The Texas Historical Commission denied a request to relocate the Cenotaph monument in Alamo Plaza in a 12-2 vote on Tuesday.
The commission vote was needed to allow portions of the Alamo’s $450 million redevelopment plan to go through as previously approved by the San Antonio City Council and Texas General Land Office. The decision leaves uncertainty on how specific aspects will move forward.
The Cenotaph is a monument dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the Battle of The Alamo. It was erected in the 1940s, about 100 years after the battle. It currently sits on what was the Alamo’s battlefield and was proposed to move about 500 feet away near the Menger Hotel.
Early in Tuesday’s hearing, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick urged commission members to deny moving the monument saying the decision didn’t need to be made immediately and the monument should remain in the Alamo’s boundaries.
“So, let’s think big, let’s make San Antonio big, let’s do this right, let’s not rush in something today and vote to move the Cenotaph, that’s not what the people of Texas want,” he said.
The concept of moving the Cenotaph has been controversial since its proposal and recent defacement of the monument with graffiti having amplified calls to protect it.
The City of San Antonio, Texas General Land Office and Alamo Trust have said the monument’s relocation was essential to presenting the Alamo grounds as it looked in 1836 when the Alamo faced a 13-day siege from the army of Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
Welcome Wilson Jr., chairman of the Alamo Trust told the commission the Alamo itself is the primary memorial to the battle.
“And therefore our goal has always been to restore the historic 1836 footprint. The Cenotaph was not there in 1836 and the 1836 battlefield had not been reclaimed when they chose to locate in the plaza in 1940,” said Wilson.
Nearly 300 people signed up to address the commission including members of This is Texas Freedom Force; a group that has been driving calls to leave the Cenotaph in its current location. The organization’s president, Brandon Burkhart said the monument needs to stay where it is as many soldiers lost their lives in that spot.
“It sits in the exact center of the 1836 footprint and it needs to stay there. That is our empty tomb to our Alamo defenders kind of like the unknown soldier,” he said.
The vote first passed the commission’s Antiquities Advisory Board by 6-3 with one abstention but ultimately failed the full commission vote.
Commission Chairman John Nau said it’s the duty of the Texas Historical Commission to work with the Alamo Trust to create a visitor experience worthy of the state’s most symbolic and revered landmark.
“There is no question that the end result is worth this pain. The end result should be the Cenotaph located where the blood flowed,” Nau said, adding that the plan to repair and relocate the Cenotaph should have been submitted as two separate items.
Plans to redevelop the Alamo plaza grounds began about six years and have undergone numerous revisions.
Parts of the plan, like the erecting of walls around the plaza, were unpopular and officials changed some of the initial concepts. Other portions call for creating a museum; for which the state has already purchased property.
Nearly two years ago in October 2018, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush signed an agreement on the plan’s direction.
Shortly after that signing, The San Antonio City Council approved the plans for the Alamo’s redevelopment.
In one of the last local approvals needed, San Antonio’s Historical Design and Review Commission gave its blessing in December of last year
However, Tuesday’s vote by the Texas Historical Commission has now put much of the redevelopment on pause.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño has been the lead council member working on the Alamo project.
“I’m disappointed, deeply disappointed,” Treviño said.
The denial puts the project in a state of limbo and the city could need to review its legal strategy, he added.
“This project has been a labor of love and regardless of today’s vote, the hard work to preserve and protect the Alamo will not cease. The adherence to the adopted Vision and Guiding Principles will continue to be the driving force of this project as other options are considered,” Treviño said.
It’s not immediately clear what steps will need to be taken now. The plan cleared multiple hurdles with the Cenotaph’s relocation as a necessity. A new plan may need to take some of the same steps like city council approval.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he too was disappointed, but work would continue.
“We do not yet know the full consequences of the THC decision, and we will be talking with our state and community partners, including General Land Commissioner George P. Bush about the best path forward,” Nirenberg said “The bottom line is that we will not give up the fight to ensure that the Alamo is treated with the dignity it deserves.”
The Alamo Trust, which is overseeing the plans implementation and development issued a statement following the vote saying it would remain dedicated to preserving the story of the Alamo defenders.
“The Alamo Trust will stay focused on educating the public on the history of the Alamo. We will work with our partners at the Texas General Land office and the City of San Antonio to evaluate our options as we move forward,” the statement said.