By Dr. Bruce Winders, Alamo Historian & Curator
The one thing that I’ve learned after being at the Alamo for twenty-one years is that there is a great amount of misinformation surrounding our state’s most treasured site. These ideas are often held by people who care passionately about the site and its history. My task as the Alamo’s curator and historian is to help separate fact from fiction so that visitors understand what has taken place here and why it matters.
Once, I spoke with a visitor who insisted that David Crockett was just a cartoon character. Clearly, this person was mistaken, despite the strength of his conviction. Knowing that Crockett was a real person is important to the Alamo’s story.
Another time, a representative from a prominent lingerie company wanted to use the Alamo as a backdrop for a photo shoot because it made such a picturesque setting. The pastel lighting they planned to use, he said, would make it look divine. We asked him if they would do something like that at the Vietnam War Memorial. He replied that, of course, they wouldn’t, because it wouldn’t be right. Our director then pointed out that was the same reason there would be no lingerie shoot at the Alamo. Facts and tone are important to us.
I have dealt with competing notions of the Alamo for years. The fact is, what the Alamo means to one person may not be what it means to someone else at all. Any effort to make changes at the site immediately causes devotees to put up their guards and prepare to defend their respective positions.
Today’s battle is being fought on the internet. The current Alamo master plan has generated a flurry of comments that are being expressed on social media. In an effort to set the issue straight, I’d like to clarify what is really happening by addressing some questions we are currently being asked.
First, no, the Alamo is not being renamed. In the early 1800s, when the Alamo was no longer being used as a mission, a troop of Spanish presidial soldiers from Alamo de Parras occupied the compound. It then became known as the Alamo, and its name remains the Alamo today. Some claim there are plans to go back to the mission name, but that has never been proposed.
Second, the 1836 battle is central to the site’s history and will remain so. Every day at the Alamo, we tell the story of the 1836 siege and battle. A key element of the plan is to define the footprint of the historic battlefield, allowing us to introduce even more educational programs into the area for visitors and school groups, living history, and ceremonies and activities that honor the site and the men who died here.
There is also false information about the physical setting and environment in which the site will exist. The plans are to remove the “carnival-like atmosphere” that now greets visitors, not expand it. Today, the 1836 battlefield is covered with asphalt streets and sidewalks. Cars and buses drive across it every day. Have you ever tried to talk to school children in the plaza or conduct a tour there over the street noise? I have, and it’s extremely difficult and challenging. Most visitors do not realize they are standing on sacred ground.
The goal is to create a space where visitors can learn and reflect on their experience. Restoring reverence to the battlefield will only happen when greater control is placed over traffic, street preachers, boxing matches, etc. The creation of the 20,000 square feet of dynamic 1836 battle exhibits in the Crockett Block and the adjacent buildings will drastically alter the current environment, making it clear to visitors that the Alamo has a larger historical footprint than they imagined. The tone will improve.
Most importantly, though, preservation of the Alamo’s historic structures is the plan’s first and most urgent priority. Scientific studies have been conducted on the church and the long barrack, and conservation specialists are reviewing their findings in order to develop strategies to preserve their integrity. Additionally, an archeological component will be built into the plan so we can continue to learn about the Alamo that lies just below the surface. Both are indicative that the General Land Office is taking seriously its responsibility to safeguard the Alamo for future generations.
As we saw with the tabling of the early structural glass wall concept, the plan is still evolving and will continue to do so for some time. I am certain, however, that what moves forward will be innovative, thoughtful, and appropriate for an important historical icon like the Alamo.
People are passionate about the Alamo. This is why there have been several plans over the years to reinterpret Alamo Plaza as a more meaningful and reverent site. The current master plan intends to do just that: Revitalize the space while returning reverence to what we all agree is hallowed ground.
The Alamo deserves a thoughtful and truthful planning process. Until more official information comes out, let’s remember Winston Churchill’s admonishment that, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”