While I hardly blog about it, or even talk about it now, there was a time when my love of Texas history and the Alamo equaled my love of the American Civil War. I grew up in a household that loved old movies, mainly westerns, so I was quite young when I saw Disney’s Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier, and just a tad older when I caught John Wayne’s The Alamo. While both were far from historically accurate, they cemented within me an interest for a small war that occurred more than a thousand miles away from my home on the shores of New Jersey. When I was 13, a second major Alamo film came out, in 2004, starring Billy Bob Thornton. It was an amazing moment for me, getting a chance to see this film in theaters, and one that was more accurate as well. In the months prior, I had joined an online Alamo message board devoted to the film, where I met a lot of great people, who I am still in contact with a decade later. My interest then reached its peak when I was 16, and my parents took me on a vacation to Texas, to finally visit the Alamo. I remember my eyes tearing up upon seeing it for the first time, and being in awe about actually being able to walk on the same ground as heroes such as David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Travis. It was one of the most incredible moments of my life, and we would spend about a week there. However, I was also in awe about something else—the fact that all that remains from the once-sprawling two acre compound (or Catholic mission turned fortress) was the famous Alamo chapel facade and a small portion of barracks on the left side. I had known what the place looked like before arriving, but it certainly was disheartening to finally see, in person, how the history had been destroyed over the years. I merely shrugged my shoulders in a “Well, that’s that” expression and continued on exploring.
Thanks to being in contact with people such as author Ned Huthmacher and “Wayneamo” historian Rich Currilla, they told me about all the great places to check out, like restaurants and attractions—the non-tourist kind. I eventually met Rich at the set of John Wayne’s 1960 film, which still exists, in Bracketville, more than an hour away. This place, which unfortunately is now closed to the public, is an identical replica of what the Alamo looked like in 1836, with the barracks and surrounding walls. That was what the Alamo in San Antonio should look like, I thought to myself (and so did every other Alamo buff). Visiting other missions in the nearby area (San Jose, San Juan, Concepcion, and Espada) gave me a greater appreciation for Texas and Mexican history, and even more disappointment that the Alamo did not look the same way: untouched.
I never imagined that a time would ever come where there was a serious movement to try to transform the modern Alamo (which is surrounded by stores, buildings, and the city of San Antonio, not to mention a major street that runs right through what would have been the courtyard). I did not think it would be practical, or economically feasible, to see those eye-sore tourist traps taken down and replaced with replica walls. The Alamo was a battlefield where more than a thousand casualties occurred, between both sides, in one of the most legendary last-stands in history. It was, and still is, perplexing, that it does not receive the same treatment as a place like Gettysburg. But wasn’t it too far gone? Restoration and preservation efforts for Gettysburg and other battlefields began immediately after. No such actions occurred at the Alamo until many decades later, after the extensive surrounding walls had already been torn down. Wasn’t it too late?
Not according to historians like Gary Foreman, who have pushed for a restoration effort to take place, to “bring back” the Alamo. The plan has existed for years, but only recently has it actually become realistic. This is not something that can be done overnight, because of how modern the area is, and people cannot just be forced from their places of business. A logistical nightmare exists, but it is not in the realm of fantasy anymore, and could be something concrete before we know it. The mayor of San Antonio is even forming a study group to figure out a better way to present Alamo plaza. Even if an entire compound cannot be replicated, surely something along the lines of a solemn park can form up in the immediate area, as to not have cars and uncaring tourists driving and trampling on what is considered sacred soil. With the Alamo being located smack-dab in the middle of a city, it is hard for anyone aside from history buffs to have any inclination whatsoever as to what the place once looked like.
This afternoon, I reached out to Foreman on Facebook, about this article and ensuing situation, “Now is the time for the city of San Antonio to really know how important the history of Alamo Plaza (and it’s historic footprint) means to all Texans and Americans. Since the battle, the city has sadly diminished the physical presence of the original Alamo compound. It’s time to reverse that trend.” We can all do our part to help Gary and his mission by visiting this website and taking a vote in the poll for the option that states, “Restore the Alamo battle compound as it appeared in 1836, which would mean moving buildings and closing the plaza to traffic.” I have already cast my vote, and encourage (and beg) others to do the same. We have a chance here, to chance history—a chance to say “no” to modernization and commercialization and preserve something that more than deserves it.
What do YOU think about the situation? Please leave your thoughts in the comment area below.