work is done, which, it's done at the quarries—this was also the case with the Cenotaph."
"It was not carved in Texas. It was carved in Georgia, and shipped here."
"It was probably partially assembled there to do a test fit. It was not erected, but it was put on a train and shipped to Texas."
"So, it's already moved half way across the country. If they didn't break it with the very limited means in those days, I'm confident we can responsibility disassemble it and reconstruct it wherever it goes."
"Let us remember that the stones that it's made out of have traveled a very long distance to get here to us."
Officials, including District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, have said that the overall project is expected to be completed before 2024—the 300th anniversary of the year the Mission San Antonio de Valero was moved to its current location. Its original location is thought to be the banks of San Pedro Creek near the San Francesco di Paola Church on West Martin Street.
We knew all of that.
Here's a more specific (and tentative) timetable offered by City Manager Sheryl Sculley:
» The church and Long Barrack will be under construction and renovation between 2021 and 2023.
» The visitors center and museum, which is to be placed in (or on the site of) the Crockett, Palace and Woolworth buildings directly across from the Alamo facade, will begin spring 2020 and take 2½-3 years to complete.
» The Cenotaph restoration, repair and reassembly is scheduled to be done by about 2020.
» Alamo Plaza construction will begin 2021, and continue for two years.
This timeline, of course, assumes the plan is approved by City Council next week and that it's not delayed by lawsuits, which groups that vehemently oppose the plan have hinted at. In federal court last week, the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association filed a lawsuit against the Alamo that's related to the skirmish.
Treviño told HDRC and Planning commissioners the burial grounds on Alamo Plaza were one of the factors that convinced the Battle of Flowers Association to agree to reroute the historic Fiesta parade. Earlier in the day, District 10 Councilman John Courage asked the question I had been wondering: What happened? What changed the Battle of Flowers Association's mind? Because before, they were like this:
— Ben Olivo (@rbolivo) June 22, 2018
So the explanation by Treviño, who brokered the resolution, was the first one he'd given.
During the joint Planning and HDRC meeting, there was some confusion as to whether someone could walk up to the Alamo's front door at 2 a.m. and take a selfie. Specifically, planning commissioner Christopher Garcia asked Treviño what parts of the plaza would be accessible 24/7. Treviño said everything between the museum and the dotted line in this diagram.
Just as it is today, Treviño said.
Some people, like myself, thought all of the Alamo grounds (outside the walls) were open 24/7. But they're not. Here's an explanation from Alamo spokesman Kevin Femmel:
"The Alamo Rangers put up a chain between the Church and Plaza around 7 p.m. every night. This chain is at the end of the grassy square in front of the Church, so people are still allowed to take a few steps onto the grounds before they are stopped by this chain."
"This is done to protect the historic Alamo Church from damage and to stop people from spilling or throwing items like drinks at the Church during the late hours of the night. The public can still step onto the curb and get close to this chain to take selfies/photos with the iconic Alamo Church in the background, but are not allowed to take this picture directly in front of the Church doors or past this chain."
"It is taken down the following morning as the Alamo prepares to open to the public that day."
Well, that clears that up.