Our chance to restore the ‘lost’ Alamo
The Alamo site plan is inching along to final approval — and it remains a plan well worth backing. Nonetheless, at various levels, this approval has occurred amid a clamor.
We don’t believe this disagreement represents the broader community view, but maybe it’s still appropriate to take stock of why there is any plan at all. That seems to have been forgotten, drowned out by the din of competing interests.
But “why” has actually been hiding in plain sight for generations. More precisely, what’s been hiding in plain sight is that the Alamo itself has been hidden — more like buried.
There actually is no Alamo. We’ve attempted to make this case in editorials for a few years now.
Douglas McDonald, Alamo executive director, explains it succinctly and accurately in his vision statement for the site.
“The Alamo — does not exist. The church known by the world as the Alamo is ‘the church of the Alamo.’ The Alamo is beneath paving, trucks, trees, concrete, buildings, cars, buses, horse-drawn carriages, commercial vendors, street preachers, assemblies for all types of causes, and behaviors which are sometimes delightful, but many times disrespectful.”
And because the Alamo — save for a church and a barrack — does not exist, its history is decidedly hard to tell. The Gettysburg battlefield and other monuments to historic events elsewhere in the country tell their stories well. Simply, the Alamo in its current partial state does not — because it cannot.
Again, McDonald: The ability to tell — and show — the history is “woefully compromised by what exists and what does not exist at the Alamo.”
Yes, the Alamo exists in the hearts and minds of anyone who is stirred by the history surrounding those 13 days of glory and what came before and after. But practically speaking, the Alamo has been subsumed into urban landscape, complete with vehicle traffic rumbling through and carnivallike activities near and on the site where people — Texans, Tejanos and Mexicans — died fighting for what they believed in.
Much of what the Alamo was — in that historic 1836 footprint — has been lost. Much of it has become a city-owned Alamo Plaza, with a Cenotaph added in 1939 that is now in need of repair and does not contain the ashes of the fallen. There is a gazebo more appropriate for a public park and a band than a site of reverence. And there are buildings said to be historic but whose contemporary uses speak to anything but that history.
Still, we have had segments of the community essentially arguing to preserve what has consumed the Alamo.
The Alamo plan does not eliminate the Cenotaph — it moves it to a place still in the footprint. There still will be public access — albeit more managed — to the site. Public speech more in keeping with any random street corner than a historic monument still will be nearby. The parade tradition of laying wreaths is preserved, with a more unhindered public viewing possible. And still under active study is the ultimate use of the so-called Crockett block — housing a world-class museum in the buildings in their restored entirety or a museum built with relevant portions of it remaining among the options.
There has, in fact, been active effort at coexistence — preserving the latter-day traditions of the site while trying to restore and delineate, as much as is practical, the physical presence that can help tell why the Alamo is worth remembering. There will be more shaded pedestrian space, a museum complemented by interpretations and exhibits on the grounds, and street closures, and the entire space will grow from just under 6 acres for visitors to wander around away from traffic to 12.6 acres of pedestrian space, with a lot more shade.
The community is on the cusp of a historic and long overdue recapturing of the history of the Alamo, honoring not just the 1836 battle — for which visitors largely come — but the Native American, Spanish and Mexican history that predate it and the historic currents that the battle begat. That includes creation of the Republic of Texas and all that, in turn, sparked.
This plan has been long in the making. It now moves for approval to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, city boards, the City Council (perhaps by October), with review by the Texas Historical Commission. The mayor is adopting a take-it-slower approach — no council action until after the general election.
Whatever the timing, why a plan? Simple: to find, restore and otherwise delineate what never should have been lost in the first place.
This opportunity cannot be squandered.