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.

Balance the Budget by Enforcing the Code

In June, San Antonio City Council will vote on proposed amendments to the Unified Development Code (UDC).  This seems frightening, as this code governs the appearance of our cityscape.  Commercial interests have attorneys and lobbyists pouring over the language in documents such as this, objecting to things here and there and suggesting insertions beneficial to their clients.  They do not care about the little things I do (Please change Riverwalk to River Walk throughout the document.); size matters most.  Big asphalt lots without trees taking up valuable  parking spots and big, huge, giant, preferably electronic winking and blinking signs.   

I made the mistake of opening the portion of the document affecting historic districts.  Fifty square feet of signage per building in a primarily pedestrian zone, such as Alamo Plaza seems huge to me.  (I know you probably have tired of my tirades about the appearance of the plaza, but The Alamo is the most visited attraction in Texas.  If we are not taking care of this cash cow, then the rest of the city must really be going to hell.) 

What struck me most about the document is not only what is changing, but what already is on the books and clearly not enforced by the city.  It is as though San Antonio Council passes ordinances and then naively places businesses on the honor system in terms of compliance.

So I took another stroll through Alamo Plaza with the existing UDC Code in mind.  Signage regulations apply to any sign on a facade, even those on windows and doors: 

A facade shall be considered the entire area of a building elevation extending from the roof or parapet to the ground and from one corner of the building to another including the entire building walls, recessed, wall faces, parapets, fascia, windows, doors, canopy, and all other components that make one complete architectural elevation…..

Installation. Commercial signs, posters, decals or advertisements may not be tacked, nailed, pasted, painted or taped to any portion of a building, object, site or structure visible from the public right-of-way….

Signs, visual displays or graphics shall either relate to the historic district or advertise a bonafide business conducted in or on the premises….

The number of signs on each building shall be kept to a minimum to prevent unsightly clutter and confusion…..

Many of the businesses on Alamo Plaza have a multitude of infractions, but, in addition to the problems mentioned above, I am including a portion of the applicable language from the UDC under some photographs.

All of the signage regulations mentioned above remain in the proposed revisions to the UDC, but what good is it?  No one is minding the most critical storefront this city has.

Hey, Sheryl Sculley, no need to look any further than Alamo Plaza to balance the city budget.  Just send inspectors and start collecting fines on the west side of Alamo Plaza, and San Antonio should be in the black.

Note Added on June 1:   The Infrastructure and Growth City Council Committee will meet to discuss changes to the Unified Development Code (UDC) at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 8, in the Plaza B Room, Municipal Plaza on Main Plaza.

Note Added on June 6:  Can’t believe I missed this earlier, but the illegal portable sign on the left of the top left photo above actually is an advertisement for Fiesta Texas.

Note Added on June 30:  Sam’s the man!  Sam Perez is the city’s code enforcement officer downtown who is in charge of trying to keep the sidewalks free of sandwich boards and other clutter.  He has his hands full, but he has made several sweeps through Alamo Plaza recently.  Unfortunately, he can do nothing about the illegal signage in the windows – not his department.