Past the midpoint of last night’s Alamo meeting, moderator Leonard Rodriguez, who sits on the Alamo Community Advisory Committee, asked the 50 or so people in attendance, “On the cenotaph, by a raise of hands, how many of you are opposed to moving it absolutely one inch?”
Nearly every hand shot up. One woman held up both arms as if to signal “touchdown!”
“OK, OK, alright,” Rodriguez said. “That message is heard loud and clear. We got it.”
The idea to move the cenotaph was the biggest frustration among those in attendance on Monday night at the Ron Darner Park Operations Headquarters on the West Side.
The relocation of the cenotaph, a monument erected in 1940 to honor those who died defending the Alamo, is by far the most contentious of all the major changes being proposed to Alamo Plaza. And the descendants of the defenders say their voices aren’t being heard. Also among the groups that opposed the plan are descendants of the indigenous people who inhabited local land way before the Spanish founded San Antonio in 1718.
Last year, a plan unveiled by another set of out-of-town consultants suggested the cenotaph be moved out of Alamo Plaza and closer to Market Street. That idea, and the infamous glass walls concept, spelled doom for the plan.
In the current version, the design team of Reed Hilderbrand (Cambridge, Mass.), PGAV Destinations (St. Louis) and Cultural Innovations (London) crafted what they felt was a compromise: move the cenotaph roughly 500 feet south from its current location in front of the long barracks to in front of the Menger Hotel, where one of the Alamo defender funeral pyres was located.
The descendants are frustrated because they feel like the feedback they gave last year — to not move the cenotaph one bit — is not being heard this time around.
“The Alamo is part of Texas, and that’s why so many people are upset,” said Brandon Burkhart, president of This is Texas Freedom Force. “That (cenotaph) means more than anything to all of us. We feel like the Alamo advisory committee, (Alamo CEO Bruce) MacDougal, (District 1 Councilman Roberto) Treviño are not listening to what we are saying.”
As another woman put it, “It was part of the initial feedback to keep it where it’s at.”
Many others compared the cenotaph to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a sacred war memorial that should be left alone.
All meetings are scheduled from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
» Tuesday, June 19, Phil Hardberger Park Urban Ecology Center, 8400 N.W. Military Highway
» Wednesday, June 20, Embassy Suites Hotel & Spa at Brooks, 7610 S. New Braunfels Ave.
» Thursday, June 21, San Antonio Garden Center, 3310 N. New Braunfels Ave.
Some in the audience submitted their feedback via mobile device or notecards, which was collected and projected on a screen. Among them:
» “Don’t surround so closely with trees so that the memorial disappears behind the foliage.”
» “Leave it intact and in place.”
» “War memorial and family headstone sits on sacred ground where Alamo defenders blood was shed, do not reinterpret or reimagine Texas history,” which drew the loudest applause of the night.
Many feel like the cenotaph move is a done deal. They quoted comments Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Treviño made to the media about their desire to see the Cenotaph repaired and moved, but it was unclear which media outlet they were quoted in.
“No decision has been made, that I guarantee you,” District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse told the audience. “Part of the public process is: What is the real quantity of opposition? We’re going to figure that out with members of the state. I can tell you this: My colleagues are honorable down to a T.”
When told by one audience member that all Alamo discussions should be held in the open, and not behind closed doors, Brockhouse responded, “Hello, that’s where I stand on it … Nothing is happening behind closed doors. If there was, you would hear it. I would say it is wrong.”
Audience members were reminded that the plan is still in draft mode, and that the public feedback process began Monday night. Four other meetings are scheduled for this week in different parts of the city, and four more are scheduled for July 16-19. And the Alamo Community Advisory Committee continues to meet to give their feedback on the plan.
There is no schedule or deadline for the plan to be taken to the City Council for consideration, Assistant City Manager Lori Houston said in an interview.
At the end of the meeting, the feeling among many still there was that their voices had been heard. It took the better part of two hours, constant interruptions and a few insults to get there.
Originally, the evening’s format reserved time for people to ask questions, but only at the very end, if there was enough time. Instead, audience members, many of whom were holding up signs that read, “Don’t Move the Cenotaph,” were asked to submit their feedback via smart phone or notecard, which would then be compiled and projected on a screen for the room to see.
During presentation by the consultants, audience members wedged in their questions anyway. To their credit, city leadership capitulated, and what resulted was a combination of open dialogue and a continuous look at the comments coming in realtime that seemed to satisfy most in the room.
Trish DeBerry, president and CEO of The DeBerry Group, which is organizing the public feedback process, said the remaining meetings would be run very much like the way last night’s meeting unfolded — a mixture of spoken and written comments with the moderators kind of improvising along the way.
Tonight’s meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. Phil Hardberger Park Urban Ecology Center, 8400 N.W. Military Highway.
Featured photo: Roberto C. Treviño, District 1 City Council member and Tri-Chair on the Alamo Plaza Advisory Committee, introduces the proposed process and steps of the Alamo master plan at the first Alamo public meeting Monday night at Ron Darner Park Operations Headquarters. V. FINSTER / SAN ANTONIO HERON