Has Alamo Plaza fallen in the hands of ‘reverential’ caretakers?

New signs directing riders of scooters, bikes and skateboards to steer clear of Alamo Plaza are a welcome change from the Texas General Land Office, which assumed a long-term lease of the plaza on Jan. 1. The state has also opened a small welcome center to help guide visitors, who no longer must endure the rants of street preachers….

These are all small changes, foreshadowing much larger ones. Although small, these changes already have made Alamo Plaza a more respectful place where visitors can reflect on the historic battle and feel the weight of history.

They also portend bigger changes for the site that will bring proper reverence. Streets will be closed. Carnivallike businesses will be moved….

These initial small changes have already made a welcome difference.

“Changes at Alamo Signal Bigger Ones,” Editorial, San Antonio Express-News, March 5, 2019

The goal is to encourage visitors to reflect on the sacrifices and struggles for Texas independence without those modern-day distractions….

“Alamo Plaza is being transformed into a place of dignity and reverence,” Karina Erickson, interim communications director with the Land Office, said in an email.

“Alamo Plaza Makeover Underway,” Scott Huddleston, San Antonio Express-News, February 19, 2019

March 6, 1836. A date seared in the memory of all Texans and many others around the world as the date the Alamo fell. So March 6 seemed an appropriate time to witness this new “reverential” treatment of Alamo Plaza now that the City of San Antonio ceded the city’s historic park to the management of the State of Texas.

The reenactors of the battle who were still around were downright friendly. Despite the fact that they had been up since the wee hours of the morning to “kill” or “be killed” at dawn, they somehow still rallied to patiently answer any visitor’s questions in as much detail as the inquisitive one desired.

But, what slams the visitor in the face no matter what approach to the plaza is taken is the fire-engine-red “The Alamo Welcome Center” plopped down in the middle of it by the new stewards from General Land Office. This booth appears almost carnivalesque, particularly given its dignified location.

In fairness, I took a photo of David Crockett (Yes, that really is his name, and he says he is the original’s third-great-grandson.) in front of the Alamo to demonstrate it is still possible to snap a photo of the former chapel without the red shed intruding. But as you can see from numerous other angles, it is very much in the way.

But surely it must serve a very important purpose. If you examine the front view, you might notice a video screen running. At the moment this image was taken, the carved figures of Alamo heroes on the Cenotaph are captured for visitors to observe. Wait, they can see the actual Cenotaph about 50 steps away.

There also is a brand new (not to be confused with the large Alamo Gift Shop adjacent to the Alamo) Official The Alamo Store located less than 50 steps away in the handsome limestone Crockett Block. Official The Alamo Store occupies a space right next to the San Antonio Visitor Information Center. The purpose of the red attention-getting booth must be pretty urgent if it serves needs neither of those could meet.

Naturally, it turns out, that the function of the Welcome Center is not simply to extend a Texas-size howdy to visitors. It is sales. While entry to the Alamo is free, the purpose of the Welcome Center is to serve as a stop sign before entering to convince you to open your wallet and purchase tickets for a tour. This will be so much easier after the General Land Office fences off the plaza to ensure everyone is funneled through one entrance to achieve maximum solicitation opportunities prior to reaching the Alamo door.

One could argue that this red wart is not a permanent structure. It can me moved, so is harmless to the integrity of the historic site. But if it does not get moved to attain the proper reverential mood and sense of authenticity during the all-important commemorations of the 13-day siege of the Alamo, it probably is not budging any time soon.

In the meantime, how many people per month are subjected to the sight of this sales booth in front of the Alamo? Conservatively, way more than 200,000 people monthly get their first glimpse of the Alamo through the openings in the Welcome Center.

Among other “improvements” is a long bank of illuminated vending machines located at the rear of the Alamo property in a concession area, the area where visitors are encouraged to visit to view a free film. Sadly, not a raspa stand among them.

If the Welcome Center is evidence of the state’s tasteful approach to design, we all should worry. Many San Antonians still hope a decision will be made to reuse the state-owned historic landmarks stretching along the west side of Alamo Plaza from the Crockett Block to the former Woolworth’s as the site of a new Alamo Museum. (Visit the website of the San Antonio Conservation Society to learn more about the coalition to save the former Woolworth’s.) because of its crucial role in peaceful integration in San Antonio in 1960. One of the major objections offered to doing so is the different levels of the floors in the buildings complicate inner connectivity. Architects facing equal or larger such challenges have managed to give us the San Antonio Museum of Art and numerous successful examples of adaptive reuse at the Pearl.

One of a triumvirate of decision-makers affecting the future of Alamo Plaza is District One Council Representative Roberto Trevino. In another editorial this week, the Express-News sought to portray him as an ardent preservationist:

As an architect, Roberto Treviño wears his love for old buildings on his sleeve.

“Approve Beacon Hill Agreement,” Editorial, San Antonio Express-News, March 6, 2019

The Welcome Center fails to inspire confidence in the design standards to be applied in the coming year or two or in the General Land Office’s sincerity in considering sparing the landmarks on the west side of the plaza.

Community trust would be somewhat enhanced by the immediate removal of the booth. Even put it to adaptive reuse where it belongs: The Alamodome Parking Lot for the upcoming Fiesta Carnival.

2018 Roundup: Remember Alamo Plaza

Every six months this blogger reviews what posts people have been reading most during the past year.

San Antonians’ Alamoobsessiveness was ignited by the state’s determination to fence in a designated city park – Alamo Plaza. Related posts dominate this year-end list. A battle lost. Time to move on as the plaza’s fate appears sealed. Hopefully the New Year will bring glad tidings about preserving historic landmarks on the west side of the plaza.

On a more upbeat note, cannot wait for the completion of Margarita Cabrera’s “Arbol de la Vida: Voces de Tierra” on the river near Mission San Francisco de la Espada.

The following list represents the posts you clicked on most, with the numbers in parentheses representing rankings from six months ago:

  1. Alamo CEO applying armtwisting pressure to secure gated plaza, 2018
  2. Forging consensus for the Alamo Comprehensive Plan: Don’t fence us out, 2018 (2)
  3. ‘Tree of Life’ bears bountiful crop of tales from the past, 2018 (4)
  4. King William Home Tour: Historic houses whisper stories of early residents, 2018

    523 King William Street, riverside

  5. The Madarasz murder mystery: Might Helen haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012 (1)
  6. Please put this song on Tony’s pony, and make it ride away, 2010 (5)
  7. Street art entices venturing under the overpass, 2018 
  8. Marilyn Lanfear buttons up a collection of family stories, 2018
  9. Centenarian Santa still burning bright, 2018 
  10. Postcard from Rome, Italy: A numbers game sparked by the baths, 2018
  11. Postcard from Mexico City: Shimmering with colorful experiences, 2018
  12. Postcard from Genoa, Italy: Hey, don’t knock the peanuts, 2018

Thanks for visiting and your patience with my wanderings via this blog.

Would love to hear from you, so please feel free to “chat back” some. Every post has a comment box at the bottom.

All tuckered out now. Thinking I might need a post-eve-celebration nap.

Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, Genoa, Italy

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere! (my trusty friend)
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught, (good-will draught)
for auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

“Auld Lang Syne,” Robert Burns, 1788

Recycling a few haunted posts to say “Boo” to you

So many “postcards” are backlogged on my desk that I am dusting off some old seasonal favorites for Halloween and Day of the Dead offerings.

First, a few ghost stories from Brackenridge Park to set the tone for Halloween. Her murderers never caught, surely you have glimpsed Helen Madarasz roaming the park at night seeking justice: “The Madarasz Murder Mystery.” The post even throws in a few bonus ghosts who joined her later, all four who died in the park within a one-year period. Or perhaps you have heard the midnight screams of the glamorous Martha Mansfield, whose billowing crinolines set her ablaze in the park during the filming of a Civil War romance in 1923: “The Curse of Mararasz Park: Another Ghost Wandering in Brackenridge Park?”

When our daughter Kate said I could us this circa 1997 photo of her being kidnapped by the Pumpkin Monster, I do not think she realized it would continue to float up to the surface years later: “The Best Halloween.”

Dia de los Muertos, Romerillo, Chiapas

And then move on to some Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico for All Souls Day and All Saints Day:

Finally, a few stops by graveyards in Europe: https://postcardsfromsanantonio.com/category/haunting-graveyards/

Happy Halloween!

Monumental Cemetery of Staglieno, Genoa, Italy