Panel holds discussion about possible Alamo Plaza improvements
By Cory D. Hill
The UTSA downtown campus became a verbal battleground on Sept. 19 when a panel of five answered questions about ideas for the western edge of the historical Alamo Plaza.
The San Antonio Express-News and the University of Texas at San Antonio organized the panel to share ideas for improving the Alamo and the developed downtown area surrounding it.
Panelists included Mayor Julian Castro; Sue Pemberton, president of San Antonio Conservation Society; Larry Laine, chief clerk in the Texas General Land Commission office; Gary Foreman, historian; and Davis Phillips, president and CEO of Phillips Entertainment Inc.
Gilbert Garcia, moderator and San Antonio Express-News columnist, foreshadowed the tone of the evening.
“The city has struggled to find an approach that simultaneously honors the history that the Alamo represents while also creating a vibrant contemporary downtown space that makes it a place appealing to tourists and to residents alike,” Garcia said.
The mayor said the Alamo has been many things to different people.
“It was the site of a battle, a shrine where people practiced their faith. For Native Americans, it also has significance, and today it is the city’s top tourist attraction.” Castro said.
More than 2.5 million visitors tour the Alamo annually, according to thealamo.org website.
A former director of social studies and retired history teacher for the San Antonio Independent School District, Dr. Amy Joe Baker, said. “I represent the views of school children. What people from around the world come to see is not the Tomb Raider.”
The Tomb Raider is a 3D interactive ride located directly across from the Alamo.
“They come to see the Alamo,” Baker said.
Historian Foreman said, “The question really is what makes Alamo Plaza unique? The issues we have today is that we are looking at a space that is so rich in history.”
Using Gettysburg, Pa., as an example, Foreman explained that Gettysburg was an 18th century village with a history reaching further than the Civil War.
“Gettysburg made a choice years ago,” Forman said. “They said what makes us unique, and they said it’s those three days in July.”
Foreman continued, “By recreating the uniqueness of 1863 Gettysburg, the 150th anniversary of the battle saw 250,000 people, including 15,000 re-enactors.
“The human story is what people are looking for when they come to Alamo Plaza. The human story of the Native Americans, the Spanish Mission and certainly about the Alamo.”
Texas Indigenous Council representative Antonio Diaz believes the Alamo should commemorate more than the battle of 1836.
“Our history goes the longest,” he said. “We were the people that were indentured into the missions and built those missions.”
Concerned with focus on only the battle and the lack of “storytellers and indigenous historians” on the Alamo grounds, Diaz said the culture and representation for those who lived and are buried at the site have been lost.
Answering a reporter’s question after the event, Diaz said the council would be interested in sharing their history with the defenders of the Alamo.
“Of course, that is our aim, to get true history out there,” he said.
Pemberton, in her closing statement, summed up the meeting, “There are a lot of opinions and a lot of factions within this audience.”
“In a lot of ways, that’s what makes San Antonio San Antonio. We are not just one ethnicity, one ethnic group.”
“The challenge is the ability to represent the layers in our history, with an overall interpretation, not just individual factions,” Pemberton said.