The set of public meetings on Wednesday on the Alamo master plan swallowed up eight hours. The proceedings were in many ways a regurgitation of the presentations, debate and all other types of discourse that has transpired since the latest version of the plan was released in early June.
There were, however, what I would call mini revelations that came Wednesday’s meetings—which began with a City Council discussion (before its full vote on Oct. 18), and votes taken in a joint meeting by the Planning Commission and the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC), which both approved the plan.
The Planning Commission voted 5-1 in favor of the plan; Jessica Brunson opposed, June Kachtik abstained. The HDRC voting 8-1 in favor (District 10 rep John Laffoon voted against it).
Let’s dig in.
About those barriers
We knew there would be barriers that outline the walls of the Alamo compound, and we were told they hadn’t been designed. We didn’t know they were going to be 3½ feet in height.
When asked by Sandi Wollf, the newest member of the HDRC, about the railings—what those railings may look like—she received this response from Assistant City Manager Lori Houston:
“In May 2017, we were looking at the glass walls—8 to 14 feet. Now we have taken those glass walls down and we do have barriers, but we’re calling them ‘the railings.’ They have yet to be designed. We think they’ll be about 42 inches in height around that historic mission plaza. And it could be a landscape barrier. It could be a metal barrier. Those have yet to be designed.”
In the few minutes HDRC chairman Michael Guarino spoke, the architect dropped a boatload of knowledge and opinion about the circa-1940 Cenotaph and its creator, the immigrant sculptor, Pompeo Coppini.
“Reading through Coppini’s own memoirs, he was furious that the state of Texas and the federal government, which was funding it, didn’t pony up $3,000 to waterproof the interior of it. So it’s been leaking like a sieve since it was erected.”
“If you look at it very carefully, there are many openings in it, and they’re in all the wrong places. The leading capstone … that you see on the south end of it, above the allegorical figure—you can see daylight through it. And so after the kind of rain we’ve had this last month, all of that has been cascading throughout the interior.”
“It’s held up by an armature, which is concrete, but we don’t know what condition it’s in. And concrete that is constantly wet, as this has been for almost 80 years, can have the danger of the reinforcement bars it it expanding and bursting.”
“So, we don’t know if it’s doing its job holding up the interior. So this is an urgent investigation and there’s really no way to do it from the outside. We can x-ray it. We can do … surveys over the surfaces on the outside and we (can) certainly detect if the blocks have been moving. But we don’t know what the inside looks like until somebody opens up and looks at it.
“Whether it moves or doesn’t move, it’s going to have to be at least partially disassembled. This is my professional opinion.”
“By the way, everybody’s been talking about their ancestry. My is Italian. And, so, Coppini is a figure that’s very important to me and to other Italian Americans in Texas, because he’s sort of our hero. He’s the first one of us who got public credit for his work …”
“I’ve worked and been to visit the quarries and bronze foundries in Italy, where he would have worked as a young man, and there is a tradition of the way the work is done, which, it’s done at the quarries—this was also the case with the Cenotaph.”
“It was not carved in Texas. It was carved in Georgia, and shipped here.”
“It was probably partially assembled there to do a test fit. It was not erected, but it was put on a train and shipped to Texas.”
“So, it’s already moved half way across the country. If they didn’t break it with the very limited means in those days, I’m confident we can responsibility disassemble it and reconstruct it wherever it goes.”
“Let us remember that the stones that it’s made out of have traveled a very long distance to get here to us.”
Officials, including District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, have said that the overall project is expected to be completed before 2024—the 300th anniversary of the year the Mission San Antonio de Valero was moved to its current location. Its original location is thought to be the banks of San Pedro Creek near the San Francesco di Paola Church on West Martin Street.
We knew all of that.
Here’s a more specific (and tentative) timetable offered by City Manager Sheryl Sculley:
» The church and Long Barrack will be under construction and renovation between 2021 and 2023.
» The visitors center and museum, which is to be placed in (or on the site of) the Crockett, Palace and Woolworth buildings directly across from the Alamo facade, will begin spring 2020 and take 2½-3 years to complete.
» The Cenotaph restoration, repair and reassembly is scheduled to be done by about 2020.
» Alamo Plaza construction will begin 2021, and continue for two years.
This timeline, of course, assumes the plan is approved by City Council next week and that it’s not delayed by lawsuits, which groups that vehemently oppose the plan have hinted at. In federal court last week, the Alamo Defenders Descendants Association filed a lawsuit against the Alamo that’s related to the skirmish.
Reason for rerouting
Treviño told HDRC and Planning commissioners the burial grounds on Alamo Plaza were one of the factors that convinced the Battle of Flowers Association to agree to reroute the historic Fiesta parade. Earlier in the day, District 10 Councilman John Courage asked the question I had been wondering: What happened? What changed the Battle of Flowers Association’s mind? Because before, they were like this:
— Ben Olivo (@rbolivo) June 22, 2018
So the explanation by Treviño, who brokered the resolution, was the first one he’d given.
2 a.m. selfie
During the joint Planning and HDRC meeting, there was some confusion as to whether someone could walk up to the Alamo’s front door at 2 a.m. and take a selfie. Specifically, planning commissioner Christopher Garcia asked Treviño what parts of the plaza would be accessible 24/7. Treviño said everything between the museum and the dotted line in this diagram.
Just as it is today, Treviño said.
Some people, like myself, thought all of the Alamo grounds (outside the walls) were open 24/7. But they’re not. Here’s an explanation from Alamo spokesman Kevin Femmel:
“The Alamo Rangers put up a chain between the Church and Plaza around 7 p.m. every night. This chain is at the end of the grassy square in front of the Church, so people are still allowed to take a few steps onto the grounds before they are stopped by this chain.”
“This is done to protect the historic Alamo Church from damage and to stop people from spilling or throwing items like drinks at the Church during the late hours of the night. The public can still step onto the curb and get close to this chain to take selfies/photos with the iconic Alamo Church in the background, but are not allowed to take this picture directly in front of the Church doors or past this chain.”
“It is taken down the following morning as the Alamo prepares to open to the public that day.”
Well, that clears that up.