This is a column of analysis.
In an editorial board meeting with the Heron last week, District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño described, under the Alamo interpretive plan, one primary entrance to the Alamo — roughly at the Crockett building, which is located directly across Alamo Street from the church facade. Barriers of some form would recreate the outline of the 1836 compound.
Two auxiliary entrances, near the Menger and Emily Morgan hotels, would open up should they be needed to help alleviate congestion.
During non-museum hours, people would be able to access the grounds using six entrances, “every minute of non-museum hours,” Treviño said.
As he was saying this, something didn’t quite jive in my head. Then I remembered.
In July, I read an op-ed in the San Antonio Express-News penned by Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Judge Nelson Wolff and Treviño — titled, “Alamo Plaza must remain a public space” — which, at the time, seemed to clash with the basic principles of the Alamo interpretive plan.
The plan then was pretty much as Treviño described it last week: a semi-recreation of the 1836 compound footprint. Instead of walls outlining the space, some kind of railing would do the trick, thus creating a kind of open-air museum. It would be railing, or some form of barrier — it was all very ambiguous. Still is. Other aspects of the plan drew headlines, but if you were paying attention, this was also significant. At a June 21 public meeting, while 98 percent of the crowd was fuming about Cenotaph relocation and parade rerouting, three young architects wore shirts that said “Don’t Wall Us Out” and “No Fence All Hours.” They held up a sign loaded with sarcasm that read, “Alamo Plaza. Hours of Operation. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.”
David Lake, partner and co-founder of prominent architecture firm Lake|Flato, whose office is located a block north of the Long Barracks, has been a vocal critic of the idea of putting up barriers.
“This plaza was given by the Catholic Church to the city of San Antonio,” Lake told the Heron last week. “It is free and open public space.”
It’s the exact point made by the Nirenberg/Wolff/Treviño op-ed: “The Archdiocese of San Antonio transferred title of the Alamo property to the City of San Antonio in 1871 on the condition that the Alamo and the plaza remain open for public access.”
And again, “The still-evolving Alamo plan must preserve public access to this community space. We oppose any type of barrier that would limit access to Plaza at any time, other than for special events.”
It seemed as though Nirenberg — whom I assumed to be the lead writer — was, in a very public way, telling the architecture team of Reed Hilderbrand (Cambridge, Mass.), PGAV Destinations (St. Louis) and Cultural Innovations (London) to go back to the drawing board. And that Treviño and Wolff were on board with it.
So, last week, I asked Treviño about the op-ed, and how it seems to contradict the concept of a primarily one-entrance Alamo experience. Remember, this is just one aspect of the proposal; for a summary of the others, read our story from last week.
Here’s the conversation, you be the judge:
Me: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you co-wrote an op-ed with the mayor and Judge Wolff talking about how the plaza should not be railed off …
Trevino: What we said was, and this is why I signed off on it — we do have some difference of opinions — what we wrote was that the site needed to be maintained as a civic space, aside from special or scheduled events. And so that is addressed by what we’re telling you: museum hours are special and scheduled events.
Non-museum hours, it’s open.
Me: I’ll have to go back and reread it.
Treviño: Yeah, please do.
Me: That’s not how I remember it.
Treviño: I know. In fact, I can tell you the other parts of (the op-ed). We talked about road closure. If we’re going to do road closure, then a significant traffic study needed to be in place. We have done those things. We’re demonstrating that we’re doing the work.
If the parade routes must be rerouted, it’s through a thoughtful process, which we’ve done, and we’ve actually demonstrated that they’re enhanced.
I would say that the op-ed is something I edited quite significantly, because I wanted to be careful. I knew that there are segments of this that would be impacted if it were worded a certain way, and I also didn’t want the judge or the mayor to have been painted into a corner, because we were too specific.
I would just simply say, respectfully, that if you reread it, you will see that those elements are in place for that reason. Everything we’re talking about today is addressed.
Me: I could have misremembered it, absolutely, but I thought the message was that (Alamo Plaza) needs to remain a civic space.
Treviño: And we think we’re doing that. To further answer that, again, remember that Alamo Plaza is not just a mission footprint. Alamo Plaza is everything from north of Houston (Street) to Commerce. This is Alamo Plaza, and what we’ve done is say, “Look, we want to make room for everything.” The same principles we set for the parade, we said, “Look, do we not deserve to have a complete story that is significant to our culture, our heritage, to who we are as a city and a people?”
The answer is, “Yes.”
And what we’ve done is make room for all of it. And so to say, well, here’s this mission footprint. Can we manage the site certain hours of the day, so we can tell the story? So when people visit here, they come here with one notion, but they leave here educated about our history, educated about the site?
He continues about how the Battle of Flowers Parade will have its own ceremonial zone at a recreation of the south palisade near the Menger Hotel. And how the Cenotaph will be rebuilt and restored in “its own space different from where it is now.” He talked about having a First Amendment rights zone, and places for people who simply “want to enjoy coffee at Alamo Plaza.”
Treviño: Most importantly, while most of this is managed, none of this will have obstructive views. The key here is that the views will actually be enhanced with other elements. So that you fully understand that the Alamo is not a building, it’s a place. I think we’ve done all those things, and the fact is those principles have allowed us to set the table to express that more meaningfully.
Just because we’re managing the site, doesn’t mean the entire site is closed off.”
So, that’s Treviño’s take. What about Nirenberg?
In the coming weeks, the mayor, and Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush, will vote on the proposal as the two members of the executive committee. The plan will also be presented to the Planning Commission and the Historic and Design Review Commission, before going to the City Council for a vote that’s scheduled for Oct. 18.
We reached out to Nirenberg to ask him about the op-ed, but he declined our interview request, saying, through a spokesperson, “The mayor has no comment until after it goes through a few more stages.”
Featured photo by Ben Olivo | San Antonio Heron