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My Updated, and Expanded, Walking Tour of the Alamo, Part 1: The Alamo Compound

The famous, and very recognizable, Alamo Church. This building was only a small part of the original Alamo. Photo by author.
Ron Current

In 2014 I wrote the post, “What happened, and where it happened, as it is today; a photo walking tour around the Alamo battlefield.” The purpose of that post was to help visitors to navigate around todays city surrounded Alamo, and to point out were some of the important events of that battle had taken place.

The information that I based that post on was my two pilgrimages to the Alamo, in 1986 and 2011, as well as books I had read about that famous battle. However in doing the research for my newest “History of the Alamo” series of posts, and a third visit in 2018, I realized that I had missed a lot, with many sites hidden in plain sight. Because I had missed so much in my first post I felt it was time to write a new and expanded updated version.

Besides those places that I had written about in 2014, I’ve added a couple of others that I hope will help expand your knowledge, and experience, when you visit this historic site and the City of San Antonio.

As I was writing the first draft I soon realized that as a single post it was way too long. So I decided to break it into two posts: the Alamo Compound and Beyond the Alamo. This post will cover the Alamo mission/fort grounds with sites of the battle. In the second post we’ll go outside the Alamo’s walls, pointing out places throughout the city that were also related to the battle.

Besides the new information I had uncovered while researching my history series there were three other sources which were extremely helpful in writing these posts: Dean Kirkpatrick’s “The Alamo Story and Battleground Tour,” Mark Lemon’s “The Illustrated Alamo 1836, A Photographic Journey and the Sons of the Republic of Texas (SRT) walking tour that I took in 2018.

So, let’s get started, and discover the hidden Alamo!

Finding the Alamo

The original boundaries of the Alamo over todays streets. The red lines mark the Alamo’s outer walls, the yellow is “Crockett’s Palisade” and inter walls.

Finding the Alamo can be a challenge for the casual visitor. In fact, when you’re on Alamo Plaza gazing at “The Alamo,” you’re already standing deep inside what was this historic fort. What most call the Alamo is in reality only its church. The original Alamo complex of walls and buildings covered nearly 3 acres, with only about 10% currently preserved. Since most of the Alamo has been engulfed by the growth of San Antonio over almost two centuries, I needed a visual aid to help identify where to find the different battle sites of the Alamo.

To try and accomplish this in my 2014 tour post I used a photo I had taken from the top of the Tower of the Americas, and though it did show how the City of San Antonio had closed in on the Alamo, it really wasn’t very helpful in identifying where the different battle sites were around Alamo Plaza.

For this post I used a Google satellite photo of the Alamo’s area and created an overlay of the original Alamo compound on it. With this resource we can now locate important sites, which mostly go unnoticed.

I’ve also enlarged different sections of my map, and numbered the different spots that I’ll be writing about, so you’ll be able to find them when you visit the Alamo.

Sites on the West Side of the Alamo Compound

We’ll begin are exploration at a small open area (See map #1) on the west side of Alamo Plaza Street, across from the Alamo church. It’s not hard to find this spot, because of the many odd shaped light brown brick walls that have been placed there.

The southwest corner of the fort. It was at this location were the 18-pounder cannon was placed. Photo by author.

This is the spot where the Alamo’s south and west walls met. And, this is where the fort’s largest cannon, the 18-pounder, was placed. On February 23rd, 1836, the first day of the siege, Alamo Commander Colonel William Travis, used this cannon to answer Santa Anna’s demands to surrender.

The odd stone walls represent the original walls and building foundations that archaeologists had discovered. Be sure to check out the glassed in display, where you can actually see one of those foundations.

The foundations of what were the blacksmith and artillery headquarters buildings marked with stone walls. In the background you can see the glass case where one of the original foundations can be viewed. Photo by author.

To better understand what buildings may have stood there, I referenced The Illustrated Alamo 1836, A Photographic Journey, by Mark Lemon. According to Lemon, the southernmost building would have been known as the Charli house. This building’s south end would have made the fort’s south and west corner. At the time of the battle this building had been filled with stone and dirt to construct the platform for the cannon. Two other buildings to the west are believed to have been used as the artillery command post and the blacksmith shop.

The Alamo’s West Wall
The buildings along what was the Alamo’s west wall. Photo by author.

A new piece of information I learned during my Sons of the Republic of Texas (SRT) tour was about the higher wall at the back of this site (See map #2). This wall runs parallel to Alamo Plaza Street, and ends at the Losoya walkway. What this wall indicates is where the Alamo’s outer wall stood. During the battle this wall was about 9 to 12 feet high, and 2 to 3 feet thick. But what really struck me was how far back from the street the wall actually was, and also how far inside the buildings it ran.

The location of the fort’s west wall, far back from today’s Alamo Plaza Street. Photo by author

We’re now going to leave the forts southern corner and head north toward Houston Street, along what was the Alamo’s west wall. As you walk along I just want you to realize, that even though you’re surrounded by the hustle and bustle, and the noise of the city, that you’re walking on one of the most historic battlefields in the world.   

As you’re walking notice the wide line of darker material running north and south embedded in the sidewalk. This line indicates the location of a dry ditch (See map #3) that ran outside the houses on the west wall.

The marking on the sidewalk showing where the dry ditch ran. Photo by author during SRT tour.

These street markings are another new discovery, thanks again to the guides of the SRT. Recognizing and knowing what these markers represent is extremely helpful in the understanding the original Alamo site. I’ll be pointing out more of these as we go along.

On the left is a series of three buildings that now occupy this section of the fort’s west wall: the Crockett, built in 1862, the Palace Theater, built in 1923, and the Woolworth, built in 1921. These buildings currently house the most controversial businesses on Alamo ground: Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Guinness World Records and 3D Tomb Raider. In 2015, the Texas General Land Office (GLO) purchased these three buildings for $14.4 million, with the plans to convert them into a 100,000 square foot Alamo museum.  

Travis’s Headquarters
The general location of the Trevino House. Where Travis wrote his letter. Photo by author.

When you reach the entrance to Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, you are now at the general location where one of the Alamo’s most famous houses stood, the Trevino House (See map #4). The name may not mean anything to you, but it was the headquarters of William Travis, and where he wrote his famous February 24, 1836 letter for help, “To the people of Texas and all Americans in the world.”

The Castaneda House

When you reach the end of the block, look down at the pavement on Houston Street (See map #5). Once again you’ll see darker pavers. Until I took the SRT tour I thought these were pedestrian crosswalk markings, however I was wrong. What these markings really indicate is the foundations of what was most likely the Castaneda House. During the battle this house was already in ruin, and believed that it held a 6-pounder cannon placement.

The Hotel Gibbs
Pavers on Houston indicating where the Castaneda House most likely stood. Photo by author.

We’re going to continue north, crossing Houston Street. On the northwest corner is the small boutique Hotel Gibbs (See map #6). Hotel Gibbs now occupies what was originally the Gibbs Building. The Gibbs Building was constructed in 1909 by Colonel C C Gibbs. With its eight floors the Gibbs Building was the first high-rise in San Antonio.

There’s also other Alamo history at this spot. Col. Gibbs had built his office building on the site of the home of one of San Antonio’s most famous developers, Samuel Maverick. It was while Maverick was excavating for his house in 1852, that he discovered a trove of Alamo cannons buried there by the Mexican Army. These cannon have just been recently restored and are on display at the Alamo.

The North Wall

As we continue north toward the back of the hotel, I want you to keep your eye on the sidewalk. Near the back of the building you see a small marker in the sidewalk (See map #7). While not as large as the others we seen so far, it may be one of the most important in understanding how really big the Alamo fort really was.

Marker indicating where the north west corner of the fort was. Photo by author.

On this small metal marker has an angle line: one end pointing south, and the other to the east. It reads, ALAMO MISSION ORGINAL PROPERTY CORNER. This indicates were the Alamo’s west and north walls had met. However, this marker isn’t completely accurate; remember the west wall’s true location is still several feet west, inside the hotel. But it does show how far back from Alamo Plaza that the north wall really was. But there’s another marker that does show the true location of the Alamo’s north wall. To find this we’ll need to cross to the other side of N Alamo Street.

From the north wall it’s a long way back to Alamo Plaza. Photo by author.

On the east side of the street is the massive the Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. Built in the mid-1930s, as part of the WPA program, it has a polygonal design and is constructed of Texas Pink granite and Texas Cream limestone. Not only does the Garcia building encompass an entire city block, it also occupies a good portion of were the Alamo’s north wall was.

Again, on the sidewalk just a few steps back from the building’s side entrance is another small metal marker (See map #8). This one has a line pointing east and west that reads, ALAMO MISSION ORIGINAL PROPERTY LINE. A very underwhelming description on what actually happened there. 

The boundary line of the north wall. Photo by author.

It was here, during Santa Anna’s pre-dawn attack on Sunday March 6, 1836, that the masses of Mexican soldiers finally overcoming the defenders, rolling over the north wall, and gaining the inside of the fort. It was also here were William Travis gave his life. And that’s how important the north wall is to Alamo history.

If you look back toward Alamo Plaza, you’ll see how far removed this famous and historical spot is from what is known as “the Alamo”

Now that we’ve been to the furthest northern location of the original Alamo’s grounds, it’s time to head back to Alamo Plaza and the Long Barrack building.

Alamo Plaza
Alamo Plaza, where heroes died. Photo by author.

Today Alamo Plaza (See map #9) is a large and active city park, but it was much, much, larger during the battle. Taking in to account all the way back from where we came at the north wall, and adding the portions inside the buildings along Alamo Plaza Street, the original measurements of the compound would have been around 462 feet long by 162 feet wide.

The modern Alamo Plaza was created by Samuel A. Maverick. Maverick bought up most of the Alamo’s land, and then subdivided it for his commercial and residential developments. Maverick created the plaza to be a gathering place for city residents and deeded it to the City of San Antonio. This plaza has seen it all: chili cook-offs, longhorn cattle, street preachers, political rallies, and loud protesters.

This usage of Alamo Plaza has been a hot topic of criticism by those who see this area as hallowed ground. And why passions run high, and rightly so, is because what happened there in the pre-dawn of March 6th 1836.

That morning, Mexican soldiers having breached the north wall, advanced across this space, causing the defenders to fall back into the Alamo’s Long Barrack and the houses along the west wall. It was on this open area where many men, both defenders and attackers, lost their lives; very much like Gettysburg’s Pickett’s Charge.

While it’s still owned by the City of San Antonio, the plaza is now part of a 50 year operational agreement with the State of Texas’s General Land Office (GLO). GLO now manages the Alamo’s two original buildings, as well as the newly purchased buildings on the old west wall. Under this agreement the GLO will be responsible for the total management and also reclamation of the Alamo’s historic battlefield. But this agreement has come under criticism.

There is one historic outcome from this agreement; this is the first time since the Catholic Church owned these grounds, that one entity has control over what was the original Alamo compound.

The Alamo Cenotaph
The Spirit of Sacrifice, also known as the Alamo Cenotaph. Photo from Wikipedia.

Near the center of Alamo Plaza stands the inspiring, 60 foot tall gray Texas granite, Spirit of Sacrifice monument (See map #10). Most commonly known as the Alamo Cenotaph (meaning empty tomb) it was constructed in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo in 1936. Dedicated on November 11, 1940, the Cenotaph features carvings of fallen Alamo defenders: William Travis, James Bowie, David Crockett, and James Bonham. It also has a listing of those defenders that were killed during that battle.

There’s a popular myth that says the cenotaph sits on the site of one of the funeral pyres of the Alamo defenders. However, this is most likely not accurate. I’ll go into more detail on this subject with my future post, “Where are the Remains of the Alamo’s Heroes?”

The Long Barrack
What remains of the oldest building of the mission, the Convento or Long Barrack. Photo by author.

The 192-foot long, yellowish-brown, single story stone building bordering the east side of Alamo Plaza is the Alamo’s Long Barrack (See map #11). The Long Barrack is one of the two remaining Alamo mission/fort buildings, the other being the church. The Long Barrack is also considered to be the older of the two; however, this also isn’t truly accurate.

In my History of the Alamo post series I tell of the Long Barrack’s disastrous, or should I say destructive, history. From the U.S. Army, and through the varied store owners, the Long Barrack’s stone walls had been cut, removed or filled in. What I’ve learned is that only its outer west wall is somewhat original. The rest of the building is a reconstruction, using some of its original stones, but still a reconstruction. Even this west wall, that you see today, isn’t as it was during the battle. However, it’s not what remains of this building that’s important, it’s to remember what happened inside its walls.

The Long Barrack western wall, the only part of the building that’s somewhat original. Photo by author.

During the final battle the Alamo’s defenders used the Long Barrack as their second line of defense. From its doorways and holes dug into its walls, the defenders were able to train their rifles on the Mexican soldiers pouring into the plaza. It wasn’t until the Mexicans turned the Alamo’s own cannons on the doorways that the tide of the battle turned to the attackers. With the doorways now cleared, Santa Anna’s troops rushed in; and there, in the dark and smoke filled rooms, some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting took place.

So when you’re standing in front of the Long Barrack, or visiting the museum inside, remember those, both defenders and attackers, who paid so dearly there for what they believed in. 

Sites on the East Side of the Alamo Compound

The Mission’s Convento Courtyard
Today the Convento courtyard is a garden. Photo by author.

Around the south end of the Long Barrack you’ll see the Alamo church. But where not going to stop there now, we’ll come back to it later. Right now we’ll go through the gate to the left, and into the Mission’s Convento Courtyard (See map #12).

During the mission period the mission Indians would have worked in the rooms that surrounded this courtyard. They would have been doing such tasks as: spinning yarn, candle making, and other chores needed for the mission. At the time of the battle this area was in ruin, with most of its rooms gone. It’s believed that it was here that the Alamo garrison kept their horses; and it’s also thought that there was a small cannon placement at its north east corner.

The Big Tree
The Big Tree and the Mission’s Well in the background. Photo by author.

Today this courtyard is a peaceful garden. In the middle is a large Live Oak tree that visitors call, “the Big Tree.” This tree wasn’t there during the battle; it was brought and replanted there in 1912 by local resident Walter Whall. The tree was 40 years old, and already fairly big, when it was moved and replanted there. It took four mules to pull the cart with the tree from Whall’s property to the Alamo. The most difficult aspect of the move was avoiding the power and telegraph lines on its way to the Alamo.

The Mission’s Well

Next to the “Big Tree” is an old dry well. This is said to be a modern reconstruction of the Mission San Antonio De Valero’s well that was located there. But there’s some debate as to the authenticity of this well.  Some sources that I’ve read say that this is a non-historical feature, added much later. This theory is based on maps drawn by Alamo witnesses: Mexican Lieutenant Colonel José Juan Sánchez-Navarro and Alamo engineer Green B. Jameson, which don’t show a well at that location.  However, both of those maps were tactical battle maps, and showing a well would not have been needed. 

In Mark Lemon’s book, the Illustrated Alamo, he shows a well at that location. Lemon had done considerable research and must be confident that there was indeed a well there. But again, what would the Alamo be without a little more controversy.

Shigetaka Shiga Monument to the Alamo’s Heroes
Shigetaka Shiga’s Monument
Photo by Scott Huddleston, San Antonio Express-News

Off in a corner of this courtyard is an often overlooked monument to the Alamo’s fallen. This 4 foot tall gray granite stone has an inscription in Japanese, Chines and English that reads, “To the Memory of the Heroes of the Alamo”

Dedicated on November 6, 1914, it is the oldest monument to the Alamo’s heroes. Personally created and donated by Japanese scholar, Shigetaka Shiga, it features a poem by Shiga himself. The poem compares the bravery of the Alamo defenders with those of the 16th century Siege of Nagashino Castle, which was another battle where a few hundred badly outnumbered defenders fought against thousands.

The Monument to the Gonzales “Immortal Thirty-Two.”
The marker to the
“Immortal Thirty-Two”
Photo by author.

There’s another monument in this courtyard you need to see. This is to the Gonzales “Immortal Thirty-Two.” On the evening of March 1, 1836, thirty-two men from the town of Gonzales rode through the Mexican lines coming to the aid of their fellow Texans. This monument is located on the courtyards north side.

As you look at the Long Barrack on the courtyard side, remember that these walls are reconstructions of the originals. However, archaeologists have recently discovered that when those reconstructions took place they did use the original foundations.

At the south end of the Barrack is how you enter the current Alamo museum. When the new museum is completed at the west wall, you can only wonder what will occupy this historic structure.

We’re now going the leave the old Convento courtyard and go over to the fort’s other courtyard.

The Northern Courtyard
Today’s Northern Courtyard, with the Alamo gift shop in the background. Photo by author.

The name for this courtyard varies depending on what source you read: In Mark Lemon’s book he refers to it as the Northern Courtyard, and Alan C. Huffines calls it the Cattle Pen in his book the Blood of Noble Men, and on the Alamo’s official website they refer to it as the Cavalry Courtyard (See map #13).

During the 1836 battle it’s believed that this is where the defenders had indeed kept the cattle that fed the garrison, as Huffines stated. This courtyard was also one of the weakest areas of the fort, were its walls were only about four and a half feet high. Accounts state that during the battle this section was defended by a small 4-pounder cannon placed at its eastern corner. However, even with the low wall and small artillery piece the defenders were able to hold off the attacking Mexicans, driving them further to the western end of the north wall.

Today this area is a small garden. When I visited in 1986 and 2011, there were two cannon on display in this courtyard which had been used in the battle. In 2018 I learned that one of them had been removed and was being restored by the Texas A & M Conservation Research Laboratory. The one still there was claimed to have been the Alamo’s famous 18-pounder. However, I’ve also read that the 18-pounder had been lost decades ago

The single cannon at the courtyard in 2018. Said to be the fort’s big 18-pounder. Photo by author.

The wall that separates this courtyard, and the Alamo’s grounds, from Houston Street isn’t where the fort’s original wall stood, that’s a foot further north on the street side. There’s a marker in the sidewalk that indicates the original boundary line.

As you leave the Northern Courtyard, look for the Wall of History (See map #14) next to the Alamo gift shop. The Wall of History is a long and colorful chronology of the Alamo’s history, beginning with its mission period.

The Alamo Gift Shop

Although the Alamo gift shop (See map #15) looks like an original building, it’s not. It was also built in 1937 for the Texas Centennial. It was first used as a museum on the history of Texas’s independence, and then later converted by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) to the present gift shop.

Adding a basement to the Alamo gift shop. Photo from Wikipedia.

Here’s a cute little story. In the 1985 Tim Burton movie, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Pee-Wee Herman travels to the Alamo looking for his lost bicycle. He’s told that he’d find it in the Alamo’s basement. However, when he arrives, to his disappointment, he’s told that the Alamo doesn’t have a basement. Well, that’s not exactly correct, if you’re looking at all the property as the greater Alamo. 

In 1992, the DRT hired G.W. Mitchell Construction to excavate a basement under the Alamo gift shop. Completed in 1993, this basement holds gift items, supplies and an employee breakroom. And maybe, just maybe, there might be a bicycle somewhere down there too.

We’re now going to leave the courtyard areas and journey behind the Alamo church.

Slaughter Outside the Alamo
This open area behind the Alamo church is were the fleeing defenders met their death at the hands of the Mexican cavalry. Screenshot from the Alamo websites virtual tour.

In my 2014 post I told how the back of the Alamo church was completely different then it is today. During the battle there wasn’t a roof, or windows, in fact the wall of the church’s apse was considerably lower. It was in the ruined church’s apse that a platform had been built, at about twelve feet in height. Atop this platform were placed three cannon. This allowed the defenders to cover the ground behind the fort very effectively.

But it’s not the church will talk about on this tour. In this post I’ll show you an area of the Alamo’s grounds that’s not often pointed out, and it’s located only a few yards directly behind the church (See map #16). This area has a story that’s both heroic, as well as tragic.

On the morning of March 6th 1836, Santa Anna’s army began their attack on the Alamo. Colonel José María Romero’s mission was to storm the east side of the Alamo. Leading 300 men, Romero charged the rear of the church and the lowed walled Convento and northern courtyards. Here he encountered heavier than expected resistance from the defender’s small arms and cannon fire. This caused Romero to fall back and also drift to the north, where he would eventually mix with the forces attacking the Alamo’s north walls.

However, even with Romero’s men now to the north there still was a Mexican presence in that area. At a short distance from the fort was the Dolores Cavalry, patiently waiting for their time. Their mission was to apprehend any defender who tried to escape. And that time soon came.

As Santa Anna’s men worked their way southward through the fort, a group of defenders tried to make a break for it through a narrow opening between the church’s southwest corner and the wooden palisade. As they ran to the south east across the open field they soon met the Mexican cavalry.

Even with supportive fire from the church’s cannons, these men were soon cut down; they really had little chance against a mounted cavalry. Although these defenders tried to escape from the massacre, accounts by the Mexican’s say that these men fought bravely to the end.

This battle site is currently being used for living history encampments, and is where the Alamo Hall and the new Exhibit Hall are located.

Be sure you follow my postings; in a future post I’ll present my theory on the mystery of one of the funeral pyres of the Alamo heroes which will involve this area.

We’ll now walk along the south side of the church, heading back to the front. On the left you’ll see is the new Alamo Exhibit Hall; this was formally the DRT library. Be sure to check out what exhibit is being presented there. 

Just before you reach the front of the church you’ll walk under a stone arcade. This was also built in the 1930s by the DRT. In 2018, this arcade was used as a queue for those waiting to enter the Alamo church. I’ve recently read that this is now where the newly restored Alamo cannon are displayed.  

In Front of the Alamo Church

There are quite a few spots around the front of the Alamo church (see map #17) that I’ll be pointing out. The first is the place where David Crockett and his men from Tennessee defended. They manned what was a long wooden palisade, which ran from the southwest corner of the church to the southeast corner of the main gate Low Barrack building; this is often referred to as, “Crockett’s Palisade”(See map #18).

This line in the street shows where “Crockett’s Palisade” stood.
Photo by author.

There was another, often overlooked, building and wall that also helped to close off this area in front of the church. The building angled north off of the east side of the Low Barrack, and served as the garrison’s kitchen during the battle. From that building, running north to the Long Barrack was a six foot high stone wall (See map #19).

The lines indicating where inter wall ran. Photo by author.

This wall and building, along with the wooden palisade and Convento wall, would have separated this section of the fort from the rest of the compound. It may have been this area that Alamo survivor Susannah Dickinson was referring to as, “the little fort,” in an interview.

To see where the wall and the palisade were, cross over the closed E Alamo Street and look back toward the church. There on the street you’ll see two lines, one going to the church and the other to the Long Barrack, this marks their locations.

memorial grass area in front of the church. Photo by author.

We’re now going back to the church and the large rectangle grassy area (See map #20) in front of it. This is another historical spot that is mostly overlooked, and has nothing to do with the battle. I was told that this grass area was installed by the DRT to remember the mission’s Priests and Indians who were buried there when it was the mission’s “Compo Santo,” or cemetery. Mission records show that nearly 1,000 burials had taken place in front of the church. After the mission was secularized and abandoned in the late 1700s, it’s not recorded if those remains were ever relocated, or simply, forgotten.

Near the church’s front door, on the right side (See map #21) you’ll see a metal plaque in the plaza stones that reads,

The marker indicating where Davy died. Photo by author.

“LEGEND STATES THAT DAVID CROCKETT (BORN AUGUST 17, 1786) SACRIFICED HIS LIFE FOR TEXAS LIBERTY HERE IN DEFENSE OF THE ALAMO ON MARCH 6, 1836.”

DRT Marker inscription

Although this may not be the exact location were Davy Crockett died, it is in the general area described by Susanna Dickinson, as she left the church after the battle.

“I recognized Colonel Crockett lying dead and mutilated between the church and the two story barrack building, I even remember seeing his peculiar cap lying by his side.”

Susanna Dickinson

As you stand there close to the church’s façade, look closely. Those pockmarks you see on the façade are from musket balls, another sign of the terrible fighting that took place there.

Musket ball marks in the church’s façade. Photo by author.

Before we leave this area in front of the church there’s another marker I want you to look for. This marker also has a thin brass rod embedded near it (See map #22). The marker says that it was at that location that Travis drew his legendary line in the sand. However, Travis’s line continues to be more of a myth and legend than a historical fact. And if Travis’s noble event did take place, there is no record that it happened at that location.

Sites on the South End of the Alamo Compound

The Low Barrack
The wall bordered grass area indicates where the Alamo’s Low Barrack was located. The fort’s main gate would have been on the right end. Photo by author.

We’re now going to leave the front of the church, and walk back to where those two before mentioned lines met. There, running across Alamo Plaza is a large rectangular, stone bordered, grassy area (See map #23). This is where the building known as the Low Barrack once stood.

The Low Barrack measured 131-feet long and 17-feet in height, with walls from two to two and a half feet thick. The building had three rooms, with the eastern room being, what is believed, where James Bowie was killed (See map #24). The Low Barrack also held the fort’s main gate (See map #25) and also made up most of the Alamo’s south wall.

It was on this side, closest to the church, where it’s believed that James Bowie’s room was located.
Photo by author.

Just outside the main gate was a structure that helped guard the gate. This was a wood and earthen lunette (See map #26). This lunette was destroyed by the Mexican army, along with the fort’s connecting walls and cannon, after their defeat at San Jacinto.

Although this lunette was indicated on the map drawn by Mexican Officer José Sánchez-Navarro, it wasn’t believed to have been very big or important. However, in 1988 an archaeological dig at the site revealed that this lunette was most likely very substantial in size and importance. Although the exact dimensions still need to be uncovered by future explorations, it’s believed that it ran roughly seventy-two or seventy-three feet to the south of the Low Barrack, and about sixty-three feet east to west.

The Alamo’s main gate would have been where the sign in the background is, and I’d be standing in the Lunette. Photo by author.

Find the marker indicating where the fort’s main gate was and take a few steps south, you’ll then be standing where the lunette was located.

Always New Things to See

Statue of David Crockett
Photo from MySA May 1, 2019, photo by Billy Calzada.

This ends my tour of the historic Alamo compound. However, as I said, this post is based on my 2018 visit, and things have changed since then.

As I mentioned, the restored cannons are now on display in the stone arcade, with one even positioned in front of the church.

In the Cavalry Courtyard (See map #13) are statues of Alamo and early Texas historical figures. And if I understand it correctly, those statues will eventually be moved in front of the Long Barrack.  

Also, I noticed in 2018 informational signs (You can see them in a few of my photos) placed around Alamo Plaza at some of the battle sites; I hadn’t seen those before. Also there seemed to be more tours, both through the Alamo and independent companies, being offered.

One thing I can say for sure, now under the GLO there are many changes being made.

I hope that this post will help you to navigate around what was the Alamo of 1836.

With my next posting we’ll explore those historical sites that are beyond the walls of the Alamo.

Sources used:

Huffines, Alan C. Blood of Noble Men, The Alamo, Siege & Battle. First Edition, Eakin Press, 1999.

Kirkpatrick, Dean. The Alamo Story and Battleground Tour. First Edition, NDK Publications, 2013.

Lemon, Mark. The Illustrated Alamo 1836, A photographic Journey. State House Press, 2008.

Nelson, George. The Alamo, An Illustrated History. Third Revised Edition, Cenveo Printing Company, 2009.

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The History of the Alamo, part XI: “Daddy, is this all there is?”

Alamo Plaza, as seen from the steps of the Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building, hallowed ground, were heroes died.
Photo by author, taken in 2018 during Fiesta.
Author at the Alamo, 2011

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 commercial buildings.

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

Davy Crockett aka Fess Parker.
Photo taken from the YouTube video of Parker’s 1994 Alamo Society’s symposium appearance.

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

A meeting of the 1994 Alamo Plaza Study Committee.
Photo from the June 8, 2017 San Antonio Express-News article, Former EN columnist wanted park in place of part of Alamo Plaza, by Scott Huddleston.

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”

Felipe Soto’s drawing of David Richelieu’s “Alamo Park.”
Art from the June 8, 2017 San Antonio Express-News article, Former EN columnist wanted park in place of part of Alamo Plaza, by Scott Huddleston.

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 Blum Street.

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.

The Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building, and the site of the Alamo’s north wall. It’s in this building that two proposals have a Alamo museum.
Photo by author.

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

The Alamo Restoration Project’s visionary concept of the restored Alamo complex as seen in Gary Foreman’s video, The Alamo Plaza: A Star Reborn.
Art taken from video.

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.

author signing the Alamo Project’s 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.

The Crockett, Palace and Woolworth buildings, purchased by the GLO for 14.4 million.
Photo by the author.

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 boundaries of the Alamo Plaza Historical District.
Map from the Center City Development and Operations Department.

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/.

Huddleston, Scott. “Former EN columnist wanted park in place of part of Alamo Plaza.” San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio Express-News, 8 June 2017, http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Former-EN-columnist-wanted-to-replace-part-of-11206678.php.

Tamari, Nastassia. “Restoring Alamo Plaza.” ABC 7 News, ABC 7 Amarillo, 13 Mar. 2011, abc7amarillo.com/news/local/restoring-alamo-plaza.

“Alamo Mission in San Antonio.” Wikipedia , Wikipedia, 23 2019, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alamo_in_San_Antonio.

Effler, Glenn. “Reimagine the Alamo?… Ok, but this master plan doesn’t.” MySA, Express-News, 29 Apr. 2017, http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/commentary/article/Reimagine-the-Alamo-OK-but-this-master-plan-11107036.php.

“Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee.” Center of City Development & Operations Department, City of San Antonio, http://www.sanantonio.gov/CCDO/Resources/Alamo-Advisory-Committee. 2019.

The Alamo Plaza Project. “A Star Reborn.” Alamo Plaza Restoration Project, Alamo Plaza Project, http://www.alamoplazaproject.com/. 2019.

Alamo Plaza Project. Created by Gary Forman, Native Sun Productions , 4 Dec. 2014. YouTube.

Alamo Plaza: A Star Reborn. Created by Gary Forman, Native Sun Produictions, 18 Nov. 2011. YouTube.

Fess Parker Visits Alamo Society’s 1994 Symposium. Royal Bard, 20 Feb. 2019. YouTube.

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History of the Alamo, Part X: “…disintegration of the church right before our eyes.”

During the night, when the Alamo was closed, technicians scan the church’s walls to determine the extent of the damage on the three century old structure. Photo courtesy of the Alamo CEO Facebook page.

“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.

Ron Current

As I wrote in my post, History of the Alamo, Part VII: The Era of Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the state had been informed of mismanagement of the Alamo properties by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) for years, but when it became evident that the disintegration of these historical structures was far worse than first thought, the state had to step in and act fast.

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.  

The unfinished, roof less and vine overgrown Long Barracks. It remained this way for over 50 years. Historical photo from Pinterest.

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.

The interior of the re-roofed Long Barracks. Today it holds the Alamo Museum. Photo by author

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.

Only part of the current west wall of the Long Barracks is original. Photo by author

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.

A restoration technician examines the interior walls of the Alamo church for damage. Photo courtesy of Alamo CEO Facebook page.

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 it. 

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.

This 2015 photo shows damage done over time by the elements to the base of one of the façade’s pillars. Photo by Bob Owen/ San Antonio Express-News

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.

Stone conservator Ivan Myjer makes repairs to the iconic Alamo façade, part of the 5 million dollar emergency restoration effort. Photo by Eric Gay/ AP

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.

Deteriorating right before our eyes. Black paper catching stone fall from the walls. Photo by William Luther/San Antonio Express-News

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?

Some of my sources:

Weissert, Will. “Restoring the Alamo-experts’ delicate mission.” Military Times, Sightline Mrdia Group, 11 Nov. 2015, http://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2015/11/11/restoring-the-alamo-experts-delicate-mission.

Blische, Kevin. “Re-Roofing The Alamo.” Facility Executive, Facility Executive, 28 2016, facilityexecutive.com/2016/07/re-roofing-the-alamo.

Dobson, Courtney. “Re-Roofing the Alamo.” Roofing Contractor , Roofing Contractor Magazine, 4 Apr. 2016, http://www.roofingcontractor.com/articles/91528-re-roofing-the-alamo.

Huddleston, Scott. “Alamo’s AC may be causing harm.” San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio Express-News, 26 Nov. 2016, http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Alamo-s-AC-may-be-causing-harm.

Associated Press. “Roof being replaced at the Alamo’s Long Barrack.” Washington Examiner, Washington Examiner, 19 Aug. 2014, http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/roof-being-replaced-at-alamos-long-barrack.

Hardy, Michael . “My Grandfather Air-Conditioned the Alamo. Now the Building Is Crumbling, and It’s All His Fault.” TexasMonthly, Texas Monthly, 5 Dec. 2016, http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/grandfather-aie-conditioned-the-alamo-now-building-crumbling-fault.

Gay, Eric. Ivan Myjer, stone conservator repairing the Alamo’s facade. 2015. “Restoring the Alamo-experts’ delicate mission,” by Will Weissert. Military Times, 11 Nov. 2015, http://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2015/11/11/restoring-the-alamo-experts-delicate-mission.

Technicians scan the Alamo church for damage. “Alamo CEO,” by Douglass McDonald. Alamo CEO, Facebook. Accessed 7 Apr. 2019.

Luther, William. Black butcher paper collecting Alamo wall chips. 2016. “Alamo’s AC may be causing harm,” by Scott Huddleston. San Antonio Express-News, 26 Nov. 201, http://www.expressnews.com/article/Alamo-s-may-be-causing-harm-10637994.php#photo-11868339.

Owen, Bob. Weather-damaged base of piller. 2015. “Alamo’s AC may be causing harm,” by Scott Huddleston. San Antonio Express-News, 26 Nov. 2016, http://www.expressnews.com/article/Alamo-s-may-be-causing-harm-10637994.php#photo-11868350.

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The History of the Alamo, Part IX: Chili Queens, Street Preachers and Tomb Raiders

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. 

Ron Current

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.”

Chili Queens

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.

Postcard showing the Chili Queen tables on Alamo Plaza

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.” 

Postcard of Chili Queen tables on the plaza with the Alamo church in the background

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.

Postcard of one of the Battle of Flowers floats in front of the Alamo church.

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

Postcard showing the Alamo Plaza filled with an enthusiastic crowd gathered to hear President Theodore Roosevelt

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 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

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 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.

Walt Disney publicity photo for their Davy Crockett TV series. This scene is Davy (Fess Parker) being presented with his “Old Betsy” rifle.

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

Phillips’ Aquarena Springs was one of the biggest tourist attractions in Texas, second only to the Alamo. The park is now closed.

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’s attractions that occupy the Crockett and Woolworth buildings. Photo by author, 2018

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.

Some of my resources:

“About Us.” Battle of FLOWERS , The Battle of Flowers Association, http://www.battleofflowers.org. Accessed 6 Jan. 2018.

Jennings, Frank W. “Popular Chili Queens Graced San Antonio Plazas.” Journal of the life and culture of San Antonio, University of the Incarnate word, http://www.uiw.edu. Accessed 8 Jan. 2018.

MySA. “History of the Fiesta Battle of Flowers.” mySA, San Antonio Express-News archives, 8 Apr. 2015, http://www.mysanantonio.com.

Cinema Treasures . “Palace Theater .” Cinema Treasures, Cinema Treasures, http://www.cinematreasures.org. Accessed 8 Jan. 2019.

Phillips Entertainment Inc. “About Us.” Phillips Entertainment Inc., Phillips Entertainment, http://www.ripleys.com. Accessed 8 Jan. 2019.

Huddleston, Scott. “State is buying historic buildings facing the Alamo.” San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio Express-News, 5 Oct. 2015, http://www.expressnews.com.

Dietel, Janet, and Adam Reed. “Also conserve interiors of Alamo Plaza buildings.” mySA, mySA, 26 Mar. 2017, http://www.mysanantonio.com.

Dimmick, Iris. “State Purchases Three Buildings Across From Alamo Plaza.” Rivard Report, Rivard Report, 2 Dec. 2015, http://www.therivardreport.com.

Nelson, George. “1876-A demonstration of the new barbed wire.” The Alamo: An Illustrated History, third Revised, Aldine Press, 2009, p. 95.

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The History of the Alamo Part VIII: A Historic Battlefield Erased

The Alamo and Valero Plazas in 1890. This was the Alamo battlefield in 1836.
Ron Current

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.

Samuel A. Maverick

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).

The Alamo and Valero Plazas in the 1880s. The Market House is in the foreground.

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. 

The Alamo church in 1900 with the city street coming up to its door.

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, 2013

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 History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort

The History of the Alamo, Part II: From Fort to Forgotten: http://Www.stillcurrent.blog/the-history-of-the-alamo-part-ii-from-fort-to-forgotten

The History of the Alamo, Part III: From Forgotten to Army Depot:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-part-iii-from-forgotten-to-army-depot

The History of the Alamo, Part IV: From Warehouse to Roadside Attraction:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-part-iv-from-warehouse-to-roadside-attraction/

The History of the Alamo, Part V: Two Angels, Two Different Visions:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-part-v-two-angels-two-different-visions/

The History of the Alamo, Part VI: From Roadside Attraction to a Shrine:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-part-vi-from-roadside-attraction-to-a-shrine/

History of the Alamo Part VII: The Era of The Daughters of the Republic of Texas: http://history-of-the-alamo-part-vii-the-era-of-the-daughters-of-the-republic-of-texas

Also checkout my other posts on this subject

The Alamo; Today and in History:http://the-history-of-the-alamo-mission-to-fort

What happened and where it happened, as it is today; a photo walking tour of the Alamo battlefield (2014):http://what-happened-and-where-it-happened-as-it-is-today-a-photo-walking-tour-around-the-alamo-battlefield

The Alamo and Thermopylae: a Comparison in History:
http://the-alamo-and-thermopylae-a-comparison-in-history

Some of the sources used in this post:

Thompson, Frank . The Alamo: A Cultural History, Taylor TradePublishing, 2001.

Nelson, George. The Alamo: An Illustrated History, third revisedEdition, Aldine Press, 2009, p. 98. Eaton, Jack D.

Excavations At The Alamo Shrine. Fourth Printing, Center forArchaeological Research, 1985.

“Alamo Mission in San Antonio .” Wikipedia,Wikipedia, 30 Nov. 2018,

“Alamo History Chronology.” The Daughters oftheRepublic of Texas, The Daughters of the Republic ofTexas,www.drtinfo.org/drt-library/research/alamo-history-chronology-2#wrap.

Wikipedia . “Alamo Cenotaph.” Wikipedia,Wikipedia, Sept. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alamo_Cenotaph. \lsdsemihidd

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History of the Alamo Part VII: The Era of The Daughters of the Republic of Texas

The Alamo's church 8 X 10
The iconic Alamo façade as it is today. A far cry from historical accuracy, but this is the Alamo that we know
I love history shot
Ron Current

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

cropped Mrs._Clara_D._Sevier_LOC_3350948489 1911
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.

Changing History

In my post, The History of the Alamo Part III: From Forgotten to Army Depot, I presented

The different facades of the Alamo
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

The Alamo church before restoration
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

the Alamo church as it was a warehouse
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

Sanborn map of San Antonio 1885
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.

doc-14408-postcard003wtmk1
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,

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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

The Alamo grounds
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.

Alamo gets a new roof
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.

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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:

The History of the Alamo: Mission to Fort

The History of the Alamo, Part II: From Fort to Forgotten

The History of the Alamo, Part III: From Forgotten to Army Depot


The History of the Alamo, Part IV: From Warehouse to Roadside Attraction

The History of the Alamo, Part V: Two Angels, Two Different Visions

The History of the Alamo, Part VI: From Roadside Attraction to a Shrine

Also checkout my other posts on this subject:

The Alamo; Today and in History

What happened and where it happened, as it is today; a photo walking tour of the Alamo battlefield (2014)

Also, my still unfinished series relating to the Alamo:

Texas and the Alamo: Conflict between Mexico and the Untied States (Part I)

Texas and the Alamo: Conflict between Mexico and the Untied States (Part II)

Texas and the Alamo: Conflict between Mexico and the Untied States (Part III)

Texas and the Alamo: Conflict between Mexico and the Untied States (Part IV)

Texas and the Alamo: Conflict between Mexico and the Untied States (Part V)

Some of the sources used in this post:

Thompson, Frank . “The Second Battle of the Alamo.” The Alamo: A Cultural History, Taylor Trade Publishing, 2001.

Nelson, George. “Feuds Over Preservation of the Convento.” The Alamo: An Illustrated History, third Revised Edition, Aldine Press, 2009, p. 98.

Lemon, Mark. “Swivel Gun.” The Illustrated Alamo 1836: A Photographic Journey, State House Press, 2008, p. 100.

Guerra, Mary Ann Noonan. The Alamo. Fourth Printing , The Alamo Press, 1983.

Eaton, Jack D. Excuvations At The Alamo Shrine. Fourth Printing, Center for Archaeological Research, 1985.

“Alamo Mission in San Antonio .” Wikipedia , Wikipedia, 30 Nov. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alamo_Mission_San_Antonio.

Weissert , Will. “Restoring the Alamo-experts’ delicate mission.” Military Times, Military Times, 11 Nov. 2015, http://www.militarytimes.com/off-duty/2015/11/restoring-the-alamo-experts-delicate-mission.

“Buildings.” The Alamo, The Alamo, http://www.thealamo.org/remember/structures/buildings/index.html.

“Alamo History Chronology.” The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, http://www.drtinfo.org/drt-library/research/alamo-history-chronology-2#wrap.

“Clara Driscoll (philanthropist) .” Wikipedia , Wikipedia, Sept. 2018, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Driscoll_(philanthropist).

“Alamo.” Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historial Association, tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/uqa01.

Hardy, Michael. “My Grandfather Air-Conditioned the Alamo. Now the Building Is Crumbling, and It’s All His Fault.” TexasMonthly, TexasMonthly, 5 Dec. 2016, http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/grandfather-air-conditioned-alamo-now-building-crumbling-fault.

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