Breaking News

‘Reset’ saved Alamo project from unraveling in 2021 as work has resumed to improve the historic site

‘Reset’ saved Alamo project from unraveling in 2021 as work has resumed to improve the historic site

Just a year ago, the long-planned Alamo makeover nearly unraveled.

Some of the project’s key fundraisers resigned after the Texas Historical Commission denied a permit to move the Alamo Cenotaph a few months earlier. Then a report from the state auditor’s office in January recommended the Texas General Land Office and city of San Antonio “revise or wind down” a long-term lease regarding management of the city-owned Alamo Plaza as part of the historic mission and battle site.

Then officials announced a “reset” in March and installed a few new leaders who helped put together a new plan. The city amended the 2018 lease in April to require the Land Office and nonprofit Alamo Trust to have a design in place and funding identified for a museum and visitor center by 2026.

Since then, the $400 million project has recovered. Alamo officials completed two outdoor exhibits in the plaza in 2021 and hope to wrap up construction in late 2022 of a nearly $20 million, 24,000-square-foot exhibit hall and collections building that will house some of the 400-plus artifacts donated by rock star Phil Collins.

The recent dedication of the palisade exhibit, a partial reconstruction of a fortification built by Mexican soldiers in 1835 and expanded by Texians and Tejanos, underscores progress now occurring in the project driven by city, county and state leaders, along with philanthropists, scholars and people who simply love the Alamo.

Tennessee-based filmmaker and historical consultant Gary Foreman, who has lobbied for a safer, improved Alamo since he was nearly hit by a taxi in front of the Alamo Church in 1982, said San Antonio is finally “scratching the surface” on one of the founding sites of Texas, recognized by many around the world for the siege and battle for Texas independence in 1836.

Foreman believes the story of the Alamo can be told accurately and vividly, informing visitors of the entire 300-year recorded history of the site. But it’s the siege and battle that draw visitors, he said.

“If that’s what brings them here, do it well, and the rest of the story can be told,” Foreman said. “When people in San Antonio finally realize what makes this place unique, they will go along with defining 1836. If you can’t do 1836 really, really well, none of the other periods will do well.”

For a state feeling its way out of a pandemic, 2021 was a year of truces and compromise at the Alamo. With a decision firmly in place that the massive 1930s Cenotaph will be repaired but not moved, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Land Commissioner George P. Bush stopped feuding and have stood together in support of the project since March.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who also endorses the plan, told a crowd of nearly 200 people at the dedication that the Alamo is “a birthplace” of the city’s heritage.

When crews removed a portion of a wall at the Alamo to get equipment in as part of a $400 makeover project, they cataloged every stone so they can build the wall back to the way it was.

Jessica Phelps /Staff photographer

“While our culture and our history are diverse and range over more than three centuries, most of the world immediately recognizes this place in San Antonio for the 13 days of siege in 1836,” Nirenberg said.

The project is certain to continue stirring debate, rankling both historical traditionalists and revisionists, as it seeks to portray Mexican perspectives on the battle and the role of slavery in the Texas Revolution while interpreting the site’s recorded origins as the first permanent Spanish-Indigenous mission in San Antonio. After the battle, the Alamo was a U.S. Army depot and a commercial center before being recognized as a historic site. Three of seven downtown lunch counters that racially integrated during the civil rights movement in March 1960 were in the plaza; the rest were on nearby Houston Street.

Foreman said there’s not a more appropriate boundary for the Alamo to interpret than the palisade, which links the mission era to both sides of the war between Texas and Mexico. The Alamo’s most famous defender, David Crockett, was positioned there, along with others among the 31 Tennesseans in the garrison who were rifle marksmen.

The young Alamo commander, William Barret Travis, reported in a letter to Gen. Sam Houston early during the siege that Crockett “was seen at all points animating the men to do their duty.” That’s why Travis assigned Crockett to the palisade, Foreman said.

“If this is the weakest point of the fortress, let’s put the man there who’s going to buoy the spirits of those who are behind the walls,” he said.

The temporary exhibit, made of untreated cedar, is in the same vicinity and alignment as it would have been when constructed in 1835. But even though the exhibit shows one row of cedar posts, a debate on whether it had two rows, with dirt packed in between, may never be settled, said Kristi Miller Nichols, the Alamo’s on-site archaeologist.

Construction for the $400 million dollar Alamo project is underway. Construction crews are working on various aspects of the build out, including plumbing, electric and the elevator pit.

Construction for the $400 million dollar Alamo project is underway. Construction crews are working on various aspects of the build out, including plumbing, electric and the elevator pit.

Jessica Phelps /Staff photographer

“Because the archaeology is never conclusive as to the actual construction, it gives us a footprint. But we don’t know what it physically looked like,” she said. “I don’t think there’s going to be archaeological evidence that’s going to fully give us a firm view of what it looked like. But we’re going use both archaeology and archival data to help inform how we do things in the future.”

During the dedication, Ernesto Rodriguez, the Alamo’s senior curator and historian, read a letter that Crockett, a former Tennessee congressman, wrote to his family in early 1836, shortly after arriving in Texas.

“I had rather be in my present situation than be elected to a seat in Congress for life. I am in hopes of making a fortune yet for my self and my family,” he wrote. “Do not be uneasy about me; I am among my friends.”

Hope Andrade, an Alamo Trust board member and chair of the six-member Alamo Management Committee, said the palisade exhibit is “yet another milestone in the Alamo plan, and there are more to come.” The project team is working on “permanent exhibitions that will tell the story not just of the Battle of the Alamo, but of more than 300 years of history here,” Andrade said.

Construction for the $400 million dollar Alamo project is underway. Construction crews are working on various aspects of the build out, including plumbing, electric and the elevator pit.

Construction for the $400 million dollar Alamo project is underway. Construction crews are working on various aspects of the build out, including plumbing, electric and the elevator pit.

Jessica Phelps /Staff photographer

Other changes for the project during 2021 include:

Museum & Visitor Center

Although the plan previously considered demolishing the 1882 Crockett and 1921 Woolworth buildings, Alamo officials showed conceptual images in May that incorporate those structures into a 100,000-square-foot, $140 million museum. The targeted completion recently was delayed by one year to 2026. The design team of Gensler/GRG has structural engineers studying the buildings on the west side of the plaza for adaptation. Lists of historians serving as museum consultants and members of a newly activated museum planning committee have been posted on the Alamo website, thealamo.org.

Parade route

Rather than moving, the route of two major Fiesta street parades will remain on their traditional path south along Alamo Street, passing directly in front of the Alamo Church. The section of the route that’s in the mission-fort footprint will be treated as a reverent zone with limited or no seating. A previous version of the plan would have permanently re-routed the parades to Bonham Street, behind the Alamo grounds, then west on Crockett Street, passing the church from the side by the Menger Hotel.

Cenotaph

The city is developing a repair plan for the 56-foot-tall memorial to the fallen Alamo defenders in consultation with the Alamo Trust and the Texas Historical Commission. Experts believe rainwater seepage into the monument has caused cracks and displaced some of its marble exterior panels. The city recently secured a permit from the commission to place a low chain barrier around the monument, but plans to surround it with landscaping and lighting after repairs are made.

Delineating the Alamo footprint

Rather than lowering the historic footprint in the plaza and surrounding it with a handrail, as previously planned, Alamo officials currently intend to mark the outline of the mission with surface pavers, low walls and exhibits. Alamo officials also plan to have a recirculating water feature to represent the location of a historic mission-era acequia.

Church and Long Barrack

An archaeological exhibit is set to open in the Long Barrack in early 2022. In April, an extensive yearlong moisture-monitoring study of the church will be completed to help with a long-term strategy to preserve its delicate limestone walls. A conservation team is working on repairs to the church ceiling and mortar in the walls of both mission-era structures.

Traffic

A section of Alamo Street permanently closed June 1. The city intends to allow horse carriages and VIA Metropolitan Transit and hop-on/off tour buses to travel north on Alamo, then turn west on Commerce. Permanent traffic closures on sections of Houston and Crockett in and near the plaza are planned to enhance pedestrian safety. A previous proposal to add a northbound lane to Losoya has been eliminated.

Citizen committee

The Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee, a diverse 30-member group, including nine who crafted the project’s vision and guiding principles in 2014, continues to provide feedback to the management committee and public officials on the project. Public meeting agendas and other information on the group are posted on the city’s website. Questions and comments may be sent to [email protected]

[email protected]

https://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Reset-saved-Alamo-project-from-unraveling-16738827.php