An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Three

San Antonio Brewing Association

Above: San Antonio Brewing Association, Original Home of Pearl Beer, Now Hotel Emma at Pearl

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Two

Andrew Stevens, January 1911

Andy draws open the heavy drapes and, despite the crisp winter day, cracks two of the windows. He hauls a heavy brass ashtray stand out of the depths of the closet and places it between the two chairs in front of Mr. Koehler’s massive walnut desk. Both his older brother, John, and Mr. Wahrmund are right-handed though, so he fetches another.

He does not want to have to answer to Mrs. Koehler if one of the men carelessly allows a burning ember to drop from his cigar onto the Oriental carpet. But, if the men are drinking, which they will be, they might smoke with their left hands. One more stand is in order. Mrs. Koehler terms them hideous, hence the closet hide-away, but the elegant Meissner ashtrays she brought back from Germany are far too shallow-bowled to serve any purpose aside from collecting dust.

Continue reading “An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Three”

How’s the GLO managing Alamo Plaza? Welcome to the faux Alamo.

Oft-criticized for its failure to curb commercialism on Alamo Plaza, the City of San Antonio turned management of the historic city park over to the Texas General Land Office.

Millions of people presumably have passed through there since then, and the first thing most see is a caboose-red, shiny metal, faux Alamo Welcome Center. There in the middle of the plaza where there used to be a small table stand with an umbrella shading a vendor of icy cold raspas. It was 99 degrees when I was there, and I definitely would have found a snow cone more welcoming.

Anyway, visitors first glimpse of the distinctive Alamo-shaped parapet is on this booth. Why? Well, that’s obvious. It’s shiny red, and the Alamo with its ancient limestone walls pales by comparison. The Alamo might be free, but the Alamo prefers you to pay for headsets or tours. It requires the bold red to make sure you do not miss the opportunity.

protester with pitifully inadequate #NoFauxAlamo sign

Oh, there’s the real Alamo, along with protester with pitifully inadequate #NoFauxAlamo sign.

While the General Land Office deems the stately Cenotaph nearby as inappropriate for the battlefield site, the powers that be evidently consider this carnivalesque booth a perfect fit.

In case you somehow manage to miss the warm welcome this booth extends to you, there are other signs strategically placed around the plaza.

And there is the opportunity to purchase a photo taken right up close by the Alamo door.

But the appropriateness of the tenant mix and their appearance on the west side of Alamo Plaza was top among the complaints aired by many, and supposedly the state solved that with the General Land Office’s purchase of a row of historical buildings there. A new Alamo Museum is envisioned for the area.

In the meantime, millions of visitors pass by. Strangely, among the most flagrant violators of the sign ordinance governing the Alamo Plaza Historic District (view signage codes here) is the Official San Antonio Visitor Center, with flamboyant advertisements completely covering one its windows. And the Del Sol Color Change shop located next door to the Official The Alamo Store. The GLO evidently is not able to request its tenants abide by tasteful signage regulations.

But, hey, one can never have too many signs addressing Alamo Plaza. So both the San Antonio Visitor Information Center and the Official The Alamo Store plop illegal signage boards right in the middle of the sidewalk.

As a final pictorial update to how the Texas General Land Office is managing one of San Antonio’s most treasured plazas, there is this mysterious Christo-like treatment between the Alamo Chapel and the Menger. I peeked in and could determine no function, but it does arouse one’s curiosity.

Welcome to the improved (?) version of Alamo Plaza.

June 27, 2019, Update: A portion of this post was published in The Rivard Report.

‘Just the Facts:’ A fence by any other name still smells the same

The July 23 editorial, “Deep breath, just the facts about the Alamo,” in the San Antonio Express-News shocked me.

“Just the facts?”

Perhaps the editorial board of the paper received a totally different presentation than the one about the “Alamo Comprehensive Interpretive Plan” presented to San Antonio Citizen’s Advisory Committee? Perhaps the plan the members saw is different from the one on the Alamo website?

The first “fact” claimed by the Express: “There will not be a fence around Alamo Plaza downtown.” These are the Editorial Board’s words. This sentence does not appear in the plan itself.

Planners, who initially wanted to lock up the plaza at night, now want to “organize people” when the museum is open. They refer to some of this “management” as “fences almost not seen.” The image below isolates a portion of the softly blurred rendering above depicting what the Express terms as simply “rails,” clear barriers topped off by a rail as opposed to an actual picket fence, that will prevent people approaching from Houston Street from walking straight into the plaza and disrupting the “managed” people inside.

On the left is a rendering representing a tall gate, in a fence line “hidden” in landscaping, that presumably would be open after museum hours.

On the north and west sides are 42-inch so-called “rails.” As the plan proposes to lower the floor of the entire plaza 16 to 18 inches, tourists will feel protected from San Antonio’s foot traffic by a barrier more than five feet in height. 

And on the southern edge, an actual “fence” is depicted camouflaged in the landscaping with, look closely as it is painted in a pale gray, an extremely narrow gate thrown open to allow public access… after “managed” hours.

The Editorial Board can call this anything they want, but it all looks like fencing off Alamo Plaza to me.

Presenters made it sound as though the goal during the hours the Alamo is open is to “choreograph approaches” so everyone enters the “railed-in” area through an entrance by a new museum on the west side of the plaza. This appears to be the exit as well. Presumably, this management is designed to promote museum attendance, perhaps a paid experience? This is also where the general public heading north or south will be funneled into the “Alamo Promenade.” So, with every visitor to the Alamo, including large tour and school groups, and all passersby converging, emerging and merging at this one sidewalk-width point on the “Alamo Promenade,” will we not have absurd pedestrian traffic jams? This is a serious question I would love answered.

“Fact” Number Two: “People will not be shut out from this historic and public space. Protests and assemblies will continue at Alamo Plaza. It will remain open to the public.”

Essentially, all of the non-existent fencing sketchily depicted above will sever Alamo Plaza into two parcels – the Alamo fortress footprint on the north and the smaller Plaza de Valero fronting the Menger Hotel and RiverCenter Mall on the south. Planners make absolutely no secret of the goal of attempting to keep protesters out of the northern portion. Plaza de Valero is the designated area for “public expression,”  traditionally referred to as the exercise of free speech.


Fact Number Three: “Closing Alamo Street does not mean there won’t be a north-south connection for vehicles across downtown. The plan proposes a nearby alternative for traffic.”

I sure hope they engage an amazingly talented traffic engineer to work out the automobile traffic patterns. As someone who understands what it is like today to sit through multiple lights heading north on Navarro or south on Losoya or St. Mary’s or to crawl along behind horse carriages on Presa Street, I will let this rendering demonstrating “enhanced connectivity” speak for itself.

“Fact” Number Four: “A decision has not been made about razing five buildings across from Alamo Plaza.”

I am labeling this false because these buildings have always been in the crosshairs of those who are uncompromising in their desire “to restore the Alamo footprint as much as possible.” The way the plan is presented makes it obvious the consultants have made their decision. Certainly, the Editorial Board has made itself clear during the past several years about its desire for the mission footprint to be restored.

While offering token lip-service to “tell the in-depth history of the Alamo area to the present day….;” the redesign of Alamo Plaza is all about the 1836 battle. The plan blatantly labels the five referenced buildings as “non-contributing structures” that must be “addressed.” In the rendering below, they are addressed by erasure. Historic landmarks are reduced to flattened camel-colored rectangles with no mass.

And, voila! Instead of adaptive reuse of valued historic landmarks whose worthiness is well-documented, you now have a vacant lot for the “rail” representing the original western wall of the compound and a new museum facility.

While theoretically the decision has not been made on the buildings’ fate, the planners desire to demolish is obvious. The public presentations are called “conversations,” but are they mere shams?

According to an article in the Rivard Report by Iris Dimmick, City Councilman Roberto Trevino, who serves on the Alamo Management Committee and co-chairs the Citizens Advisory Committee, a study will be commissioned to determine the merit of preserving the structures. As though their history and condition is an unknown.

Dimmick reports Council RepresentativeTrevino:

…said it’s unlikely that other major components of the plan would change.

The design team “picked up where the master plan left off,” Trevino said. “Continuing the debate (about road closures and managed access), I don’t think that’s in line with the guiding principles.”

However, he said, pedestrian access, in general, is something on which the team is still working.

While the plan does indicate the buildings’ fates have not yet been sealed, the plan offers no alternative pedestrian routes than the ones illustrated. Fencing off the footprint is the only option presented for consideration.

The Editorial Board of the Express-News terms much of the opposition raised to the plan “hyperbole:”

Yes, the plan does include landscaping, rails and some hidden fencing to control pedestrian flow to the site. That’s far different from “restricting access” as the San Antonio Conservation Society has asserted. It’s about crowd control and guiding visitors during daytime hours when the Alamo itself is open to the public. Outside of those hours, people can still visit the plaza and admire the church.

I vehemently disagree. Call a fence a fence.

And the time to disagree is now. Because if San Antonians are quiet, the next version of the plan will pick up where this plan left off. Much like Trevino indicates road closures somehow already are a done-deal, the fencing closing off Alamo Plaza, a dedicated city park, will get cemented into the plan. And, if you value the historic landmarks lining the west side of the plaza, the time to express that is now.

Both my opinion and that of the Editorial Board of the Express-News are biased. I urge you to read the plan to make an informed decision about the “facts.”

If you have concerns about the plan, please consider signing the online petition the San Antonio Conservation Society has made available: Save Alamo Plaza! at change.org.