Preservationists are concerned that eager tourists are doing more harm than good
It’s hard to imagine a battle raging where mariachi bands now play and tourists sip margaritas. Yet in 1836, the 187 defenders of the Alamo, including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, fought and died near the spot where later generations would build the San Antonio Riverwalk. Holes from bullets and cannon blasts remain in the old fort’s walls as a reminder of the Mexican forces’ siege.
It’s not these battle scars that have preservationists worried—they’re part of the building’s history—but they are concerned about the effect of 2.5 million visitors a year. Although asked not to touch the garrison walls, many people are unable to resist, thereby wearing down the stones and leaving a build-up of oils and salts. Rising moisture from the ground, which reacts with limestone and causes it to flake, poses another threat. While previous conservation efforts stabilized the damage, further restoration is now needed to preserve architectural details.
“The buildings aren’t falling down, but we want to make sure they don’t fall down,” says David Stewart, director of the Alamo. “We want to make sure the Alamo is here for our great-grandchildren to enjoy.”
The Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) operates the facility on behalf of the State of Texas. This month it is releasing a master plan for the Alamo’s preservation, prepared by Ford Powell & Carson. In addition to conservation, the plan addresses visitor flow through the site, the design of exhibits and interpretative materials, an expansion of the DRT’s research library, and construction of new educational facilities.
Perhaps surprising to some, since the Alamo is such a well-known symbol of Texas, the DRT wants to work with the city of San Antonio to create better signage at Alamo Plaza, which surrounds the complex. Many visitors currently mistake a mission church there, with its iconic carved facade, as the Alamo itself because the locations of long-demolished fort walls are poorly marked. Other historic features, including the site of the barracks where Jim Bowie died, also could use a visibility boost.
The DRT expects to launch a capital campaign this summer to fund the improvements; it includes $40 million for preservation and new construction, $10 million for a permanent preservation endowment, and $10 million for an educational endowment. The organization hopes that individuals, corporations, and foundations will remember the Alamo—this time with a check.