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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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