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 The RFQ claims earlier assessments are out of date.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.

Processing Art through Public Filters, Part Two

whitewashedOn the left side of the photo on the right is a wall.

The wall, prepped for painting, is not architecturally stunning.

In fact, one could say it is architecturally challenged.

Perhaps that is why the artist wanted to make a monkey out of it.

monkeyBut this building is located in the King William Historic District, and, according to the San Antonio Express-News, some of its residents evidently felt Robert Tatum’s Chi Chi Monkey made a mockery of the neighborhood.

tame-birdSo the artist came up with a rendering for a tame bird sporting a Tyrolean hat perched outside a gingerbready bird house, all nods to the characteristics of the neighborhood.

Some of the residents were happy.

But, upon further reflection, the artist was not.

He must have felt as though he had his wings clipped.

This tame bird is not representative of his art, and this bird house is on the outside wall of his office.

cuckoo-birdSo he transformed the bird into something more reflective of his style, more of a wild-eyed cuckoo bird too big-headed to fit into his house.

This bird looks much more like Tatum’s style, but some of the neighbors balked at the new one.

The frustrated artist told reporter Scott Huddleston it will be his prized bird or no bird at all.

The poor members of the Historic Design and Review Commission are left in the middle, stuck walking the tightrope between artistic integrity and the strict enforcement of guidelines of the historic district.

I’m rooting for the cuckoo.

Sometimes we take ourselves so seriously, we kill the spirit of things. “We” includes me. Sometimes.

I draw a rigid line in the sand when it comes to protecting sensitive areas, such as the Alamo Plaza Historic District. I’ve even gone so far as to label myself Alamobsessive about it.

But South Alamo in Southtown is not across from the Alamo. And this building is not nestled among stately residences.

It’s in more of the entertainment part of the neighborhood. People walking by the back side of this building are most likely on their way to art galleries or restaurants.

And this wall is not exactly in pedestrians’ faces. It is set way back from the sidewalk and street.

But what about its across-the-street neighbor? Well, that’s got to be about the most laid-back, relaxed place around – The Friendly Spot. The cartoonish cuckoo bird will fit right in and should delight the kids scampering over the Spot’s playscape while their parents gather with friends.

The photo below shows the current wall when viewed from the entrance of The Friendly Spot.

friendly-spot

You probably are thinking I posted the wrong photo. But no. That’s the proposed canvas, way back behind the red SUV, tucked unobtrusively between two buildings. If the bird’s features are not exaggerated, they won’t show up at all.

The tame version of the mural is like the Mission Drive-In, where the spirit of the original art was put in a straitjacket.

Art should reflect its creator. In this location, there seems no need to over-process it in the name of King William’s integrity.

Let that cuckoo bird fly free.

Update on March 7, 2013: Alas, Mr. Tatum, if you had only showed up at the HDRC meeting to plead your case and get a fair hearing, the cuckoo might be perched on your wall instead of caged in my blog.

Seesawing Signage Issues: Take three baby steps forward and two giant steps back.

Update on September 3:  Oh my gosh!  Some of the window-covering signage in the Crockett Block has disappeared.  Is there some powerful new enforcer at work?  Is there hope Shamu will be chased back to SeaWorld soon?

Originally, I added that optimistic update to the bottom of an older post, “Slip-Sliding Backwards on Alamo Plaza Signage.”  I need no longer be Alamobsessive about the plaza, I thought.  Other people care and are enforcing the regulations spelled out in the Unified Development Code.

Unfortunately,  the Express-News’ Scott Huddleston quickly jerked the rug out from under me,  suggesting I go back for a closer look. 

Encountered the usual irritating distractions on the way, such as the banners and goods spilling out of the basement on the Commerce Street side of the Dullnig Building.  One shop in the Dullnig still had sandwich boards outside on Alamo Street, but Best of Texas removed its sandwich boards, actually advertising sandwiches, from the sidewalk – only to suspend them illegally overhead now.  Some of the “everything changes color in the sun” banners have indeed been removed from the Crockett Block, unfortunately leaving Alfred Giles name carved in stone next to a window full of boxes. 

But what I really came to see was the replacement for the pop-up tent the Daughters of the Republic of Texas previously used to hawk their audio tours of the Alamo.  Like the other hundred or so people on the plaza disappointed to find the grounds closed at 5:30, I had to be content to peer through the barred gateways.  (An aside, but wouldn’t the Daughters be able to rake in more dollars from the sale of coonskin caps and snow globes if they kept the Alamo open later than 5 p.m. while the days are so long?)

A beautiful arcade leads from the Alamo to the library on the grounds.  But… there it is.  A tacky banner suspended from a cedar beam (the flag still waving “proudly from the walls” referenced by William Barrett Travis?) guides you right to the new tour store.  A wall painted a depressing shade of brown now fills one the arches.  A window permits rental of the audio tours with a shelf attached by some cheap metal hinges. 

No one could accuse the Daughters of over-spending on this fine architectural addition to the hallowed grounds.  The budget was extremely frugal according to their reports:

Estimated start up cost is $8,000 to be covered by Allies of the Alamo.  The start up costs are:  portable building to house equipment and sales, part-time, no benefits staff, four credit card machines, signage, cash register, air conditioner, and miscellaneous items such as stickers and printing.

The investment apparently is paying off:

…Tour Mates is now up and running.  They had 201 customers on their second day of operation.  It is in a good location and customers have had good comments.  They are pleased with the charge.  There is a sign that reads “Admission to The Alamo is FREE.  Enhance your visit with a $6 audio tour.”

At this rate, the Daughters’ initial investment will be paid off in about a month.

Huddleston questioned the architectural merits of this low-budget addition in his online blog:

Since it’s on state property, the booth and the banner didn’t have to be presented for approval by the city’s Historic and Design Review Commission.  If it did, I would hazard to speculate that the commission would allow the banner.  But I think commissioners might say putting the wooden booth right up against the outside edge of the 1937 Arcade was “not respectful” to the historic structure.

It’s time for the Historic Design and Review Commission to call for reenforcements.   Send a messenger to Austin to alert the Texas Historical Commission:

in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & every thing dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch.

William Barrett Travis

February 24, 1836

Note Added on September 11

“I don’t claim to be a historian, I’m just an English drummer who loves the Alamo.”

If only Phil Collins would rally the Texas Historical Commission.  The commission devoted two full pages in The Medallion to Collins’ presentation on “his notable Alamo Collection.” 

But where did he make his presentation?  Dallas.  How about a walking tour around the plaza? 

I’ve issued a pitiful blog-plea before, Phil, but, please, “come to our aid, with all dispatch.”

Note Added on October 28:  Please join me in submitting the audio rental booth addition to the Centennial Arcade at the Alamo to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Yikes’ postings of inartistic alterations to historic structures.

Note Added on December 20News from London is that Phil Collins himself might try to broker peace at the Alamo.  Sounds dangerous for someone Rolling Stone describes as having suicidal thoughts.  But maybe he can summon up the heroism from whoever he was at the Alamo in a former life:

Collins has noticed glowing, semitransparent light orbs in a series of photos he took at the Alamo. “It’s paranormal energy,” he explains, noting that a psychic recently told him he fought at the fort in a previous lifetime. “I don’t want to sound like a weirdo. I’m not Shirley MacLaine, but I’m prepared to believe. You’ve seen the pictures. You can’t deny them, so therefore it’s possible that I was there in another life.”