Dear Mayor and City Council: Please don’t surrender Alamo Plaza

It’s hard to send a letter to you, because I don’t yet know who will be occupying those offices at City Hall. But, whoever you are, your first week in office, you will be pressured to approve a plan to wall off a major public plaza, the historical heart of so many of San Antonio’s cherished celebrations.

Please do not vote unconditionally to support the Reimagining the Alamo Master Plan in a rush to meet the budgetary cycle of the State Legislature.

There is much merit to parts of the proposal. The Alamo building itself is crumbling, and the plan targets its restoration and preservation. That is urgent.

The Phil Collins Collection is waiting for a home in San Antonio, and the State has acquired several historic structures on the westside of Alamo Plaza to display the valuable artifacts. (Adaptive reuse is wonderful, but please urge the State to reconsider gutting the entire interior of the landmark Crockett Block, designed by Alfred Giles.)

So the east and west parts of the plan on the state’s existing turf seem on somewhat sound ground. But then we get to the plaza.

As we approach San Antonio’s Tricentennial, we should be particularly attuned to the city’s early history. But, at least in the Executive Summary,* the Master Plan ignores the history of Mission San Antonio de Valero – a site not dubbed the Alamo until years later.

In the aftermath of the Battle, General Santa Anna ordered his troops to destroy as much of the site as possible. This was the beginning of the decline of the historic Alamo compound. Restoring the reverence and dignity of the Alamo is the obligation of our generation and the mission of our efforts.

The decline of the compound that originally was Mission San Antonio de Valero began earlier, before the mission was secularized. Where is that layer of history of the mission days? Not on page 1. Mission San Antonio de Valero is not even recognized by name in the summary until page 24. In the appendices.

Reimagining apparently calls for walling in the plaza and locking it up every night. The planners evidently believe members of the public incapable of envisioning the original walls of the compound. To do so, they must be restricted from entering the plaza aside from as a herd entering through a southern portal.

If returning the Alamo compound to its appearance at the time of the battle truly was a principal adhered to by the Master Plan, the “bold” plan would call for the removal of the iconic parapet added later by the United States Army.

Vehicular movement north and south through downtown currently is impaired. Removing another street from the existing clogged pattern is impractical. Yet, even so, it is difficult to argue that closure would not enhance the experience for pedestrians on the plaza.

But ceding the rights of pedestrians to cross through the plaza makes absolutely no sense. Public parks should be porous, easily accessible from all sides. Yet access to this civic space will be reserved to one entryway on its southern side.

Behind glass, this current pedestrian crossroad will become a dead-end. An Alamo cul-de-sac.

Thanks so much, John Branch, http://comicskingdom.com/john-branch

The city of San Antonio has struggled for years to revive Houston Street, and it finally provides a healthier retail environment. Houston Street merchants will again disappear if they lose the pedestrian traffic they need. Pedestrians will all be funneled in and out by way of Rivercenter.

Trees will be removed from the center of the plaza between the Alamo and the Crockett Block to create an open space, a space too hot under the Texas sun for anyone to linger.

A sizzling comal for tourists. A playground for reenactors. A place locals will avoid.

Paraphrasing W.S. Merwin, there is no recipe for “unchopping a tree.” Walk the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River Improvements Project and envision how many years, or generations, of growth it will take for the new saplings to recreate the groves of trees Spanish missionaries originally found along the river’s banks.

In exchange for placing much of the city’s space in a fishbowl with restricted access, the plan offers San Antonio “a new civic space – Plaza de Valero,” a tiny sliver of the plaza in front of the Menger Hotel. This is billed as: “an opportunity for visitors to have a quiet moment, in the shade of mature trees, enjoying food and refreshments, as they experience the reimagined Alamo.” This “new” space already exists.

The very definition of civic is “relating of or to a city or town or the people who live there.” We have a great civic space, the entire plaza, now. A place for exuberant celebrations and the exercise of first-amendment rights, rights championed by those who died at the Alamo. A spot for gathering in the shade of trees.

There is no reason City Council cannot approve the Alamo restoration on the east and the Museum concept on the west side of the plaza as envisioned in the Master Plan on May 11.

Obviously, improvements can be made to enhance historical interpretation in the plaza, but eliminating Alamo Plaza as a pedestrian passageway or civic gathering place for your citizens need not be a requisite to forward a portion of the plan. Judgment on the disposition of the roadway and plaza should be withheld pending refinement and public release of the full plan.

The many volunteers and professionals tackling this project should be commended for their efforts. But that does not mean this initial plan merits a rubber stamp. The streets and plaza belong to the City of San Antonio.

Please request a reexamination and rethinking of this portion of the plan. Don’t consent to turning a beautiful urban park into a walled-off wasteland of a plaza. A place completely isolated from the fabric of San Antonio.

Thank you for your consideration of this request from a concerned citizen.

P.S.  If one haunts the place of one’s death, would it not seem a Sisyphean hell if the only thing you got to witness was men reenacting your painful death over and over? Would you want the site of your bloody end preserved in the desolate state it was in in the aftermath of your death?

Or would you want to witness people actively enjoying the freedom for which you fought on a daily basis?

One resembles a horror film, the other a fulfillment of your dreams.

*As of this time, the only portion of the plan available to the public online is the sketchy Executive Summary. The public comments you receive prior to voting are based solely upon that and what can be pried out of presenters during hearings. The publicly funded Master Plan appears a closely guarded secret.

Biannual roundup of an ad-free blog

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This blogger has blogged so prolifically she has used up all the free space WordPress has to offer. This is good news for you because ads will no longer pop up at the bottom of posts, but it was bad news for me because I actually have to pay a small amount to engage in this form of therapy. I’m not complaining though, because I have never understood how WordPress can afford to offer this service at no charge. I’m grateful for enjoying a free ride for several years.

This list represents the most-read posts during the past 12 months, and interest in the Alamo and its plaza rose to the top once again. But thanks for continuing to give me the freedom to wander around the globe and send postcards back to San Antonio as well.

The numbers in parentheses represent the rankings from six months ago:

  1. Don’t Let Battle Zealots Overrun the Crockett Block, 2016
  2. The Madarasz Murder Mystery: Might Helen Haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012 (1)
  3. Take pleasure in little unauthorized treasures along the River Walk before they vanish, 2015 (7)
  4. How would you feel about the Alamo with a crewcut?, 2011 (3)
  5. Please put this song on Tony’s pony and make it ride away, 2010 (5)
  6. Postcards from San Antonio a Century Ago, 2016
  7. Playspace of Yanaguana Garden bursts into bloom October 2, 2015 (8)
  8. Postcard from Madrid, Spain: Flavorful food memories, 2015
  9. Postcard from Puebla, Mexico: An unlikely trio of favorite restaurants, 2015
  10. Reviving Dia de los Muertos, 2015
  11. Postcard from Sintra, Portugal: Masonic mysteries surface at Quinta da Regaleira, 2014
  12. Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Settling into La Biznaga, 2016

Thanks for dropping by every once in a while. Love hearing your feedback.

mandarezpark

 

Biannual Roundup Time

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As 2016 begins, you, once again, have given me an excuse to write about whatever strikes me. Your favorite posts on this blog during the past six months are as random as the thought process of the writer pecking at the keyboard.

I have to admit I love it that you continue to let the ghost of Helen Madarasz haunt Brackenridge Park, care enough about the future of Alamo Plaza to go back to old rants and are still looking for the cowgirl’s “San Antonio Song.” You care about art and artists of San Antonio, even when the art is tiny, and cherish San Antonio’s Fiesta traditions, even when raucous. And you tolerate family stories and postcards from our travels. All of these are therapeutic breaks for the blogger struggling to complete the story of the Coker Settlement.

The numbers in parentheses represent the rankings from six months ago:

  1. The Madarasz Murder Mystery: Might Helen Haunt Brackenridge Park?, 2012 (1)
  2. Artist Foundation unleashes another round of creative fervor, 2015 (2)
  3. How would you feel about the Alamo with a crewcut?, 2011 (8)
  4. Weather Forecast: 11 Days of Confetti Ahead, 2015 (10)
  5. Please put this song on Tony’s pony and make it ride away, 2010 (7)
  6. Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Favorites on the food front, 2015 (12)
  7. Take pleasure in little unauthorized treasures along the River Walk before they vanish, 2015
  8. Playspace of Yanaguana Garden bursts into bloom October 2, 2015
  9. Photographs from the 1800s place faces on the names in Zephaniah Conner’s Bible, 2014 (11)
  10. Cornyation strips down to bare kernels of comedy in current events, 2015
  11. Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: More street art and signs of protests, 2015
  12. Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Tattooed Museum Walls, 2015

Thanks for dropping by every once in a while. Love hearing your feedback.