Two and a half million people visit the Alamo in the San Antonio, Texas, annually. According to the Alamo’s Web site, they come to see where “men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.” Whether that is truly the purpose, the Alamo, which was actually an 18th-century Spanish mission and was named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) earlier this year, is about to undergo a renovation. But, in revamping the nearby buildings in the heart of the city, there is a debate about the plans and what remembering the Alamo and making it a “worthwhile” attraction really should entail.
The $48 million face-lift is supposed to help make the landmark into a broader, more dimensional attraction. Toward that end, the plan includes buying nearby buildings, developing a master plan for it and other attractions, and creating a museum to house the 200 plus Alamo artifacts collected and donated by musician Phil Collins.
The debate is over what is really appropriate to tell the story of the mission, the underlying tensions over slavery and independence that led to the battle, and how the city developed around the site. Many people who visit the Alamo do not immediately recognize the well-known building because it is surrounded and dwarfed by the bustling downtown area of the city that grew up surrounding it. For example, the River Walk, with its countless hotels; Rivercenter Mall; Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and 65,000-seat Alamodome are all close by. The effect is of a small one-story house sitting on a block with far larger buildings.
Some in San Antonio are pushing for the Alamo site to be transform from what they call “a one-dimensional attraction” into something broader with more to see (and remember?). Others, focusing on the history of the mission and battle, would like to retain its present emphasis. Still others, including the management of the neighboring Ripley’s and Guinness World Records Museum attractions, envision a combined mega-site, which some are fearing with have an commercial, amusement park feel.
Some want the Alamo to offer catchier exhibits and displays. “History in and of itself will not sell,” according to Davis Phillips, president and CEO of Phillips Entertainment, which owns the Ripley’s and Guinness sites. “History, presented in the right way, can sell.”
“We can combine entertainment with history without being Disneyland,” commented Betty Edwards, president general of the Daughters of the Republic. The organization managed the Alamo grounds for over a century, but the state of Texas took over operations this year. The Daughters of the Republic still has a research center at the Alamo that houses a 38,000-item archival collection. The group is also afraid some of the plans do not give the appropriate respect and reverence to a mission site where so many Native Americans died or those who died in the 1836 battle.
Director of the Center for the Study of the Southwest at Texas State University, Jesus F. de la Teja, said the Alamo has been turned into a “living ruin.” He believes it does not really tell the story of the city and its many cultures. “San Antonio grew up around it, so let’s tell that story,” he said.
The intention is to reportedly hire a firm to develop a master plan over the next year. Remembering and revising The Alamo as it is now (and has been) will still be possible for a while before the fighting and revamping really get going.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Washington Post: As face-lift eyed for Alamo, critics call for broader scope
San Antonio Express News: Alamo event commemorates Siege of Béxar
Christian Science Monitor: As Alamo eyed for face-lift, officials debate how to rebuild