Postcard from Saluzzo, Italy: Transforming a former prison into contemporary gallery space not a problem

Located at the top of the highest hill in Saluzzo, Castello dei Marchesi – La Castiglia was an obvious choice for a fortified castle in the 13th century. Beginning with the French occupation in the 1500s, the once grand brick quarters and towers began to spiral into decline, culminating with their transformation in the 1800s into a high-security prison.

In 2006, the prison was converted into a museum. Portions of the former castle are dedicated to displays relating to life in the Middle Ages, while former prison cells now serve as exhibition space for IGAV – Garuzzo Institute for the Visual Arts, dedicated to contemporary Italian art.

Medieval castles. Former factories. Old prisons. Contemporary Italian architects view transforming existing structures into striking museums as ideal challenges for displaying their talents. Adaptive reuse of existing structures is expected.

Yet in Texas, the General Land Office seems so skeptical of the capabilities of architects that the fine historic landmarks on the west side of Alamo Plaza are deemed impossible to convert into a museum for the Alamo. Absurdly wasteful, unimaginative and disrespectful of the past. So, so very sad.

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

Alamo CEO applying armtwisting pressure to secure gated plaza

Alamo CEO Doug McDonald said the City Council must approve the lease with the Land Office before the state will hire a museum designer.

“A major turning point for the Alamo Plaza redesign comes Thursday night,” Scott Huddleston, Express-News, August 29, 2018

So now, Alamo management is trying to blackmail the San Antonio City Council into turning over its public park. The disposition of Alamo Plaza should have little to do with the awarding of the museum design contract. There has been no talk of its construction within that “sacred” space.

What does affect the architectural design project is whether it is build-from-scratch or adaptive-reuse. The Alamo did not release the request for qualifications for an architectural historian to assess the significance of the three buildings on the west side of the plaza until a week ago. The RFQ claims earlier assessments are out of date. No mention is made of their potential candidacy for adaptive-reuse. It is a thinly veiled request for a study slanted toward finding excuses to demolish the historic landmarks.

Rather than letting the Texas General Land Office hold the museum hostage in exchange for San Antonio’s public park, the City of San Antonio should withhold any lease on the land without agreement from the State of Texas to respect our designated landmarks.

And then there is the issue of fencing in Alamo Plaza, funneling everyone through one non-historical access point conveniently located by the museum entrance to encourage the purchase of admission tickets and rental of audio guides for the Alamo and its plaza. To try to soften this closure, the barriers restricting public access are now called a “combination of architectural elements” by District 1 Council Representative Roberto Trevino.

Trevino’s justification for restricting access to one point during “special events,” according to a report by Paula Schuler on San Antonio Heron, is “having three access points open at all times could be costly.” We are unsure why unlocking a gate to the public is so costly, but we do know erecting no fences, aka “architectural elements,” is free.

And, while Trevino earlier signed his name to an op-ed saying barriers would only be used during “special events,” he has redefined that phrase. He is quoted on San Antonio Heron:

What we wrote was that the site needed to be maintained as a civic space aside from special or schedule events. And so that, I think, is addressed by what we’re telling you: The museum hours are special scheduled and special events. Non-museum hours, it’s open.

Wait, the Alamo is open seven days a week. So, in the Mr. Rogers’ spirit, Trevino is proclaiming everyday is “special.” How special.

The time for public input is limited. The Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee (advice often ignored) is expected to vote on the plan tonight, with no opinions from the peanut gallery permitted.

According to Huddleston, the procedure that will follow is:

If approved then, the plan will next be considered by a six-member Alamo Management Committee and a two-member Alamo Executive Committee composed of Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

It will be reviewed at open meetings of the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission, Planning Commission and the City Council. Review by the council could happen in mid-October.

Some elements of the plan, including relocation of the 1930s Alamo Cenotaph and demolition or significant alterations to three historic state-owned commercial buildings on the west side of Alamo Plaza, also would require approval of an antiquities permit by a 10-member Antiquities Board of the Texas Historical Commission and the full 15-member commission.

The monument and buildings are in the national Alamo Plaza Historic District created in 1977. Meetings of the board and full commission are open and include citizen input.

For the plan to be carried out, the state Land Office will become the manager of Alamo Plaza.

Alamo CEO Doug McDonald said the City Council must approve the lease with the Land Office before the state will hire a museum designer. The nonprofit Alamo Endowment can then begin active fund-raising for the plan. But McDonald said the project is on a challenging timeline for completion by 2024.

We trust the City Council will refuse to be bullied into ceding public parkland without adequate protections and reversionary clauses.

Just in case, though, please take every opportunity to protest the closing of Alamo Plaza and be on standby to place your bodies between the wrecking ball and the Crockett Block.