Local NewsAlamo Plan Leadership Clings to Cenotaph Move Despite Permit Denial

Moving the cenotaph has become a white whale for Alamo leadership, with plans for renovations largely unchanged even after the permit denial.
November 13, 2020
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The fraught Alamo Project ground to a halt when the Texas Historical Commission (THC) voted against moving the Alamo Cenotaph two months ago. This week, the city mustered its forces again in a video briefing, but with little change.

Assistant City Manager of San Antonio Lori Houston presented a plan almost identical to the outline given to the Texas Historical Commission. The city, loath to relinquish control of the Alamo to the Texas Legislature as Republicans such as Lt. Governor Dan Patrick have urged, stuck to its guns on the comprehensive plan for the site and the competence of the coalition that makes up the Alamo Plan: the City of San Antonio, the Texas General Land Office (GLO), and the Alamo Trust.

“Our vision is to engage, to tell the story of the battle, include and interpret diverse cultures that contributed to the story, and tell the in-depth story of all that lived, fought, and died there. And that’s key,” Houston said.

Despite the permit rejection from the THC, the city’s presentation still fixed the cenotaph move in the center of the proposal, without which all other renovations cannot continue according to plan leadership. Alamo Trust CEO Douglas McDonald once called it “the gate that needs to be opened that allows the project to fully happen.”

City Councilman Manny Pelaez echoed disappointments common to all corners of the Alamo debate when he described the Alamo experience as underwhelming.

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“We can do better,” Pelaez said. “One of the first things I did [in San Antonio] is take my parents downtown, and we went to the Alamo… and everybody, almost as if we were reading from a script in unison, said ‘That’s it?’… That plaza, the way it is right now, does dishonor to the enormity of the story.”

Pelaez went on to support the plan, saying that he envisioned materials to expose the “layered history” of the site.

“Right now, ain’t nobody feeling any awe,” he said.

At the Thursday meeting, some council members pressed Houston on the city’s stubborn opposition to well-liked renovations that don’t include the unpopular cenotaph move.

“To not have sat down and come up with a Plan B, I think shows that there’s too much tunnel vision on where this project has been going,” Councilman John Courage said.

Councilwoman Adriana Garcia likewise prodded city leadership on the lack of a “Plan B,” though more gently, and took some issue with preliminary studies conducted to gauge support for the plan and use other sites to guide the renovation.

“We talk about the U.S. Capitol Complex, we talk about Rockefeller Center, we talk about the Presidio, San Jacinto Battleground, Pearl Harbor… I was wondering how those important plazas were selected as points of comparison, because I did notice that in some of the minutes of the Alamo Advisory Committee, it came up that some of those really weren’t things that we could compare,” Garcia said.

“I’m wondering, for instance, why wasn’t Fort McHenry considered? Who gave us that list of other plazas that were considered?”

The cenotaph, a monument near the church meant to commemorate the defenders as an empty tomb, has stood since 1939 when Italian artist Pompeo Coppini sculpted it for the Texas Centennial. Leaders of the Alamo Plan say moving the anachronistic cenotaph would have been necessary to reclaim the 19th-century look of the original battlefield.

From competing polls and citizen testimonies, a roughly unanimous desire among Texans has emerged to reclaim the site in a manner befitting the gravity of the Alamo’s memory. Currently, the church faces a line of tourist shops that stand on the historic battlefield. However, leaders of the Alamo Plan have made moving the cenotaph a keystone of the renovation, a vastly unpopular element of the plan further tainted in the public’s eye by the revisionism of City Councilman Roberto Trevino’s plan to reimagine the site with educational materials that tell a more comprehensive story.

A city poll found 68 percent approval among Texans for the whole proposal and 74 percent among Texans who are familiar with the plan, while respondents to a THC online survey opposed the cenotaph move 29,003 to 1,625. When former General Land Office Commissioner Jerry Patterson weighed in at the September 22 virtual THC meeting, he said that the city’s poll was worded somewhat sympathetically.

“The question that was asked that got the 68% response was a three-part question… Two out of three are no-brainers,” Patterson said.

Verbatim, the poll asked, “Do you support or oppose the proposal to restore and showcase the battlefield, build the privately funded Visitor Center and Museum, and repair and move the Cenotaph?”

The building mistrust of Alamo leadership comes as a number of wealthy donors jump ship on the project, with billionaire board members Romona Bass and Nancy Perot resigning with others from Alamo Trust. Bass cited the THC permit rejection as a key reason for her departure.

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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.

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