Breaking news from the Alamo: The horse is already out of the barn.

Hate to employ such a tired cliché, but it is so to the point.

Not sure whom in the state government Commissioner Jerry Patterson offended to be tossed into the lions’ den of Alamo politics, but the additional Sisyphean task of defending the Alamo against copyright infringement might just send the commissioner calling for an appointment at Alamo Psychiatric Care, conveniently located just outside the compound’s walls and one of more than 1,000 such-named businesses operating right here in the Alamo City.

If one were Alamobsessive to the extreme, one could go through one’s whole life in San Antonio only patronizing businesses electing to honor our Texas heroes by remembering the Alamo in their names. You could comfortably live in the ’09 neighborhood named for its location on a rise overlooking the poor flatlanders living near the Alamo itself.

You could come into and leave this world that way, literally go from cradle to grave, progressing from delivery as a baby by Alamo obstetricians to your final embalmment at Alamo Funeral Home. In this city, as across much of Texas, there is virtually no need to contract for any non-Alamo service from the floors in your house to chimney sweeps on your rooftop (Although in conducting research for this post, I confess I failed to click on any Alamo escort services, fearing I might catch a plague of never-ending promiscuity-promoting pop-ups.).

Last month’s Alamo crisis was all about alcohol. Only last night, Alamo Beer was served publicly on Alamo Plaza. Imagine that.

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas defending the Alamo against an invasion of hooch tend to overlook the abundance of hooch-holding receptacles available in their own gift shop. René Guzman of the San Antonio Express-News described the numerous opportunities to take a “shot for the shrine:”

Next to coffee mugs, shot glasses pack the Alamo gift shop like so many troops of varying heights, widths and alcohol-holding capacities. And nothing puts the “shot” in shot glass quite like an Alamo shotgun-shell shot glass ($4.95) and One Last Shot! pistol shot glass ($4.25). If you prefer your liquor with a bit more dignity, try the Crockett, Bowie and William Travis shot glass three-pack ($9.95).

Helen L. Montoya photo from Express-News
Photographer Helen L. Montoya of the San Antonio Express-News took photos of items from the Alamo Gift Shop. For some reason, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas diligently defend the inner sanctum of the Alamo Gift Shop from photographers.

Yes, Commissioner Patterson, for lessons in preserving the dignity when remembering the Alamo, you need look no farther than the gift shop shelves themselves. As Guzman wrote:

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find more kitsch than you can throw a rubber Bowie knife at.
The newest commercial affront to the dignity of the shrine arises in the Alamo’s front yard, on the river at the base of the Hyatt Regency, from a lowly worm – The Worm Tequila and Mescal Bar. According to a story in the Express-News by Scott Huddleston, the owners of the bar were seeking a trademark of the phrase “I Can’t Remember the Alamo.”

The General Land Office, newly charged to defend the Alamo and the shelves in its gift shop, rose to the charge. According to Huddleston:

In the new trademark case, the Land Office said the issue is not about alcohol, but preservation of an 1836 Texian battle cry, “Remember the Alamo,” that, to many, still captures the spirit of Texas and the state’s proud but complex history.
Mark Loeffler, Land Office spokesman, said Qwercky’s application mentions mugs, clothing and even underwear as potential merchandise.
“Surely there must be other ways to promote a bar than disparaging the memory of not only the defenders of the Alamo, but the Spanish priests and Native Americans who died there during the 300-year history of the mission,” he said.

The General Land Office need not fear this affront to the battle cry “Remember the Alamo,” emblazoned for years, sometimes in compromising positions, on the front of t-shirts in shop display windows encircling the plaza. The wheels of justice in the state of Texas sometimes turn slowly, but vigilante justice already has taken its course.

The messenger recently escaped from behind the Alamo walls, a Daughter disowned by her siblings, Sarah Reveley summoned the power of facebook to alert the hotel hosting the new bar to the potential dangers to the hotel’s reputation. The response was swift:

Dear Sarah,
I am in receipt of the note you sent our corporate office today regarding your concern over marketing programs by one of our tenants. The Worm is a leased outlet on the river level of our hotel and is an autonomous operation. We unfortunately were not aware of this marketing position and trademark request by the operator until today. I have spoken to the owner and conveyed our concerns with this and have in fact exercised the hotels right that prohibit any advertising that tends to impair the reputation of the area. I have conferred with the owner of this establishment and he is withdrawing the trademark request.

Regards,
Peter
Peter McMahon
General Manager Hyatt Regency San Antonio

If the cash-strapped founders of the Republic of Texas had the foresight to comprehend the potential commercial value of the “Alamo” after the crushing defeat, they certainly would have arrived on the plaza as soon as possible to stake their claim to the word. But they did not, and Alamo businesses began to multiply almost immediately.

Of course, a dramatic way for the General Land Office to leave all the thousands of businesses with Alamo logos throughout the country out in the cold is to give the Alamo a crewcut. Return the facade to its time-of-the-battle flat-top, and trademark the new outline. That would certainly leave warehouses in China full of thousands of outdated t-shirts and shot glasses.
But, with the need for immediate action averted, perhaps Commissioner Patterson should adopt an unusual strategy. “Alamo” is so widespread, it seems impossible to regulate. So don’t.
While it is not in the spirit of the defenders to surrender, raise the white flag. Instead of carefully monitoring people applying to trademark Alamo-this or Alamo-that, rule that there will be absolutely no trademarks issued in the state of Texas with the word “Alamo” in them at all. If entrepreneurs can’t corner the market on a tacky item or ensure competitors can’t immediately copy the name of their businesses, the number of so-named products and businesses might decrease instead of increasing.
Plus, after years of abuse and indignities, some of them suffered within the walls of the Alamo Gift Shop itself, few battle sites in the world are as well-remembered as the Alamo. Even “I can’t remember the Alamo” only makes one remember the Alamo.
Blue Book No. 1, “See Sallie After the Alamo,” digital collage by Gayle Brennan Spencer, http://postcardssanantonio.com.

Update on August 24, 2012San Antonio Express-News editorial suggests “Land Office should drop errant suit:”

Now Patterson has waded into an ill-considered trademark battle with the owner of two bars seeking to block use of an irreverent riff on the battle cry, “Remember the Alamo!” The bar owner is using the phrase, “I Can’t Remember the Alamo.” In a notice filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Land Office argued that the “applicant’s mark disparages the deceased combatants of the Battle of the Alamo by communicating that their sacrifice was not worthy of memory or esteem.”

The objections of the Land Office are ironic, given the criticism directed at it by those who objected that allowing alcohol to be served at Alamo Hall disparaged the sacrifice of Alamo defenders. The two bars are a block or more away from Alamo Plaza.

The Land Office and taxpayers have a legitimate interest in seeing that the state’s trademark on the phrase “The Alamo” is not infringed upon or diluted. Patrons purchasing “I Can’t Remember the Alamo” merchandise at the bars are not likely to believe those items are officially licensed, any more than they are likely to believe that restaurants or rental car companies that incorporate the Alamo in their names have an official connection to the Cradle of Texas Liberty.

Update on August 28, 2012:  Scott Huddleston reports for the Express-News that the General Land Office has hired a firm to manage the gift shop at the Alamo:

Jerry Gilbert, vice president of marketing for Event Network, said the firm was thrilled and humbled to be at the Alamo, and committed to working with the DRT and Land Office in balancing consumerism with reverence at the site. “We’re tremendously sensitive to that issue,” Gilbert said. “We’ll always err toward being smart, being careful.”

If Event Network can’t limbo under the current height of the bar for balancing consumerism and reverence in stocking merchandise, it would be called Ripley’s.

10 thoughts on “Breaking news from the Alamo: The horse is already out of the barn.”

  1. I have a postscript for you. Jerry Patterson sent me an email after learning of the Hyatt memo: “Thanks. I’ll buy a round to be consumed in a unequivocally appropriate location…JP”

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    1. I should think the least Commissioner Patterson could do is to buy you two, considering the time you just spared those under him from wasting chasing after a lowly worm. The most historically appropriate location, of course, is The Menger Bar, safely located outside the Alamo walls, a detail surely not lost upon Teddy Roosevelt when he was looking for a place to drink in moderation with his men.

      According to Texas Monthly:

      When they weren’t training, Roosevelt and the Rough Riders spent their time back at the Menger Bar. According to University of Texas at Austin history professor H. W. Brands’ biography T.R.: The Last Romantic, Wood reprimanded Roosevelt for buying beer for the men. Apparently Roosevelt had fraternized with the volunteers to a point Wood felt threatened the gap of rank and respect necessary between an officer and his underlings. Roosevelt responded to Wood, “Sir, I consider myself the damnedest ass within ten miles of this camp! Good night, sir!”

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  2. the @SAChefcoalition dinner last night was pretty amazing, not just for the wide selection of pickles and camaraderie, but for the incredible view i had from my seat. the drt should recognize that events like the inaugural luminaria and the better block event bring city residents to the alamo to be awed and amazed by the events with the most fantastic historical backdrop in the state of texas.

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    1. One of the most magically memorable group meals I ever had was one held to court the Smithsonian. Rosemary and Mi Tierra teamed up to plan a multi-course menu based on Native American ingredients, and it was an incredible feast. The intimate seated dinner for several hundred was served al fresco, right there on the plaza in front of the Alamo. Wine and harder libations flowed freely from open bars throughout the evening, but, sshhh!, don’t tell anyone.

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  3. As a descendant of an Alamo defender, I appreciate and support the tack Jerry Patterson has taken on the Alamo. There’s nothing inherently wrong with alcohol. It’s used to cook great meals, christen great ships, and worship Christ through communion. Simply allowing a drink on the battleground doesn’t injure my ancestor’s memory. Commercializing wanton drunkeness does, whether it’s on or near the battleground (like the Worm) or anywhere else. I love that Jerry Patterson discerns that difference.

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    1. Tom – Thanks for your input. Hope you don’t mind a re-post of your great comment about Sarah from rootsweb:

      I hereby move that all modern-day defenders of the Alamo officially designate Sarah Revely as the “S Bomb.” Example: “If you don’t stop messing with the Alamo, we have no choice but to drop the S Bomb on you.”

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  4. Excellent commentary and history. I can’t believe Patterson would take that fight on. Ridiculous.

    Same thing happens for “Longhorn” and the steer icon in Austin. The University of Texas feels like it owns them now, although they already plaster the city.

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    1. Non-Texans generally fail to comprehend the psychological complexity of a culture commemorating the battle lost more fervently than the victory ending the war (San Jacinto). Already in enough hot water, I won’t even consider heading in that direction.

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