Most precious part of Zilker Botanical Garden reflects the spirit of one man

The drawing-rooms of one of the most magnificent private residences in Austin are a blaze of lights. Carriages line the streets in front, and from gate to doorway is spread a velvet carpet, on which the delicate feet of the guests may tread. The occasion is the entrance into society of one of the fairest buds in the City of the Violet Crown.

“Tictoca,” William Sydney Porter (O. Henry), The Rolling Stone, October 27, 1894

Clara Driscoll Sevier, who loved flowers to the point of promoting a rose garden next to the Alamo as more desirable than saving its historic convent walls, found Austin lacking a garden club for women. To remedy this, she invited a group of ladies to Laguna Gloria, her home that is now The Contemporary Austin, to establish one in 1924. O. Henry’s reference to the violet-crowned hills of Austin inspired the name for the new group, the Violet Crown Garden Club.

Annual flower shows were the primary focus of the club until 1946 when members set aside modest seed money of $50 to initiate efforts to seek space in the city’s Zilker Park for a botanical garden. The Violet Crown Garden Club recruited six other garden clubs to join its quest and their persistence finally resulted in the 1964 completion of the Austin Area Garden Center building in what became the Zilker Botanical Garden.

Continue reading “Most precious part of Zilker Botanical Garden reflects the spirit of one man”

Toast the Historical Assessment of the experts or mistrust the Alamo Trust?

alamo plaza buildings historical assessment

Above from left to right: The Crockett Block (1882); the Palace Theater (1923); and the Woolworth Building (1921) on the west side of the plaza facing the Alamo

Been dreading the arrival of the Historical Assessment of a trio of historic buildings on the west side of Alamo Plaza conducted by John G. Waite Associates for the Alamo Trust. My trust eroded by a dearth of information emanating from the Alamo during the past several years, I assumed the instructions given the architectural firm might have been skewed to doom them to the wrecking ball. But I must have been wrong.

The conclusions reached by the study are a dream come true for preservationists and proponents of adaptive reuse. The landmarks are viewed as prime for transformation into a visitor center and museum for the Alamo.

Continue reading “Toast the Historical Assessment of the experts or mistrust the Alamo Trust?”

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.