When we visited Paris in 2018, one of our “must see” sites was Monet’s house and gardens in the small French Village of Giverny.
Giverny is a short hour and a half ride from Paris into the French countryside of the Normandy region.
Monet and his family lived at Giverny in a modest, but colorful, cottage from 1883, until his death in 1924. It was at Giverny, among his beautiful surrounding gardens, that he created some of his most amazing and renowned works of art.
And as you walk its grounds, if you’re a Monet fan, you can see the places he used in his masterful works.
The History of Monet’s House and Gardens
After Monet’s death, the cottage and gardens passed to his only son Michel Monet. Michel hardly ever visited Giverny, so it was up to his step-sister Blanche Hoschede Monet, who was a gifted artist herself, to look after the property. Blanche maintained the grounds, along with the help from Monet’s former gardener Louis Lebret, until her death in 1947. After that the house and gardens went untended, becoming overrun and slowly deteriorating.
When Michel was killed in an auto accident in 1966 the house and gardens passed to the Paris Academie des Beaux-Arts (Academy of Fine Arts), which he had bequeath it in his will. In 1977 the Academy gave oversite of the grounds to Gerald Van der Kemp, the former curator of the Palace of Versailles. Van der Kemp was the person that earnestly began the much needed restoration of the cottage and gardens. In 1980 control of the estate was again transferred, this time to the Fondation Claude Monet (Foundation Claude Monet). This organization’s sole purpose is to continue the restoration and the day-to-day operation of the Estate.
Monet’s cottage is a really interestingly built house. When seen from the outside gardens its long and two stored, giving the impression of being a very large home. However, this is deceiving; for once inside you find that the house maybe long, but it’s not very deep. The width of the cottages is only one room.
We found that the line to tour the inside of his home was long, and were told it’s always that way. However, thankfully it moved quickly. Once inside you follow an outlined route that takes you through: the blue salon reading room, Monet’s living room/studio, the dining room, and the beautiful blue-titled kitchen.
The Fondation Claude Monet is continually renovating the house: In 2013 they finished the first floor family rooms as well as his wife’s, Alice Hoschede Monet, bedroom. That same year they also reconstructed Blanche Hoschede Monet’s room, using uncovered archive photos, as well as other existing elements found in the house for their work.
When you leave the main house you can wander over to the large building next to it. It was within this building that Monet painted some of his most famous works of art, notably his large water lily murals. Today this building holds the gift shop.
The Garden by the Cottage
This garden is formally known as the Clos-Normand. Monet himself laid out the garden shortly after moving to Giverny. He planted thousands of verities of flowers in straight-lined patterns spreading out from the cottage. One of the garden’s most stunning features is the long and wide metal trellis that runs from the road up to the cottage.
The Lily Pond Garden
In 1873 Monet purchased the vacant land across the road from his home. He then worked with the village officials to divert water from a branch of the Epte River, creating a large pond.
Monet was very much taken with Japanese culture, so he planted around this pond a wide variety of oriental plants. He also added a green Japanese bridge to complete the setting. Many of his paintings feature this bridge, making it the most recognizable Japanese bridge in the world. Today there are two Japanese bridges, one at each end of the pond.
Some of Monet’s most famous works were painted from the banks of this pond, or from a small boat on it. The most well known is his water lily series of paintings, that includes the large murals.
The Haystack Field
Just a short walk down the road from the cottage is an open field where Monet painted his equally famous haystack paintings. Each painting depicts one of the four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Today they’ve recreated those haystacks in the field for us tourists.
For this post I only used one source:
Wikipedia . “Fondation Monet in Giverny.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 15 Aug. 2019, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fondation_Monet_in_Giverny.
It was during my first visit to the Alamo in 1986 that I heard it, I remember it well; it came from a boy, about seven or so years old, standing there in the middle of the Alamo church with his father, mother and little sister. He was looking up at his dad with a very confused stare as he asked his question, “Daddy is this all there is?”
Sadly, that’s the way
it is for so many visitors coming to see the Alamo; is that all there is? They only see the two lonely buildings
sitting in the middle of one of the nation’s busiest cities, causing them to
leave feeling cheated. They don’t realize that most of the 1836 Alamo lies
hidden and buried beneath one of the city’s most popular plaza parks and
In this post I’ll present how different groups put pressure on the City of San Antonio and the State of Texas to take action, not only to save and to restore the frail Alamo church and Long Barracks, but also to restore the fort’s original footprint, and the dignity of that hallowed ground.
Also, I’ll present some early proposals for reclaiming the Alamo’s original compound that would eventually lead to one of the most historic agreements in the 300 year history of the Alamo.
Davy Crockett returns to the Alamo
In 1994, Davy Crockett (Fess Parker) returned to the Alamo. Parker was the guest of honor at the Alamo Society’s symposium that year. During his presentation Parker addressed what he called the “current battle going on across the street,” referring to Alamo Plaza. He pleaded that the city, county and state, “should be large enough, wise enough, and creative enough, to pull back away from the Alamo, as we see it across the street, the chapel; and give it space.” Parker went on to say he felt that politics should be put aside so that the full story of the Alamo can be told, and that none of the participates in that battle should be left out, “…that struggle is universal.”
During the question and answer portion of Parker’s presentation a gentleman from San Antonio stood and informed the group that Parker had helped to found the Alamo Foundation, a group dedicated to the historical preservation of Alamo Plaza. He also added how the foundation had recently helped fund archaeological studies on Alamo Plaza. He then went on to tell of a newly formed Mayor’s committee, who along with other civic groups, were working together to restore Alamo Plaza, and that, “In the next few years we’ll see our dream come about.”
The Alamo Plaza Study Committee of 1994
The committee that the gentleman was referring to was the Alamo Plaza Study Committee, formed by then Mayor Nelson Wolff, along with the City Council. This committee’s stated purpose for the city owned plaza was:
Determine the best way to design the closing of Alamo Plaza East on a permanent basis:
Research available data to establish historically information concerning Alamo Plaza:
Review and evaluate different options to better define and represent the battle and other periods of history of the plaza including past and present studies:
Prepare recommendations for City Council regarding the best long term plans for the Plaza including the appropriate historical interpretation of Alamo Plaza and recognition and respect for area burials, signage, pedestrian and vehicular circulation, visitor loading and unloading, access for the disabled and other pertinent issues:
Submit the committee’s written report of its finding and recommendations to City Council by October 1, 1994.
The City Council appointed twenty-four members to this committee composed of representatives from: various San Antonio civic groups, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, local property owners, historians, and one media representative.
The Committee held its first meeting on March 10, 1994 at the Menger Hotel, next door to the Alamo. The committee worked for six months in preparing their list of key recommendations which included: closing the streets to traffic around the Plaza, removing the street curbs, and the creation of a visitor center/museum.
The committee also recommended that if any “replicated” buildings or walls of the old Alamo fort be constructed that they should be of a different material and not the same color as the two original Alamo buildings. Their reasoning being that they didn’t want to give, “a false sense of history” with the replicates.
However, the major eyesores that most visitors to the Alamo complain about, the businesses along the west side of Alamo Plaza, the committee firmly chose to oppose the removal of those businesses and buildings. Perhaps this was because some of those business and property owners sat on the committee. Also, the city only had a limited say on these privately owned properties and businesses.
After six months they submitted their report, for which they were thanked by the mayor and council for their time and hard work. In the end the 1994 Alamo Plaza Study Committee’s report was shelved, with nothing being accomplished, not even removing the traffic from around the Alamo.
However, even though the 1994 committee’s recommendations went nowhere there was one proposal created by that committee’s sole media member that still resonates today.
David Richelieu’s “Alamo Park”
David Anthony Richelieu, then a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, conceived of a plan that would recapture the footprint of the original Alamo compound and transform it into a historical park. Richelieu felt that his park would help visitors to visualize the extent that was the Alamo fort, while still bringing reverence to its hallowed grounds.
Richelieu’s plan called for closing the streets surrounding
the Alamo and Alamo Plaza, then tearing up all the concrete curbs and asphalt. He
would then replace the streets with grass lawns, trees and flagstone walkways. His
plan also called for expanding the borders beyond the original compound’s
footprint: west to Losoya Street, north across E. Houston Street, and south to
Richelieu’s plan called for the demolition of the Woolworth, Palace, and Gibbs buildings and to relocate the Crockett Building. This would allow for the construction of a replica of the Alamo’s west wall and buildings. In addition his plan also included the construction of replicas of the fort’s Low Barracks main gate and its cannon platforms and ramps on the southwest and northwest corners. Richelieu also called for relocating the Alamo Cenotaph to the north end, outside of the fort’s original footprint.
Richelieu proposed leasing the first floor of the massive Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and Courthouse, which sits were the Alamo’s north wall was, to house a permanent Alamo museum. Inside the museum he called for a replica of the north wall and its cannon battery to be built, on the exact spot where it had stood and where Travis fell.
To add an extra historical dimension to his park he wanted statues of famous Alamo defenders and mission period figures placed throughout.
Although David Richelieu’s vision never had any serious consideration in 1994 it’s interesting to note how many of Richelieu’s ideas would resurface in future proposals.
It would take seventeen years after Fess Parker made his plea before any movement to reclaim Alamo Plaza would take place, then only after organizations became more vocal in their fight for the Alamo and its battlefield plaza.
There was one group that was clearly heard with their cry: REMEMBER, RECLAIM, RESTORE.
The Alamo Plaza Project
On March 6, 2011, during the 175th Anniversary of the battle, my wife and I were in Alamo Plaza when we noticed a small group standing near the stone wall where the Alamo’s main gate had been. This group seemed to be collecting petition signatures, and what attracted me to go over and talk was their sign, which read: REMEMBER, RECLAIM, RESTORE.
These were members of the Alamo Plaza Project; their goal is to recapture the historic original Alamo compound and to bring reverence and respect to that hallowed ground; And of course, I added my name to the petition.
The Alamo Plaza Restoration Project is the campaign led by the non-profit, Texas History Center at Alamo Plaza Inc. The organization’s 2011 president Jack Cowan, a San Antonio resident, has described the Alamo as still being under siege; not by the Mexican army, but by the city and the businesses invading the historic site. “The Alamo is the number one historic site in Texas,” states Cowan, “and San Antonio treats it like a stepchild. It doesn’t get any of the respect it deserves.”
This group has been one of the most influential in pushing for major changes to Alamo Plaza. Their aim to “raise the consciousness” of the plight of the historic Alamo has been greatly promoted by their business manager, film maker Gary Forman. Through his production company, Native Sun Productions, Forman has produced a series of videos focused on the lack of respect given to the Alamo battlefield. In his video, Alamo Plaza: A Star Reborn, he presents the organizations own visionary plan for restoring the Alamo battlefield.
The Alamo Plaza: A Star Reborn design is in many ways similar to David Richelieu’s: removal of traffic from the streets around the Alamo and Plaza, relocate or demolish the commercial buildings on the west side of Alamo Plaza, construct replicas of the Alamo’s west wall, buildings, and the fort’s 1836 main gate and south wall.
In this plan the Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building would be completely occupied, not just its first floor. Inside would be a major state of the art multimedia center and museum; and as in Richelieu’s plan, there’d also be a reconstructed north wall and cannon battery.
Also in this plan, as in Richelieu’s, the Alamo Cenotaph would be relocated, this time to the south end of the Plaza, outside of the Alamo’s original footprint.
But unlike Richelieu’s vision the Alamo Plaza Project’s concept would not be a park, with walkways and trees. Theirs is for a wide open space where the compound was, that’s surrounded by the main gate replica, the Alamo Church and Long Barracks, the reconstructed west wall, and at the north end, the federal building museum.
In Forman’s 2013 video, Alamo Plaza Project, Dallas resident Rick Range makes a heartfelt call for the State of Texas to take action:
“I believe that the State of Texas needs to step in, and take control of this area, and make it into what it should have been for decades past. It’s a disgrace what’s been allowed to happen to this area. Ah, it’s beyond belief, it’s disrespectful, and I would love to see the State of Texas step-up and do what needs to be done.”
Two years after Range’s call for action, and after viewing the video Alamo Plaza: A Star is Born, with its visionary design, the Texas Legislature voted to provide funding to begin the restoration process of Alamo Plaza and to repair and preserve the Church and Long Barracks.
The State of Texas
steps-up, in a BIG way
The State of Texas has owned the Alamo’s Church and Long Barracks, as well as the grounds behind them, for decades. But for the most part the state took a “hands off” attitude on its upkeep and management, instead leaving that at first to the City of San Antonio and then to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
In the late 1980s the state began getting pressure from many special interest groups to transfer control of the Alamo from the DRT to: the League of United Latin American Citizens, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and then the Texas Historical Commission. However the DRT was able to retain control of the Alamo complex, due support from the City of San Antonio and then Governor George W. Bush.
However in 2010, after getting complaints and reports of negligence and mismanagement, the Texas Attorney General conducted an investigation into the administration of the Alamo complex by the DRT. His finding showed that indeed the DRT had been negligent in the fiduciary duties. With these findings the state legislature transferred oversite of the Alamo to the General Land Office (GLO), the state’s oldest agency, in 2011. This would begin a chain of events that would alter the Alamo’s future.
The Texas state bill that allowed for the transfer of the Alamo from the DRT to the GLO was HB 3726. This bill also gave the GLO the authorization to partner with, or to create, non-profit organizations to help manage, or to support, their efforts with the Alamo. This ability would also play greatly in the developing future of the Alamo.
The first organization to be created under HB 3726 was the Alamo Endowment in 2012. The Alamo Endowment’s primary mission was to create an endowment fund and to spearhead capital fundraising drives which would allow the Alamo complex to operate self-sufficiently. Although the Alamo Endowment is a private non-profit organization it’s still overseen by the GLO.
In March of 2015 came the first major the surprise when Commissioner George P. Bush, nephew the George W. Bush, announced that the GLO would be taking over the day to day operations of the Alamo from the DRT, ending their more than an century of custodianship.
In defense of the DRT, this organization had fought to save
the Alamo’s buildings, and for decades preserved their dignity when others,
including the city and state, were indifferent. And yes their oversite greatly
lacked what was needed in maintaining and preserving these old and historic
treasures, but they proudly tried. What if they had more guidance and support
in the care of the Alamo, would their tradition have continued?
The next major development came in October of that same year, when the GLO paid $14.4 million to purchase the Woolworth, Palace and Crockett buildings. This also came as a big surprise to many, especially Davis Phillips, owner of Phillips Entertainment which operates the businesses that have drawn the most criticism for their affront to the dignity of the battleground.
Although the GLO, and the buildings leasers, say that their long term leases will be honored, the writing is still on the wall. The nearly 100,000 sq. ft. of space that these buildings offer, and that they also sit on the site of the fort’s west wall and Travis’s headquarters , are crucial to any redevelopment plans for the plaza.
The biggest hindrance for any true restoration of the Alamo’s 1836 compound had been that the property was owned by four different entities: the State of Texas, the City of San Antonio, the Federal Government and commercial property owners. Now with the purchase of the buildings along Alamo Plaza Street this was cut to just three: the State of Texas, the City of San Antonio, and the Federal Government. However, the majority of the Alamo’s 1836 site is now owned by just two, the state and the city. And this is when the provisions of HR 3726 come further into play. This gave the GLO the legal authority to enter into a very historic agreement with the City of San Antonio.
An historic agreement
In 2014 the City of San Antonio established the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee, with the mission to update the 1994 Alamo Plaza Study Committee’s report and recommendations. Their task would also include creating a vision and guiding principles for Alamo Plaza and to create a master plan for its redevelopment.
That December the City Council adopted the committee’s vision and guiding principles, however before they moved forward in developing their own master plan, the GLO approached them with a proposal; working together to develop a common master plan that would be in the best interest of the Alamo.
In October of 2015 the City Council passed a cooperative agreement to work with the GLO and the Alamo Endowment Board to develop a joint master plan, which would not only include Alamo Plaza, the Alamo complex, but also the greater Alamo Plaza Historic District.
The Alamo Plaza Historic District was named to the list of the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. This district goes far beyond Alamo Plaza and the Alamo complex; it’s boundaries roughly are: Broadway/Losoya Street, E. Commerce Street, Bonham Street and Travis Street.
The agreement between the city and state outlined what each of the party’s responsibilities and the management roles would be in the development and implementation of a master plan. Also the Advisory Committee was expanded to include appointees by the GLO.
This agreement also dictated that the Committee’s Vision and Guiding Principles would be the basis in developing the new master plan. To help manage the plannings development they formed the Alamo Management Committee.
The Management Committee selected the Philadelphia Pennsylvania firm, Preservation Design Partnership LLC (PDP), under Dr. George C. Skarmeas, to lead in the planning process. PDP, a rather small historic preservation and architectural firm, and Dr. Skarmeas have an impressive resume when it comes to planning and designing historic sites, such as: the US Supreme Court building in Washington DC; Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Capital; the Cincinnati Museum Center at the Cincinnati Union Terminal to name but a few. Also, Dr. Skarmeas was appointed Commissioner on the US Commission of UNESCO, which deals with matters of World Heritage sites. The Alamo and the other San Antonio Missions were added as an UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015.
Even though PDP wasn’t a Texas firm, it did seem like a good choice. All the pieces seemed to be in place. A reputable preservation firm had been hired, and for the first time since 1836, the entire Alamo compound is now under one entities management. What could go wrong?
But as columnist Glenn Effler wrote in his 2017 San Antonio Express-News article, “Reimagine the Alamo? Ok, but the master plan doesn’t:”
“…it’s became clear that the State of Texas and the City of San Antonio are demonstrating to the nation and the world why you should never entrust an historic site to politicians and bureaucrats.”
My next post: The History of the Alamo, Part XII: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly!
Some of my sources:
Casey, Rick. “A
Modern-Day Surrender at the Alamo.” The Rivard Report, The Rivard Report,
9 Oct. 2018, therivardreport.com/a-modern-day-surrender-at-the-alamo/.
“We are literally witnessing a disintegration of the church right before our eyes,” was the comment made by nationally known heritage consultant George Skarmeas to the San Antonio Express-News on the dire condition of the Alamo’s church.
In 2011, the Alamo was placed under the control of the State’s General Land Office (GLO), and on May 12, 2015 the GLO took over the complete day to day operations and caretaking of the Alamo from DRT, ending a 107 year conservatorship. Although the DRT had helped to save the Alamo’s two remaining buildings, and to maintain them, they really didn’t have the expertise on what to do, or not do, to better preserve these century old structures.
In this, the tenth in my series on the history of the Alamo compound, I’ll tell how the GLO is assessing the conditions of the Alamo’s two remaining buildings, and how their putting to use the 5 million dollars of emergency funding to save them before their lost forever.
The Long Barracks
The first, and most looming, peril to the structural conditions of the Alamo’s remaining buildings came when signs that the Long Barrack’s roof was beginning to fail.
After almost being torn down in the early part of the 20th century the Long Barracks would only be partially rebuilt between 1913 and 1916, when funds to finish the project ran out. The ruins would stand roofless and overgrown by vines until 1968, when the DRT would finally roof it. The DRT then moved its museum from its first location, now the Alamo gift shop, to the Long Barracks.
When the roof’s failure was discovered the GLO quickly moved; Cram Roofing of San Antonio, who has worked on other historical buildings, was contracted to replace the failing roof and repair the water damage to the old walls before it was irreversible.
This project was one of the most difficult for Cram Roofing. Normally they’d anchor their work platforms to the outer walls of the building; however, this couldn’t be done due to the fragile conditions of the barrack’s old stone walls. Instead the entire 5,500 sq. ft. of the Long Barrack’s exterior had to be completely enveloped in scaffolding.
Add to that another issue, an average of 7,000 visitors a day tour the grounds of the Alamo, and the GLO didn’t want them contending with workers moving equipment and materials onto the site when it was open. So Cram needed to deliver all items needed for each days work before the Alamo opened at 9am, and wait until after 5:30pm before removing anything.
Over a ten week period the company removed the entire old
roof, down to the stone, and completely replaced it with a new more efficient
one, while still keeping the buildings historical integrity.
Also, a recent archaeological survey of the Long Barracks
answered a long standing question; did the reconstructed walls of 1913-1916
have any historical accuracy? What was discovered was, yes. Those doing the
reconstruction back then had indeed used the Barrack’s original foundations.
Although only its west wall is somewhat original the Alamo’s
Long Barracks is still an important link in the Alamo story.
Saving the crumbing Alamo Shrine
The Alamo church is the most original of the two remaining structures, and also in the greatest danger. For over three centuries the Alamo church had suffered much, and there never was any real attempt to do an extensive assessment on its condition until 2015.
In 2015, the state commissioned two restoration experts to
head the preservation efforts: Ivan Myjer, a stone conservator from Boston, who
has worked on historical sites around the world, and master stone mason
Miroslav Maler. These two men spent a month atop a crane going over the Alamo
church inch by inch to determine the extent of the damage, and on how to repair
Using radar and x-ray imagery it was discovered that the church’s walls had been poorly constructed by its original mission builders, who had not used proper reinforcement between its outer walls, only loose rubble.
It was also discovered that over 2 feet of soil, and other debris, had built up over the centuries around base of the church. This allowed ground water to slowly creep up into the foundation, weakening it.
Further testing also showed other factors having a devastating effect on the church were: vibrations from traffic, acid rain and the harsh Texas climate.
To help reduce some of the traffic vibration, as part of the “reimagining” of Alamo Plaza, the City of San Antonio will be closing the streets that surround the Alamo.
To help stem the effects from the rising ground water, the GLO will be clearing away the accumulated soil and other materials down to the church’s original foundation.
Another concern, that’s hardly noticed by visitors, is that the famous Alamo façade is dotted with mold. This mold is slowly eating away at the limestone, further weakening it. In addition large sections of the church’s façade has been lost due to weathering and vandalism. All of these areas needed to be addressed in a proper restoration process, and this is what Myjer and Maler specialize in.
Where the deterioration is extremely bad the restores use a process that’s used throughout the world on other historical structures, such as the Parthenon in Athens and the Colosseum in Rome. Reconstructions are made of the effected areas that mirror the original. These reconstructions are made out of crushed limestone and other materials which is consistent with materials used in the 18th century, when the Alamo was first constructed. These new pieces are then carefully reinserted into the damaged areas giving it the look of the original.
Another task for the restorers is to correct some of the earlier faulty repairs. While some of these corrections can be done, using the process I described above, other alterations that had been made through the years, such as non-original windows and doors, will remain for fear of harming the surrounding stone.
Still the greatest threat to the integrity of the Alamo church remains what the DRT had unknowingly done: the Alamo church’s cement roof and air-conditioning.
Again as I tell in Part VII, the moisture imbalance caused by the Alamo’s air-conditioning is causing the church’s walls to literally crumble away. I saw this for myself during my 2018 visit. In the side rooms of the church black butcher paper has been laid along the walls where they are collecting the chunks that fall off. The restorers are using this to gauge the rate of deterioration.
One of the ideas to help reduce the moisture imbalance created by the air-conditioning is to dial up the temperature and let the natural process of the thick limestone walls do their natural work. As for the heavy roof, that is still to be decided.
Not taking the Alamo for granted any longer
Since the GLO has been in charge the work of saving and restoring these last two remaining buildings has been their top, and urgent, priority. And after the decades of neglect their work is just beginning.
If the Alamo is to be preserved for future generations these historic and famous buildings can no longer be taken for granted, and for us to think that they’ll always be there.
My next posting will cover the “reimagining” of Alamo Plaza. Will it be a rediscovery, or another battle of the Alamo?
The stores running along the boundary line of the Alamo compound’s lost west wall. (L to R) the Crockett Building, Palace Theater and the Woolworth Building. Photo taken by Author in April, 2018.
By the time the 150th anniversary of the 1836 battle arrived all but two of the Alamo’s original buildings had been erased from public sight. And sadly, it wasn’t just physically gone; the historic Alamo was also gone from the very consciousness of most people. To citizens of the city, and visitors alike, “The Alamo” became just one of its two remaining structures; Its Church, the Shrine.
What if the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and the State of Texas, had purchased the Alamo Plaza instead of the grounds behind and to the north of the church?
The decades of focusing on just the church has caused damage to the reverence of the battlefield. The battlefield had become just another city park leading to “The Alamo,” and the site of the forts west wall, a collection of stores that promote themselves as being, “across the street from the Alamo.”
In this posting, the ninth in my series on the History of the Alamo, I’ll explore the good and the bad commercial development on the site of the west wall, and the many uses made of the Alamo Plaza through the years.
The Alamo Plaza: a great public gathering place
Being one of the largest open public spaces within San Antonio, the Alamo and de Valero Plazas became a draw for all those who wanted to sell their wares or to hold special events, especially with the backdrop of the famous “Alamo.”
In the 1860s, these two plazas were one of the many locations throughout San Antonio to have the famous “Chili Queens.” These Chili Queens were mostly Mexican women who’d set up their cooking pots, boiling with tasty chili con carne and other Tex-Mex delights. Tables and benches were set up nearby to seat the many casual diners that these stands attracted. Soon strolling musicians joined in, circulating amongst the crowds, adding to the festive atmosphere.
So famous were the San Antonio Chili Queens that writer O. Henry, after visiting the city made reference to them in his short story, ‘The Enchanted Kiss.” He wrote:
“The nightly encampment upon the historic Alamo Plaza, in the heart of the city, had been a carnival, a saturnalia that was renowned throughout the land.”
By the late 1800s, Alamo Plaza would be home to hundreds of competing cooks and thousands of hungry visitors, filling all its open space.
As more convenient locations became available for the vendors, and concerns for the public’s health, the number of Chili Queens began to shrink. Finally in the 1940s the San Antonio Health Department permanently closed all the food stands due to unsanitary conditions.
The Chili Queen’s legacy would be the beginnings of our love for Tex-Mex dishes, Mexican Street food, and indirectly, the Taco Truck craze.
A showplace for a new kind of fencing
It was on Alamo Plaza that a product was first showcased that changed ranching and the open range forever. In 1876, Illinois entrepreneur John Warne “Bet a Million” Gates used Alamo Plaza to introduce his new fencing called, “barbed wire.” Gates built corrals on the plazas holding Texas Longhorn cattle to show the effectiveness of this new fencing.
Battle of Flowers Parade
In April of 1891, Alamo Plaza and the Alamo was the end of the first “Battle of Flowers” Parade. This event, inspired by such parades in Spain and Europe, began as a way to honor the fallen of the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto. Each year colorful floats, bands and military units march down the streets of San Antonio to the Alamo.
The first parade drew around 15,000, and by 2014 attendance had grown to an estimated 350,000 parade enthusiast. The Battle of Flowers Parade also helped to start San Antonio’s annual Fiesta, and this parade is still one of the major events of Fiesta.
Alamo Plaza plays host to Presidents and others
Over the years Alamo Plaza has been the site used by U.S. Presidents and other speakers., taking advantage of the large open ground, and to have the Alamo church in the background.
Today most of these larger events have since moved to other locations within the city. This is partially due to much of the Alamo Plaza’s former open space being now taken up by flowerbeds, the Cenotaph, and the expansion of the area in front of the Alamo church.
Today, because of the sheer volume of visitors coming to see the historic Alamo, the plaza now attracts many who have little respect for the hollowed ground that their standing on. They only see the plaza as a platform to present their views.
From social protesters, to street preachers, to panhandlers; on any given day you’ll see them there, demanding attention from those who came to learn and to feel the history.
Development of the west wall
Samuel Maverick was one of the first, and most influential developers of the Alamo grounds. He built his home on what is now the northwest corner of E. Houston and N. Alamo Streets. His house sat were one of the old mission Indian houses was located, known as the Castaneda House. During the 1836 battle this was the location of one the fort’s northern cannon postern, called Fortin De Condelle. Today this spot is occupied by the Hotel Gibbs.
Just south, across E. Houston Street from the Hotel Gibbs, begins a line of three commercial buildings which run south along Alamo Plaza Street. These buildings sit along what was the Alamo’s west wall.
The Woolworth Building
The first building on the corner is the old Woolworth Building. Opened in 1921, it housed the Woolworth department store for years. This building has a historical aspect of its own. In the early 1960’s its lunch counter was the site of one of the first peaceful integrations to take place in the south.
The Palace Theater
Next to the Woolworth building was the Palace Theater. Opened in 1923, this building also has an architectural history. The Palace Theater was designed by architect George Willis, a trainee of Frank Lloyd Wright. Another historical tidbit is that the Palace was the first completely air-conditioned building in the United States
In this general area stood the old mission house known as the Trevino House. During the 1836 siege it’s believed that this was William Travis’s headquarters. And it’s here where he wrote this famous letter.
The Crockett Building
The last building in this line, and the last sitting on Alamo compound ground, is the Crockett Building (not to be confused with the close by Crockett Hotel).
In 1882, the year before the State of Texas purchased the Alamo church for the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the sons of Samuel Maverick constructed what they named the Crockett Building. It was designed to house several stores on the street level and multiple offices on its upper floors. At the time the Crockett was the best example of “Gilded Age” architecture in the city. Today the Crockett’s street level renters are the apparel shop, Del Sol, and Grand Trolley Tours.
Lost to Time
By the time these buildings were constructed all remanence of the mission/fort on that ground was already gone. And as the decades past the businesses that occupied the Woolworth, Palace and Crockett buildings were an accepted part of the community, and the memory of the Alamo compound and battlefield became lost to time. Those businesses along Alamo Plaza Street would promote themselves as being, “across the street from the Alamo,” because it was commonly viewed that the church was “the Alamo.”
Then, more and more people became interested in the Alamo, especially after the Davy Crockett craze of the 1950s, and they began looking at the total historical Alamo, not just its church.
They also began to realize the importance of honoring this hollowed ground, all the hollowed ground that was the Alamo. And just about the time that a group of businesses opened in those buildings along the lost Alamo west wall that shocked and angered them for their lack of reverence.
Phillips Entertainment began as a small Texas family owned attraction/ entertainment company in 1964, with Gene Phillips opening his first attraction, a small theme park called Aquarena Springs, in San Marco, Texas. Over the next 20 years their operations grew to four more tourist attractions located throughout Texas.
When Bill Phillips joined his father in the business he created Phillips Entertainment, Inc. (PEI) in 2000, as a separate entity with the sole purpose of operating attractions in the City of San Antonio.
Phillips searched all over San Antonio for the right location to open his new attractions. What he needed was a building with lots of space, affordable rent, and if possible, something else that was nearby that was already drawing large numbers of tourists. What he found was the Woolworth and Palace buildings, and across the street from those buildings, the Alamo.
PEI signed a long term lease with the building’s owner, Service Life and Casualty Insurance Company, for both the Woolworth and Palace. In 2002, PEI opened their first attraction, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure. This attraction did so well that they followed it with the Guinness World Records Museum in 2003 and then Davy Crockett’s Tall Tales Ride in 2005. In 2008, PEI made a major investment and redesigned one of their main attractions, and in doing so cutting any references they had to the Alamo. They converted the Davy Crockett ride into the Tomb Raider 3D Adventure Ride and Arcade.
PEI continued to expand their interest in San Antonio: managing the Mirror Maze and River Sweet Candy Shop just down Alamo Plaza from their main attractions. A little further beyond the Alamo’s footprint, they also manage the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, and the Texas Ranger Museum.
Bill’s son, Davis Phillips, and grandson of founder Gene Phillips, is the current President and CEO of PEI. Davis is one of the most successful tourist attraction operators in the country. Phillips, and PEI, are active in San Antonio tourism and members of the Texas Travel Industry Association, and is very vocal in protecting his interests on the Alamo Plaza. This is understandable, considering PEI investments in their entertainment venues.
Davis, who also sits on the City’s Alamo Plaza Committee, made the statement that he, and the other tourist attractions/ businesses that line the Alamo Plaza, are not against change. And he’d be willing to consider a master plan that may require moving some of PEI’s businesses, but only:
if its focused on our (PEI) future success as it is the Alamo’s
Shortly after this statement Phillips learned that PEI had a new landlord; The Texas General Land Office, the owners of the Alamo.
Davis Phillips made a statement awhile ago that I strongly disagree with. He said that his businesses helps to bring people to the Alamo. The Alamo has been a destination for history pilgrims and tourists since shortly after the 1836 battle. Visitors to the Shrine has increased each decade, especially after the aforementioned Davy Crockett craze.
Phillips is a exceptional entrepreneur in the tourist attraction business, and he knows that business very well, and what helps to bring him customers, and that’s being close to something where people are already coming too; it’s the Alamo that brings him customers, not the other way around.
My next post will be the last in this series; I’ll start by reflecting on my feelings during my first visit to the Alamo in 1986: what were my expectations, what did I find when I got there and what was the reactions of others that were there around me. I’ll then tell of my visits in 2011 and 2018, and the changes I saw each time.
I’ll finish with a look at some of the possible changes proposed for the Alamo, the Plaza and the west wall buildings.
My last post told the story of the Alamo’s church in the 20th century while under the control of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. In this post I’ll go back a little in the timeline to bring you up to speed on what was happening to the Alamo Plaza while de Zavala and Driscoll were battling over the Alamo’s two remaining buildings. Knowing this history will help you to better understand how the Alamo came to be what it is today.
It all began with Sam Maverick
As I mentioned in my earlier post, the History of the Alamo Part III, it was Samuel A. Maverick, and his purchasing of the largest sections of the old mission/fort’s grounds, that set the stage for what the Alamo Plaza would become.
His subdividing and selling of the land where the west and north walls had stood, as well as tearing down what original buildings that were left along those walls, had erased the majority of that hallowed ground where the heaviest fighting of 1836 had taken place. Also, with the ownership of these lands in the hands of different individuals and companies it would make the restoration of the Alamo battlefield extremely difficult in the future.
When Maverick was subdividing the old mission grounds he left the compound’s large central open area intact. This he donated to the City of San Antonio, and it became Alamo Plaza. During its mission and fort periods this area was not a traditional plaza. Being surrounded by the compound’s walls it would have been the fort’s parade ground.
However, just outside of the Alamo’s main gate was the Plaza de Valero. Valero was a true plaza, a large open common area surrounded by houses with a road that led up to the Alamo’s gate. This plaza was never owned by the Catholic Church, as was Alamo Plaza, and was always municipal land.
Creating a plaza from a battlefield
These two open areas had been separated by the Alamo’s main gate building, the Low Barracks, until that was demolished in 1871. Once the Low Barracks was removed residents could now enjoy one of the largest open spaces in the entire city, that’s until it rained. When it rained this whole space became one impassable, gigantic mud hole.
Between 1888-89, the City of San Antonio undertook a major paving program to solve this mud issue on the two Plazas. The paving material of choice was the ever abundant Mesquite woodblocks.
The city also required that the stores and property owners bordering the plazas install sidewalks. While the paving was taking place a wooden waterline was extended into Alamo Plaza for a fountain that had existed in front of the Hugo & Schmeltzer building (very near were the Alamo Cenotaph stands today).
San Antonio was quickly becoming a major urban center, and the two plazas along with it: In 1878 the first street car line was built on Alamo Plaza, in 1882 the Market House building, not an original Alamo structure, was the last building on the plaza to be torn down, in 1887 the city installed public restrooms on the plaza, and in 1890 the U.S. Post Office, the largest structure to be build on the Alamo battlefield at the time, was constructed on the site of the north wall.
Besides the mud issue there was another big concern for the plazas and the buildings around it, and that was the San Antonio River. Flowing through the middle of the city the river regularly flooded its banks; the most devastating coming in 1921. This led the city to begin looking at different options on how to control its flooding. It would culminate with the construction of the present system of dams located along the river. With the river levels now stabilized development along the banks of the downtown could begin. In 1939, partially funded by Federal Works Progress Administration, work began on today’s River Walk.
Continuing with making changes to the plazas, in 1891 the city constructed a park on the Plaza de Valero that featured: trees, shrubs, flowering plants and a band stand for concerts. As more and more businesses began to line the plazas San Antonio saw the need for better traffic control. They paved over the old wooden blocks with asphalt, added streets with curbs, and more sidewalks. One of these new streets went right up to the front door of the Alamo church.
A monument to the Alamo heroes
The first attempt to construct a monument on Alamo Plaza to the fallen defenders of the Alamo was in 1912. The plan then was to build a 800ft tower on the plaza. However, the group proposing this project couldn’t put together the two-million-dollar cost.
It wasn’t until 1936, during the 100th anniversary of the battle of the Alamo that the idea for a monument was taken up again. In celebration of the battles centennial the State of Texas provided $100,000 for the design and construction of a monument. Local sculptor Pompeo Coppini was commissioned to do the design, which he titled, The Spirit of Sacrifice. Today this monument is known as the Alamo Cenotaph.
The Alamo Cenotaph is constructed of grey Georgia marble and pink Texas granite. Its center spire rises sixty feet above its 40ft long by 12ft wide base. The base features carvings of members of the Alamo garrison, including the images of Travis, Bowie and Crockett. Also inscribed on the monument are 187 names of Alamo defenders, which were provided by historian Amelia Williams. However new research now shows that some of those listed were not at the Alamo, and that there were more than 187 defenders.
The Alamo Cenotaph was dedicated on November 11, 1940 by then San Antonio Mayor Maury Maverick, the grandson of Samuel Maverick.
A battlefield lost
By the time that de Zavala and Driscoll had arrived on the scene nothing remained of the Alamo battlefield, it was as though it had never existed. And for those who knew nothing of the Battle of the Alamo it was too easy to see only the church as the Alamo, even as they walked on the very ground where heroes had fallen.
My next post will cover the changes to the Alamo buildings and plaza through the late 20th and the early 21st centuries. I’ll also present some of the ideas that have been presented from various groups on how they think the Alamo should look in the future.
If you enjoyed this post please read the others in this series:
The iconic Alamo façade as it is today. A far cry from historical accuracy, but this is the Alamo that we know
Throughout its long history the Alamo has suffered much by those who’ve owned her, even those who loved her deeply and raised her to the level of a shrine. They had unknowingly helped in her slow deterioration.
This posting, the seventh in my series on the history of the Alamo, is about the Alamo’s church during the early to mid-1900s. It was at this time that Clara Driscoll and the DRT had regained custodianship over the Alamo property; it was also when the DRT made major alterations to the church, even rivaling those made by the U.S. Army. Also during this period Clara Driscoll would continue to use her considerable influence and wealth to reshape the land surrounding the Alamo.
I would also like to note that of all my posts in this series this one was by far the most difficult in researching. It was hard to find accounts and reporting on what exactly had been done and by whom, to the Alamo church from the time of the U.S. Army through the DRT’s control.
From various photos, and some sketchy accounts, I’ve tried to pieced together what may, or may not, have been done to the Alamo church through those early years of the 20th century. Saying this, please forgive this simple armchair researcher/ historian for any assumptions I’ve made when addressing work on the Alamo church, especially in regards to the windows and doors. However, if anyone can shed any light, or point me in the right direction, on this subject please do so in the comments.
The Era of Clara Driscoll and the DRT begins
In 1917, Clara Driscoll and the Alamo Mission chapter of the DRT took stewardship of a
Clara Driscoll 1881-1945
badly damaged and neglected Alamo church. And while not as bad as the Long Barracks, it was still a Swiss cheese of windows and doors that had been cut into its 3.5 ft. thick walls. Those changes to the historic building had completely erased the Alamo of the 1836 battle, and distorted the image people have of the Alamo, as it still does today.
To understand how these structural changes had impacted Driscoll and the DRT’s vision of the Alamo we need to go back and review in a little more detail how the Alamo church was altered by those that came before the DRT. I will compare the Alamo of 1836 to the Alamo of the post- Army period, the one the Driscoll knew.
In my post, The History of the Alamo Part III: From Forgotten to Army Depot, I presented
The history of the Alamo’s facades: a) how the Alamo church would have looked if finished by the Monks, b) how it was during the battle of 1836, c) as it is today
how the U.S. Army were the ones who made the most drastic alterations to the ruined Alamo church. Modifications made by the Army were: raise and level the top of the church’s walls in preparation for, and then adding a roof, building a second floor, and cutting windows and doors into its thick walls. We know that the Army made absolutely no effort for any historical preservation; their only goal was to make the old ruins useable as a warehouse. And, as I also stated in Part III, their original plan was to completely level the ruins.
The question I have, and couldn’t find the answer to, is concerning the windows and doors that are now on the church; what changes were made and by whom. To try and figure this out we need to go back to the ruined church as it was before the Army did their rebuilding, and then try to piece together what happed after.
Originally the Alamo church only had four windows: three located on the church’s façade, one on each side of the columned front door, and one over the main door to bring sunlight into its choir loft. The fourth window was located in a room off the Sacristy, opening out to the front church yard. During the 1836 siege these windows, except the upper choir window, were blocked off.
We know for sure that when rebuilding the church the Army had added two windows on each side of the church’s upper façade below its now famous hump, which they also installed. As for other windows, the only account I could find was an article stating that the Army had added windows to the upper portion of the Alamo church to provide sunlight to their new second floor. This article didn’t say how many windows had been added or their locations.
The really big mystery for me is that of the lost delivery doors on the Alamo church. Again, we know that originally the church only had two doors: the main door at the front and one called “the door of the dead,” a small arched opening that was located on the south side of the church’s transept. The purpose for this opening was to bring the deceased into the church for funeral masses. During the 1836 battle this door was partially closed, ether with stone or adobe bricks, with only a small opening at the top for sharpshooters or small cannon.
Now for the mystery of the delivery doors; photos showing the south wall of the Alamo
This photo taken in the late 1800’s shows what looks to be two “doors” on the sought wall of the church. Also notice the stove pipe sticking out the lower front window.
church taken in the late 1800s and early 1900’s shows what seems to be large doors cut into the church between the baptistery and transept. Although they do look like large doors I’ve not been a able to find any information as if these are indeed doors. If they are doors who added them and then who removed them and when.
The only clue I have to this mystery came on one of my visits to the Alamo. One of the guides mentioned a door that was used for deliveries when the Alamo was a warehouse, and that was later filled in. If this is correct, who filled it in? Was it the DRT when they took control? And if so what materials did they used to fill it? Another clue came from a member of one of the Alamo Facebook groups that I belong to; she posted that she saw an early newspaper article telling of the DRT conducting a drive to recover stones from the Alamo to be used for its repair, is this what was used? Hopefully I’ll come a cross an article that will put this window and door mystery to rest for me.
Today the Alamo Shrine has many windows and doors: windows on the upper and lower back wall of its chancel, upper and lower (where the “door of the dead had been located) windows on its south transept, upper and lower windows on the south wall next to the transept, and an upper window and a door (now used as the exit) on the north transept. There are also two doors and a small window on the north wall of the Sacristy, and a series of small windows, that look like vents, near the roof around the church. One of the most interesting doors is the small one near the top, on the east side of the baptistery
Here’s a photo showing the Police Sub-Station that was attached to the Alamo’s south wall in around 1885
Another interesting attachment added onto the Alamo church was a police sub-station. This can be seen on the 1885, Sanborn Fire Insurance map of San Antonio, and also in
The 1885 Sanborn map showing the police station on the church
photos of that time. This police station was located along the church’s west wall, between its baptistery and transept. Who built this structure? And when and who removed it? None of the books or web-sites I used for this research had the answer these questions.
All we can be sure of is that when the City of San Antonio had custody of the church they’d removed the second floor installed by the U.S. Army, and if they had made other alterations to the church I couldn’t find any records. If they hadn’t made changes was due to a lack of funding, that the damage was too extensive to correct, or just a lack of historical interest or knowledge, I don’t know.
An early 1900 photo showing the interior of the Alamo church after the second floor had been removed. Notice the two windows on the back wall, and the large opening behind the man of the right, could this be one of the doors?
However, it does seem that at the time the city didn’t truly appreciated this hallowed site. It’s recorded that when the city had control they allowed outside organizations to use the Alamo church for a meeting hall, where vandalism took place. This could have been one of the reasons that the state only allowed San Antonio to have oversite of the Alamo very briefly before returning it to the DRT.
The DRT takes over
What were the DRT’s original plans for the Alamo? Was there any thought of restoring the Alamo to historically accuracy? It doesn’t seem so. However we shouldn’t be too hard on Driscoll and the DRT, because at that time historical restoration wasn’t much thought of. And if they had any thoughts toward historical restoration, what time period should it be: the mission period, battle of 1836 Alamo, or the post U.S. Army Alamo?
Also, another stumbling block for them doing any accurate historical restoration was the fact that there weren’t many witnesses still alive that could give a correct description of how the Alamo looked as a mission or even after the battle. The only Alamo Driscoll and others knew was the Alamo created by the U.S. Army.
So ingrained was this image of the Alamo’s façade, with its “hump,” that even artists at the time when painting the 1836 Battle of the Alamo often show it with the hump. In 1975, when a group from the University of Texas suggested that the roof and hump be removed to make the Alamo historically accurate there was a tremendous outcry against it. Still today what is recognized as “the Alamo” is what the U.S. Army had built in 1850. That famous façade, with the bell shaped stone capping, is “our” iconic image of the Alamo. And because of this restorers need to be extremely mindful of the full history of the Alamo when doing restorations.
Clara Driscoll Creates a Shrine to Texas Liberty
There were few records that I could find as to what the first projects of the DRT were for the Alamo church, but there was one that clearly stood out. To Driscoll the first, and most important, for her was the removal of all the buildings that surrounded the Alamo church. Driscoll’s vision was for the Alamo “shrine” to be separated, a focal point onto itself.
She was quite clear about this in her 1900 letter to the San Antonio Express. “We leave it (the Alamo church) hemmed in… one side by a hideous barracks-like (the Long Barracks) looking building, and the other by two saloons…Today the Alamo should stand out free and clear. All the unsightly obstructions that hid it away should be torn down and the space utilized for a park.”
To accomplish this she would over time acquire all the property around the Alamo. One of her first objectives was the Hugo and Schmeltzer/Long Barracks. It was this that started the so called “Second Battle of the Alamo.” Driscoll wanted its complete removal, but as I pointed out in my last post she didn’t get her wish in having the entire Long Barracks leveled, just its second floor.
Over the next decades Driscoll and the DRT would purchase the lands on the south,
This photo taken in 1930’s shows the demolition of buildings behind the Alamo Church
north, and behind the church. Tearing down the buildings that “hemmed” it in. One of the largest projects came in 1931, when Driscoll once again opened up her pocket book and wrote a check for $70,000 to help the state in purchasing two parcels of land between the Alamo church and Crockett Street.
Four years later in 1935, she fought with city engineers, and won, when they tried to use eminent domain over Alamo property to widen Houston Street. She also talked the City of San Antonio out converting a building adjacent to the Alamo to a fire station. Later this building was purchased and is now Alamo hall, and used as a meeting room .
During the Great Depression the DRT utilized the Work Progress Administration (WPA) and the National Youth Administration (NYA) to remove the last remaining non-historical buildings left around the Alamo. They also built the first museum building(now the Alamo gift shop), the stone arcade that runs off the south corner of the church, and the walls that circle the property.
By the time Clara Driscoll had passed away in 1945 she was able to see her dream
Clara’s vision fulfilled, the Alamo Shrine stands separated, the focal point of Alamo Plaza
fulfilled, the Alamo Shrine now stood alone. She had her shrine to honor those Texan’s who had given their lives for Texas liberty. It was Driscoll who coined the name for the Alamo church as “the Shine to Texas Liberty,” or now just “the Shine.” The Alamo became a place to gather and to remember. It didn’t matter how historically accurate her shrine was, and this attitude continued on into the 21st century.
The historical importance of the Alamo was finally recognized beginning in 1960, when the Alamo was designated a National Historical Landmark, then in 1961 it was documented by the National American Building Survey, in 1966 it was one of the inaugural listing on the National Register of Historical Places, and in 2015 the Alamo was named a World Heritage Site.
Not all the work on the Alamo was to the good
The Alamo was badly in need of repair when taken over by the DRT, however by not seeking qualified architects and contractors versed in historical restoration they put the Alamo in grave danger.
Construction equipment at the Alamo during the adding of the new concert roof
One of the most extensive projects undertaken by the DRT on the Alamo church was the replacement of its roof. In 1921, they removed its old wooden roof and replaced it with a concert barrel vaulted one, this is the roof the Alamo church has today. This roof has a rough stone pebble surface along the top of the walls forming a parapet. Although this concrete roof offers more protection from the outside elements it is causing concerns due to its weight bearing down on the old walls. Also the concert doesn’t expand and contract as the much as the church’s original walls, causing more strain on the entire structure.
In the 1930s, when making repairs to the cracks in the Alamo’s façade workers used contemporary concert mortar. This eventual turned a pinkish hue instead of its original gray-white.
Perhaps one of the most unknowingly destructive projects untaken by the DRT was in the 1960s. To make the inside of the Alamo more comfortable for visitors air conditioning was installed. Although this did make the interior more comfortable during those hot and humid Texas summers it began a slow, and hardly noticed, deterioration of the Alamo church.
The limestone walls of the Alamo would naturally breathe with the changing temperatures and humidity, allowing for a balance. However, modern air conditioning creates a major imbalance between the inside and outside causing moisture to develop within the church’s walls. This moisture would eventually leak out the interior walls. Adding insult to injury, on my 2011 visit one of the guides I talked to told me how contractors trying to fix this leakage used waterproof sealant for basements. This did stop the leaks, but it also trapped the water in the walls causing the limestone to dissolve.
The saw cut into the Alamo church’s south wall. You can also see the strange small door in the corner
Also on that 2011 visit I noticed what looked like a long cut into the Alamo’s south wall near the top. I asked that same guide as to what that was about. She told me that it was done by one of the directors, and they have no idea what he was trying to do. He was fired.
Over the years all of these misunderstandings by the DRT on how to keep and preserve the Alamo has added to its slow destruction. You can see this happening when you visit the Alamo today. In its rooms preservationist have placed black traps along the floor around the walls. On these traps you can see white flacks; this is the Alamo slowly crumbling away.
The End of an Era
Concerns for how the DRT managed the Alamo began to surface in the late 1980’s. Many members of the Texas State Legislature proposed that custodianship of the Alamo Shrine and property be moved to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. This effort was stopped when the Mayor of San Antonio supported the DRT.
In the early part of the 1990’s the San Antonio Express-News began running a series of articles stating how the DRT was mishandling the Alamo shrine. One article stated that the DRT was keeping the temperature in the Alamo to low, causing even more water vapor to form, and this mixed with auto exhaust were severely damaging the historic structure. These articles again caused the state to take up the issue of taking over control from the DRT in 1993. These efforts were again stopped when then Governor George W. Bush vowed to veto any legislation to dislodge the DRT.
Finally, in 2010, the Texas Attorney General received a complaint on the DRT’s mismanagement of the Alamo, as well as misusage of state funds; this opened an investigation. Two years later, the investigation did find that the DRT had failed to keep the Alamo in good order and repair, misused state funds, and caused a breach of their fiduciary responsibilities.
In 2011, the State transferred control of the Alamo from the DRT to the Texas General Land Office. And on March 12, 2015, the General Land Office assumed the daily operations of the Alamo from the DRT, thus ending a major era in Alamo history.
Even though Driscoll and the DRT hadn’t seemed concerned in historical representation when creating their “shrine,” or that in the years of their custodianship they weren’t the best of stewards, there’s is however one thing we can thank them for; that at a time when the attitude concerning old buildings, historic or not, was to tear them down and rebuild with new, Driscoll and the DRT had fought, and saved what remained of the Alamo. This was a major accomplishment.
My next post will address the changing face of Alamo Plaza.
If you’ve enjoyed this post please read my others in this series:
This 1907 postcard shows a float in the Battle of the Flowers parade proclaiming the feelings of the people of San Antonio and Texas. But what vision were they proclaiming? This postcard was featured in the Frank Thompson book “The Alamo.”
My last post told of the developing division between the de Zavala and Driscoll DRT groups over the Alamo. Adina de Zavala knew the history and layout of the Alamo’s grounds. She had talked to old San Antonio residences who told her how the Long Barracks and Church buildings had been changed over the years. From these accounts she knew that there were two surviving Alamo buildings, with one hidden under the façade of a grocery store.
Clara Driscoll, being away in Europe until 1898, had the common belief of the time that only the Alamo’s church was left of the original mission complex, all the others having been torn down and built over.
If only the two ladies had sat down together, and talked, they may have come to a consensus. Instead, each drew their own “line in the sand,” creating a war that could have destroyed all that was left of the Alamo.
Another Battle of the Alamo
After the State of Texas made the Daughters of the Republic of Texas custodians of the Alamo the DRT executive committee gave control over to Driscoll and her followers. However, the City of San Antonio had given control to de Zavala. This confusion of who had rightful control over the properties became the epicenter for the growing division between the two women, and how the barracks property was to be developed.
The Hugo & Schmeltzer building in the first stages of its demolition. The balcony had been removed, ca 1910.
As I stated before, de Zavala saw the hidden Long Barracks as being of greater importance in Alamo history than the its church, and needed to be preserved even more. Driscoll only saw the Hugo & Schmeltzer building, over shadowing “the Alamo” with no connection at all to the original mission.
Trying to keep control from de Zavala, the Driscoll faction tried to have the locks changed; hearing this de Zavala’s followers rushed in and stopped it. This caused the two groups to split apart, with Driscoll breaking from de Zavala’s chapter and forming their own Alamo Mission Chapter of the DRT in April of 1906.
In 1907 the Vanderventer Hotel Company began buying up land east of the Alamo to construct a luxury hotel. Their plan was to build their hotel far back behind the Alamo’s church. To help give their hotel more visibility on Alamo Plaza they made a proposal to the DRT; let them tear down the old Hugo & Schmeltzer (Long Barracks) building and they’d create a large park in front of the hotel and alongside Alamo church. This would open up the northside of the Alamo as Driscoll wanted. The hotel group also offered to pay the salary of a custodian for five years. Driscoll and the DRT saw this as a win, win; not only would it remove the ugly grocery store building, it would also help to defray some of the operational cost of the “Alamo.”
Hearing that the DRT was in favor of the hotel’s plans de Zavala flew into a rage! De Zavala wrote to the hotel’s representative, Charlies M. Reeves. She told him the history of the Long Barracks and of her plans to restore it, and to have it house a Texas Hall of Fame museum.
Reeves was also one of those who didn’t believe that any part to the original Alamo stood on the Hugo & Schmeltzer property. He rudely wrote back to her, “… (Your) position is historically incorrect. At the time of the battle of the Alamo only the south wall of the Mission was standing. Texas patriots wish to preserve only that which has to do with her history… What you propose to do in the perpetuation of the walls of this old building would simply result in preserving indefinitely an eye-sore which would be a source of humiliation and regret to the people of San Antonio for all time.”
It was Reeves, being from St. Louis, who was totally incorrect historically, but his response fit very well into what Clara Driscoll had been saying, and believed.
Reeves’ letter had really fired up de Zavala. She went around the city and was able to rally enough support from businessmen and residents to kill the hotel’s plans. For Driscoll, the Hugo building had to go, and she would use every bit of the influence she could muster to get it done.
On February 10, 1908 Driscoll had an injunction placed on de Zavala barring her from the Hugo building, but before the doors could be padlocked de Zavala ran inside locking the doors. De Zavala remained holed up in the building for three days, generating national headlines.
It was only after Texas Governor Thomas Campbell ordered the State to retake control of the situation that de Zavala finally came out. But Adina’s victory was short lived; the DRT was able to get a judge to rule in favor of granting back custodianship of all the Alamo properties to Driscoll and her chapter. After which the DRT expelled de Zavala and her followers from the organization and the grounds.
Even though it seemed that Driscoll had won, it was only the battle, not the war. The State of Texas still owned the property, Driscoll was only its custodian. There were hot feelings on the Long Barrack issue in all parts of Texas, and the State wasn’t ready to tear the building down yet. The Legislators took the political way out, and waited until after the 1810 election.
Texas Governor, Oscar Branch Colquitt
Newly elected Gov. Oscar Colquitt visited San Antonio, where he toured the Alamo church and the Hugo & Schmeltzer building. Gov. Colquitt then called a meeting with both de Zavala and Driscoll, so that each could plead their cases.
Gov.Oscar Branch Colquitt (1861-1940)
Driscoll again stated that to her knowledge the Hugo & Schmeltzer building was never part of the original mission complex. She also offered to use her own money to pay for its removal, and to have a park and a wall built surrounding the Alamo. This she said would allow the only original fort building left to be honored.
De Zavala was also adamant in her opinion, that beneath the stores exterior lay the stone walls of the mission’s convento, and the Alamo fort’s Long Barracks. It was there, she said, were the most horrific fighting of the March 6th, 1836 battle took place. De Zavala also provided testimonies from San Antonio residences and the families of Alamo defenders that remember what the Alamo had looked like.
Three months later Gov. Colquitt came to his decision; the Long Barracks was to be completely restored. Gov. Colquitt also went on to remove the DRT as the official custodians of the Alamo. His reasoning, that the DRT hadn’t done their job in restoring the property since it was turned over to them.
De Zavala was ecstatic, her dream was coming true. Soon the two remaining Alamo building would be restored and the Texas Hall of Fame would open. Driscoll was outraged, not only would the eyesore remain, but her DRT was kicked out. Clara would now bring her full political and influential power to bear on Gov. Colquitt.
Excitement turns to disappointment
De Zavala’s concept drawing of the restored Long Barracks, looking nothing like the historic original.
Gov. Colquitt put through legislation to fund the removal of the Hugo & Schmeltzer covering, and another $5,000 to restore the historic Long Barracks.
In anticipation de Zavala had drawings made showing how she envisioned the restored Long Barracks should look. What she came up with looked nothing like the original building, in fact it was very similar to Honore Grenet’s building. Her drawing showed a massive two-story building with a Spanish styled arcade and two bell towers at each end.
Only the badly damaged west and south walls of original Long Barracks remained, as it was around 1912.
Work on the demolition of the stores superstructure began in 1910. But soon after the outer covering was removed it became evident that the damage and destruction done by the U.S. Army and the department store owners was too extensive. When all the coverings were swept away it revealed that all that was left of the original stone building was only its outer west and south walls.
De Zavala was heartbroken. She had hoped to find all of the original walls still intact, but that was not the case. The Long Barrack’s second floor had suffered the most from all the previous renovations. What remained of the second floor’s stone wall was pockmarked with windows and doors that had been cut out of the old stone by its previous owners. The now exposed ruins looked worse than when it was the Hugo & Schmeltzer store.
However, there was one bright spot that the demolition had revealed, the original mission foundations; proving that de Zavala was correct in her belief that the building had been part of the Alamo mission complex.
The battle continued
Even in its horrible state both de Zavala and Gov. Colquitt fought to keep and to restore the Long Barracks, even its second floor. Meanwhile Driscoll was politicking hard, to again gain control of the Alamo, and to tear down those ugly ruined walls. For two years a very public battle went on between Gov. Colquitt and Clara Driscoll, each holding their ground.
The ruined west wall of the original Convento/Long Barracks
In 1912 Driscoll was successful in getting an injunction to keep the State from doing any reconstruction work on the Long Barracks. Driscoll, and the DRT, also brought suit against the State and Gov. Colquitt to regain custodianship of the Alamo. Their case was upheld, and in 1913 the DRT once again had control of the Alamo.
When Gov. Colquitt left the State on a business trip, Lt. Gov. Will May ordered that the second floor wall to be removed. There had been a compromise reached between de Zavala and Driscoll to let the first floor remain. Also in the compromise, it was agreed that they’d try and restore what was left of the Long Barracks’ first floor and the mission’s arcade.
In the Long Barracks restoration they used the stone that had been salvaged from the second floor wall. It would be in this reconstructed building that would eventually house the museum de Zavala had so long dreamed of.
Sadly, lack of funding kept the reconstruction of the Long Barracks from being completed. It stood roofless, and full of weeds, until 1968. Today the Long Barrack does house the Alamo’s museum, but not as the “Hall of Fame” pictured by Adina de Zavala.
The partially rebuilt roofless Long Barracks ca. 1918
Every time that I’ve visited the Alamo and gone through the Long Barracks, I’d tell everyone, ”It was in this building that more Alamo defenders and attackers had died than anywhere else.” It wasn’t until doing research for this post that I came to realize what had actual been done to this building. As Frank Thompson points out in his book, The Alamo, A Cultural History, “…visitors who believe they are standing in an original Alamo structure are mistaken. It is almost a total reconstruction.” So I was one of those, however it still sits on hallowed ground, and there is still its original west wall, more about that in a later post.
The aftermath of the battle of the Angels
Clara Driscoll ca. 1913
Clara Driscoll did get total control of the Alamo, and because of what she had done to rescue the Alamo she is remembered as, “The Savior of the Alamo.”
Throughout the rest of her life she and her DRT continued to repair and restore the Alamo church. It is her vision that became what the Alamo is today, the”Shrine” that she wanted it to be.
Clara Driscoll also did many philanthropic outreaches in her life. Using her money and influence she helped the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Texas Fine Arts Association and the Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi Texas.
Clara Driscoll died on July 17, 1945, at the age of 64. As a tribute to her work on the Alamo she lay in state in the Alamo church. She was laid to rest in the Driscoll family tomb at the Alamo Masonic Cemetery, San Antonio.
Adina de Zavala, although barred from the DRT, continued to help identify and mark historical sites around San Antonio, including the site of the Spanish Governor’s Palace and the location of the Alamo defenders funeral pyres.
De Zavala, and her followers at the Spanish Governors Palace.
Adina de Zavala died on March 1, 1955, at the age of 93. She had never married, and so she willed her estate to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, establishing a vocational school for girls and a boy’s town.
On April 27, 1955, in her honor the Texas State Legislature passed a resolution stating that she was, “a major role in preserving the Alamo and the Spanish Governor’s Place” and for placing, “permanent markers on some 40 historical sites in Texas, many of which might have been forgotten.” Also the Bexar County Historical Commission placed a bronze maker honoring her on Alamo Plaza.
After her funeral service at St. Joseph Church in San Antonio her Texas flag draped coffin was taken past the Alamo. De Zavala did not lie in state inside as Driscoll had, because the DRT had denied it.
De Zavala is buried in a simple grave in her family plot in St. Mary’s Cemetery.
In 1994, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas finally honored Adina de Zavala by placing a maker at her gravesite. They also installed makers at the Alamo commemorating both de Zavala and Driscoll.
Two strong angels, each with a different vision of what the Alamo was. One was historical, and one based on conjecture. But both where needed at a time when the Alamo was all but forgotten, and on the verge of being lost forever.
My next post will go on to tell of how the DRT worked to restore and preserve the Alamo. But again, their focus was on the Alamo’s church, not the historic battlefield it was part of.
Some of the Sources Used:
Thompson , Frank. “The Second Battle of the Alamo.” The Alamo: A Cultural History, Taylor Publishing, 2001.
“Alamo Low Barracks and Main Gateway.” Texas Historical Markers on Waymarking.com, Waymarking.com, 2018, waymarking.com/waymarks/WM3DJ6_Alamo_Low_Barracks_Main_Gateway.
“Alamo History Chronology.” The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, drtinfo.org.
“Warehouse to Shrine: 1878-1905.” CHRONOLOGY, The Alamo, thealamo.org.
“Historic Photos of the Alamo.” Search: Historic Photos of the Alamo, Google, http://www.google.com/search?q=historic+photos+of+the+Alamo&rlz=1C9BKJA_enUS69:
“Clara Driscoll (philanthropist).” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, Aug. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Driscoll_(philanthropist).
“Adina Emilia De Zavala.” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 13 Oct. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adina_Emilia_De_Zavala.
“Adina Emilia De Zavala.” Find A Grave, Find A Grave, http://www.findagrave.com/memorial/10365039/adina-emilia-de_zavala. Accessed 14 Oct. 2018.
“Alamo Mission in San Antonio .” Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 11 Oct. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alamo_Mission_San_Antonio.
“Buildings .” The Alamo, The Alamo, http://www.thealamo.org/remember/buildings/index.html. Accessed 14 Oct. 2018.
Nelson, George. “Feuds Over Preservation of the Convento.” The Alamo, An Illustrated History, third Revised , Aldine Press, 2009, p. 98.