C. F. Eckhardt
BATTLE OF THE ALAMO
might come as a surprise to many Texans that there were two ‘battles of the Alamo.’
There was the one in February and March of 1836, and then there was one that lasted
for nine years—from 1903 to 1912. |
I really don’t like to write about
the Alamo. Not that I don’t appreciate
what its significance for Texas is--I can’t read
Travis’s last letter on the wall there without tears coming to my eyes, and I
know what a first-water (expletive deleted) he was in his personal life. Still,
everybody’s written about the Battle
of the Alamo—the first one, that is. Not many folks have written about the
| I’ve read the best
histories of the first battle—Steve Hardin’s A TEXIAN ILIAD is about the best,
though it covers the entire war for independence. Walter Lord’s A TIME TO STAND
is up there, as is John Myers Myers’ THE ALAMO. I’ve read the best novel ever
written about the Alamo—Lon Tinkle’s THIRTEEN DAYS TO GLORY, which was the basis
for the John Wayne film The Alamo. I’ve also read the two worst Alamo novels.
One, THE BLAZING DAWN, was written by a native Texan, James Wakefield Burke. The
other, W. O. Stoddard’s THE GOLD OF THE MONTEZUMAS—A TALE OF THE ALAMO, was written
in the early part of the last century and seems to be the basis for the idea that
there is a great hoard of gold hidden somewhere around the Alamo.
what about the Alamo itself? Not
the symbol or the fight, but the physical structure that stands in downtown San
Antonio today. What’s happened to the physical basis of the Shrine of Texas
Liberty since March of 1836? This is the story of the other battle of the
Alamo—how Texas almost lost it forever, who saved it for Texas and how, why we
still have it, and who we have to thank for that.|
in downtown San Antonio today is
not the Mission San Antonio de Valero, but merely the mission’s chapel and a portion
of an old convento or apartment known today as ‘the long barracks.’ Everything
else on Alamo Plaza postdates the Texas Revolution. The original mission’s compound
took in most of the land around the site. The west wall of the compound was about
where the back walls of the buildings across the street are today. James Bowie
died in a small room built into the south wall, near where the gazebo in Alamo
Plaza stands today. Travis apparently died somewhere near where the Cenotaph
stands. The ground in front of the chapel—the building we call ‘the
Alamo’ today—is soaked with the blood of the men who died in that battle,
both Texicans and Mexicans.|
at the Alamo|
Photo courtesy Texas State Library and Archives
the morning of March 7, 1836, the Alamo mission’s chapel and compound were a gutted,
smoking ruin. The chapel was roofless, its bell-towers gone, its walls with gaping
holes from Mexican artillery fire. Santa Anna, not wishing a shrine to the 240-odd
defenders who died there, order the ruin razed. Not one stone was to be left standing
upon another. |
The ruin was not razed. In spite of direct orders from
Santa Anna, the walls of the Alamo chapel were left standing. Not that there was
much there—the façade was badly damaged and crumbling, the walls in many places
were no more than head-high on a tall man. Still, Santa Anna gave a direct order—‘Knock
down the walls!’—but it wasn’t done. Why not?
Nowhere in the records,
Texian or Mexican, will you find that Santa Anna rescinded that order. Nowhere
will you find an explanation of why the order wasn’t carried out. Still, when
Santa Anna’s troops marched out of San
Antonio in pursuit of the ragtag-and-bobtail Sam Houston was trying to turn
into something like an army, the walls were still standing.
are no records there are stories. The stories—from Mexico as well as from San
Antonio—say Santa Anna’s engineers and sappers went to the building to carry
out the order—then turned tail and ran. According to the stories they saw something—several
somethings—standing guard over the ruin. What they saw they described as ‘glowing
men with flaming swords.’
Maybe that’s just an old ghost story. Maybe
the guys who were sent to tear the place down went to a cantina instead. After
too much mescal and what was left of the powerful gringo whiskey, they
couldn’t tear the place down and made up a story to cover their failure. Maybe—but
look at the description of what they said they saw. “Glowing men with flaming
swords.” Where have you seen that before? It’s pretty close to the description
of guardian or avenging angels in both Christian and Jewish lore. Maybe they weren’t
seeing things, after all.
angels may have protected the Alamo ruin from Santa Anna’s sappers, but they seem
to have been sent on other assignments shortly afterwards—or perhaps they felt
the Alamo’s walls wouldn’t need protection from the physical and spiritual heirs
of the men who died defending them. During the ten years of the Republic, the
Shrine of Texas Liberty was not treated with reverence. The mission was built
with cut limestone—already cut, just lying around, nobody was using it. Much of
that stone was cannibalized to build other buildings in San
Antonio. The outer walls of the compound were carried off, as were the gateposts.
Jim Bowie’s death room was torn down piece by piece, and no one, today, can say
where the stones that took his blood are sited. Eventually the two mostly-intact
buildings, the chapel and the ‘long barracks,’ began to disappear piece by piece.
By the time Texas joined the United States the façade of the chapel
was a shambles and the rest of the walls were, in places, no more than waist high
on a tall man. The US Army came to Texas and made
San Antonio its departmental headquarters.
Uncle Sam needed a storehouse—a warehouse—to store grain and supplies, and there
simply wasn’t one available. There was, however, just north of the main part of
town, that old ruin which, with work, could be rendered usable. The Army took
over the ruin of the chapel and rebuilt the walls, then re-roofed it. The present
façade of the Alamo—the step-and-arch
profile that’s known the world over—isn’t what was there in 1836. At that time
the chapel had a flat roof with bell towers at the two west-side corners. What
we recognize as the Alamo’s façade today was built by the US Army’s Corps of Engineers
in the 1840s.
the 1870s the Army had pretty much outgrown its downtown headquarters and was
moving operations to the newly-established Fort Sam Houston, far to the north
of town along the New Braunfels road. It no longer needed the storehouse with
the peculiar façade. At that point controversy enters the story, because nobody
knew, for sure, who actually owned the chapel, which continued in use as a warehouse
by a local merchant firm. By the 1890s it was becoming somewhat of a tourist attraction—“Yeah,
folks, that battle took place right there in my warehouse”—but tourism wasn’t
yet big business. A frame retail store adjoined the stone building, and there
certainly was no reverential treatment of what some called ‘that old eyesore of
a pile of rocks.’ |
Both the City of San
Antonio and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Texas claimed the building.
There was considerable litigation over the title to the chapel and eventually
courts decided in favor of the Archdiocese. The state bought the chapel itself
and the ground it stood on—but no more—from the Catholic Church. All the rest
of the land surrounding the chapel—the land where the battle was actually fought—passed
into private hands.
photo of the Alamo|
didn’t do much with the building. There was no restoration, no effort even to
preserve the crumbling walls. The state owned it, it was there, that was it. Title
to much of the land to the north of the chapel, where the old convento
stood, was held, in the 1890s, by Hugo & Schmeltzer, a firm of wholesale merchants.
They had a huge frame warehouse and salesroom built adjacent to the chapel and
at least some of their offices were in the convento. |
In 1903 Hugo & Schmeltzer was closing its doors for good and selling off its assets—one
of which was the land to the north of the chapel. About three years earlier a
young woman named Clara Driscoll, whose grandfather, Daniel Driscoll, was
Jacinto veteran, returned to Texas after spending
seven years in school in Europe. Clara was impressed with the way Europeans preserved
and protected their historical sites. When she saw the condition of the Alamo
chapel and the land where the battle was fought, she was furious. She began a
letter-writing campaign to newspapers around the state. The objective was the
preservation of the Alamo chapel and as much of its grounds as possible. She joined
the DeZavala Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and immediately
began campaigning to acquire the Hugo & Schmeltzer property to add to the Alamo
chapel, in order to begin proper preservation of the Shrine of Texas Liberty.
Clara was a salty ol’ gal, and there’s more than rumor that she liked her nip—several
of ‘em in succession. She lived much of her later life in Corpus
Christi, and at one time—now demolished—there was a luxurious hotel called
the White Plaza ‘on the bluff’ in Corpus
Christi, overlooking the bay. Clara and several cohorts tried to check into
the White Plaza one night and were refused registration because, quite frankly,
they were stewed to the gills and the management thought they’d disturb the other
“By God,” said Clara, “I’ll build a hotel right next to your
damn’ hotel, an’ it’ll be bigger an’ finer’n your damn’ hotel, an’ when I get
it finished I’ll spit on your damn’ hotel.” (For the record, she didn’t say ‘spit,’
but that’s what the tour-guides have to say she said.) She built the hotel—the
Driscoll, which still stands as an office building in downtown Corpus
Christi. It was right next door to the White Plaza. Atop the Driscoll, attached
to the penthouse, is a projection that overhung the roof of the White Plaza. It
was from that projection, so they say, that Clara did what she said she’d do on
the White Plaza—and she didn’t say ‘spit.’
Robert Driscoll Hotel in Corpus
Postcard courtesy rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
was a long time later—in 1903 Clara was simply a wide-eyed young lady crusading
for the preservation of what has become the single most widely-visited historical
site in Texas and one of the most widely-visited in the US. She and members of
the DeZavala Chapter, DRT, approached Hugo & Schmeltzer about selling the property
adjacent to and directly north of the chapel. |
“Sure,” said Hugo & Schmeltzer.
“You got seventy-five thousand bucks?”
The DeZavala Chapter of the DRT
didn’t have $75,000. Hugo & Schmeltzer was demanding $5,000 for a one-year option,
with an additional $20,000 to be paid when the option expired and five annual
installments of $10,000 at 6% interest to be paid over the next five years. The
DeZavala Chapter—and the DRT as an organization—started trying to raise the money.
Almost immediately a new player entered the game. An eastern syndicate
wanted to buy the Hugo & Schmeltzer property for a hotel, and it was offering
better than $5,000 for a year’s option. Clara, together with Judge James B. Wells
of Brownsville and Floyd
McGown of San Antonio, went directly
to Charles Hugo, the surviving partner of Hugo & Schmeltzer, to try to preserve
the property for Texas. Hugo agreed to give a 30-day option on the property for
$500, cash on the barrel, and an additional $4,500 to be paid in 30 days. Clara
reached into her purse, pulled out her checkbook, and wrote the $500 check that
ultimately preserved the grounds of the Alamo
as they are today.
The DeZavala Chapter DRT immediately called for a
statewide appeal to raise the needed $4,500 by April 17, 1903—the day the option
expired. Though the legislature was in session, it declined to appropriate the
money to pick up the option. The DRT sent a delegation to the legislature—Clara
headed it—and an amendment was placed on an appropriations bill to provide the
$5,000 to pick up the option and reimburse Clara her $500.
appropriations bill could pass the time ran out on the 30-day option. Rather than
lose the property, Clara pulled out her trusty checkbook and put up the remaining
$4,500. The property was safe for a year. The ladies waited for the legislature
to act. The bill passed—but Governor S. W. T. Lanham vetoed it. Clara was out
$5,000 and there was no guarantee the DRT could raise the $20,000 that would be
due in a year, much less the $10,000 per year for the next five years—plus interest—to
complete the purchase.
February 10, 1904, the DRT had raised $5,666.23. The option was expiring and the
eastern syndicate was sitting in the wings with money to buy the property for
cash. Out came Clara’s checkbook again, and she wrote a check for $14,333.77 to
clinch the sale. She also signed, in her own name, five notes for $10,000 each
at 6% per annum to complete the payment. She was now obligated for another $50,000
plus interest, in addition to taxes and insurance on the property—all for ‘an
unsightly old pile of rocks.’ The deed of transfer included the words “This property
is purchased by Clara Driscoll for the use and benefit of the Daughters of the
Republic of Texas, to be used by them for the purpose of making a park about the
Alamo, and for no other purpose.”
something peculiar about Texans—we
love a fighter. Our history—and our legends—are full of one-man—and one-woman—fights
for what the fighter though was right. Clara’s fight to preserve the land around
the Alamo brought an immediate outpouring
from around the state. Money rolled in—and so did sympathy. By August, 1904, the
Democratic State Convention made purchase of the Alamo property a plank in the
party’s platform. On January 26, 1905, the 29th Legislature appropriated $65,000
to complete the purchase of the Alamo property. Governor Lanham signed the bill.
The bill provided that the Daughters of the Republic of Texas should be custodians
of the property. Clara formally transferred the property to the State of Texas
and Governor Lanham conveyed custody of the property to the DRT. Just in case
you think the funds don’t quite add up, the DRT raised $10,000 on its own—and
yes, Clara got her $19,333.77 back—but without interest.
purchases that would ultimately expand the Alamo
property into the park we know today had been made, but at terrific cost. The
DRT, as an organization, was nearly flat broke. Clara’s magic checkbook had taken
a tremendous beating. The very last thing the DRT needed in connection with the
Alamo was an internal squabble-—the
sort of thing that would cause the doomsayers of Texas, of which we have never
had a dearth, to say things like “See, those derned ol’ women can’t even get ‘long
amongst themselves. How’re they gonna run the Alamo!”
Unfortunately, that’s just what they got. |
the single most tireless worker for the preservation of the convento, today’s
Long Barracks—outside of Clara and her magic checkbook—was Adina
de Zavala of San Antonio.
president of the DeZavala Chapter of the DRT, one of the earliest DRT chapters
organized. It was named for her direct ancestor Lorenzo de Zavala, the first Vice
President of the Republic of Texas and the man who could, without much exaggeration,
be called the father of public education in Texas. She worked at least as hard
if not harder than Clara Driscoll, persuading and lobbying, to get the Alamo’s
grounds and surviving structures preserved, but she simply didn’t have the one
thing the DRT desperately needed—and Clara did. In spite of all other efforts,
if Clara hadn’t come up with the money when it was needed there would be no Alamo
Adina’ contribution to saving the Alamo grounds should never
be belittled, for she did much. She also assumed much. Somehow she became obsessed
with the idea that the Alamo park and its management were the prerogative of the
DeZavala Chapter, DRT, and not of the organization as a whole, and in particular
de Zavala possessed—in her own words—the “divine right” to manage the Alamo.
The result was a comedy that, like all great comedies, held within it the elements
October 4, 1905, Governor Lanham, by official letter, formally transferred possession
of the Alamo and the grounds to
the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, “To be maintained by them in good order
and repair, without charge to the state, as a sacred memorial to the heroes who
immolated themselves upon that hallowed ground; and by the Daughters of the Republic
of Texas to be remodeled upon plans adopted by the Daughters of the Republic of
Texas, approved by the Governor of Texas; provided that no changes or alterations
shall be made in the Alamo Church property as it now stands, except such as are
necessary for its preservation….” Upon receipt of this letter the President General
of the DRT, Mrs. Anson Jones, widow of the Republic’s last President and the chairwoman
of the DRT’s executive committee, appointed Clara Driscoll temporary local custodian
of the Alamo church and surrounding property. Adina
de Zavala promptly went ballistic.
She went immediately to the mayor
of San Antonio and represented herself as the duly-appointed custodian of the
property. The mayor, not knowing she wasn’t, gave her the keys to the Alamo chapel—which
she promptly locked to keep Clara and her associates out. During the fight to
preserve the property a lot of relics surfaced across Texas—and the US—that were
supposed to have some association with Alamo defenders. Most were sent to the
DRT in care of the DeZavala Chapter because, at the time, it was the unofficial
but only practical custodian for them. Adina stripped the Alamo of almost all
the donated or loaned relics, claiming they were the property of the DeZavala
Chapter and not the DRT as a whole.
Clara was appointed custodian but
Adina had the keys—and the relics. The state conveyed the property to the DRT
as of October 4, 1905, but it wasn’t until the DRT filed a civil action against
Adina that she surrendered the keys to Clara on November 13. Now Clara had the
chapel but Hugo & Schmeltzer still occupied the old convento and would
continue to do so until all its property was sold. Over the next two years Adina
made life miserable for everyone concerned with the Alamo project, so thoroughly
disrupting the 1907 general convention of the DRT that it was forced to adjourn
sine die without accomplishing anything at all. Clara, herself a member of the
DeZavala Chapter, resigned from the entire organization in disgust.
the meantime factions formed, as they will in any dispute, and accusations began
to fly. One of the charges leveled by Adina’s faction was that the DRT as a whole
planned not on tearing down the frame Hugo & Schmeltzer building at all, but on
operating it as a saloon and vaudeville house, with—horror of horrors—women
dancing in short skirts with their legs bare! This, the rumor-mill insisted,
would never happen if the ‘rightful custodians’ of the Alamo, Adina de Zavala
and the DeZavala Chapter, DRT, were in charge. The thing finally reached such
an absurd level that, on April 20, 1907, the Attorney General of Texas, R. V.
Davidson, was compelled to issue a three-paragraph opinion stating that the duly-elected
executive committee of the DRT—not Adina’s rump-convention executive committee—was
the only body authorized by the Legislature to "…demand and receive rents and
profits of the [Alamo] property.” The opinion went on to state that the Legislative
act “…places the care, control, and custody of this property in the hands of the
Daughters of the Republic of Texas, as a State organization, and not in the care,
control, and custody of any one of the chapters of the organization.” Even the
Attorney General’s opinion didn’t stop Adina’s monomaniac attempts to seize control
of the Alamo. Finally, on July 20, the main body of the DRT managed to get an
injunction to expel her and get the relics back.
wasn’t quite finished. In February, 1908, the Hugo & Schmeltzer building was at
last being vacated. Without the knowledge of Hugo & Schmeltzer Adina
de Zavala managed to get into the building. With help from someone—still unidentified—she
changed all the locks and literally barricaded herself in the building. At midnight,
February 10/11, possession legally passed to the DRT. Miss Emma K. Burleson, the
DRT’s appointed representative, two other DRT members, Judge J. E. Webb, the DRT’s
attorney, and the Bexar County Sheriff all went to the old frame structure to
take legal possession. The doors were locked and barred from the inside and a
man inside refused to open them.
Apparently Judge Webb was expecting
something like this, for he came prepared—with an ax. In the presence of the three
ladies and the Sheriff he applied it to the door. The party entered just in time
to see the man disappear up the stairs. They caught him on the second floor. He
was asked who was in the building with him. He said “No one.”
of people saw Adina go in the building but nobody saw her leave. Sheriff Tobin
had a look around. He found her hiding under a desk, on her hands and knees. He
took out a copy of the injunction to read aloud in her presence, at which point
Miss Burleson’s report says “…she put her fingers in her ears and refused to listen.”
Adina also refused to leave, and the sheriff declared he had to have a court order
to eject her forcibly.
As soon as the standoff became public knowledge
the newspapers, of course, had a field day. In a masterful demonstration of the
sensationalism of early 20th Century journalism, one Texas paper reported that
Adina had barricaded herself “in the very room where James Bowie died”—which had
been torn down and lost nearly a half-century earlier. Newspaper reports—fueled
by Adina and her cohorts—told of her ‘parched lips’ and ‘starving countenance,’
and alleged that she was only allowed to sip coffee through an aperture in the
door, the cup being held outside by whatever the early 20th Century newspaper
epithet for ‘member of a good squad’ happened to be.
The ‘goon squad’
was made up of two Bexar County Sheriff’s Deputies, W. T. Ingle and Nat Harlan.
Those two unfortunates were the target for every calumny a headline-writer could
pile on them, and all they were trying to do was maintain an official presence
in the building and see to it nobody went nuts and torched the place. They guarded
the Hugo & Schmeltzer Building—not “the Alamo” as the news reports claimed—from
midnight Monday, February 10/11, until the final disposition of the situation
on Thursday, February 15. In a letter to Miss Burleson, who was somewhat concerned
that there might be some truth in the newspaper reports—Bexar County’s deputy
sheriffs were not known for gentle and understanding natures—they recounted the
situation somewhat differently. “(W)e treated her with every possible consideration
and respect, and during that time she had plenty to eat, and as far as we know,
was as comfortable as she desired to be.
“She did not drink coffee through
an aperture in the door, as stated by the papers; in fact she stated that she
did not drink coffee, and on one occasion refused coffee offered to her. She was
not a prisoner in the building, but was at liberty to go at any time she chose.
She had the use of a telephone and electric light. “The newspaper reports regarding
Miss de Zavala’s ‘parched lips’ and suffering, from our observation, have no foundation
in fact. The building is filthy and unfit for occupancy, and was full of rubbish
and trash. During the daytime we brought her all the water she wanted, made fires
for her, and were in every way respectful. We also answered phone calls for her,
and would answer calls at the door and notify her parties desired to speak to
her at the door. Respectfully, W. T. Engle/Nat Harlan.”
Adina was finally
ejected from the old building on February 15, the necessary court order having
arrived. She—and the DeZavala Chapter, DRT—promptly filed a civil suit to try
and recover control of the property. Control of the property was placed directly
in the hands of the Governor of Texas, to be held by him until the litigation
was settled. On March 10, 1910, all appeals on the part of Adina de Zavala and
the DeZavala Chapter having been exhausted, the Alamo property was formally released
to the DRT as a whole. The court decided that Adina de Zavala and the twelve members
of the DeZavala Chapter who had pursued the suit no longer had any claim to membership
in the DRT, nor could they use the DRT’s name or symbols in connection with their
activities. This effectively dissolved the DeZavala Chapter. Former members of
that chapter who had long before resigned in disgust at Adina’s actions formed
a new Chapter in San Antonio for the express purpose, under the auspices of the
DRT’s state organization, of managing the affairs of the Alamo.
That Chapter, still in existence, is called The Alamo Mission Chapter, DRT.
Driscoll historical marker|
TE photo, 2006
the daughters had the Alamo and
what we today call the Long Barracks, but they also had an unsightly monstrosity
of a frame building built over and around the Long Barracks—and they were very
nearly broke from all the litigation. There wasn’t much they could do until they
raised some more money. First on the list of improvements, though, was the demolition
of that frame structure. |
This raised yet another controversy. The original
convento had been two story, but how much of the original second story
remained was questionable. In addition, the Hugo & Schmeltzer building had been
around a while and there were people who actually believed it was part of the
historic structure. One of those seems to have been Governor Colquitt, who insisted
that he, and he alone, could control what was demolished or built on the Alamo
grounds. The DRT had to go back to court again. Finally, in 1912, the Legislature
settled the issue once and for all with an act that gave the DRT control of the
grounds and structures. Controversy has raged ever since as to whether or not
there was enough of the second story of the convento to salvage, and both
sides insist they are right to this day. The winners, at least, insisted there
wasn’t, and what there was—which wasn’t salvageable—should be removed so the view
of the chapel from the northwest wouldn’t be obstructed.
’21, and ’22 the old 1849 roof on the chapel began to collapse. Working entirely
from donations and organizational fundraising projects, together with a gift from
the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, which had belatedly come to realize that
‘the old pile of rocks’ was a great civic asset, the DRT reroofed the Alamo.
Not one cent of taxpayer money was involved.
In 1925 the DRT and the City of San Antonio came to an agreement
whereby the property to the immediate north of the chapel—including a large stone
building which served as a city fire station—was transferred to the Alamo park.
That old San Antonio firehouse today is the Alamo Hall—the souvenir shop for the
chapel. That fulfilled a long DRT dream of getting all commercial activity out
of the Alamo chapel and making it a true shrine.
During all this time
the floor of the chapel was the original—dirt. A steady influx of tourists, plus
dampness, often churned this into mud. In 1935-’36—again working entirely with
DRT-raised and privately-donated funds—the stone floor still in the chapel was
laid. At the same time the State, private donations, and the DRT’s fundraising
efforts commissioned the ‘art deco’ cenotaph
to commemorate the Alamo dead that stands in Alamo Plaza today. At least four
previous efforts to raise funds for an ‘Alamo monument’ had failed.
nearly a century now the Alamo and
its grounds have been in the charge of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
During that time not one cent of state money has been spent in the reconstruction,
renovation, and preservation of the Shrine of Texas Liberty. With the exception
of the money that went into the purchase of the actual ground, not a cent of taxpayer
money has been spent on the Alamo.
All operating expenses for the Alamo
shrine and park, including the salaries of the management personnel, grounds people,
and security personnel, have been paid for through that little donation box inside
the chapel, or through the sale of souvenirs at the Alamo Hall.
same time, no one—neither Texan nor tourist—has ever been charged a single cent
to walk through the most sanctified structure in Texas. Nowhere else in the United
States—and quite possibly in the world—is that true. Every other park or shrine,
whether state-run, federally operated in the US, nationally-operated outside the
US, or privately maintained and operated, operates on admission fees. At the Alamo,
though, any schoolchild can walk where Jim Bowie and David Crockett walked—and
it won’t cost a cent.
is unique—not just in being the Shrine of Texas Liberty, but in being the only
major tourist attraction in the United States and perhaps in the world that has
been efficiently managed for nearly a century without becoming—even during the
Great Depression of the 1930s—a burden to taxpayers. In the meantime, what’s happened
to the rest of the parks and shrines
If you’ve tried to enter most
state parks, you’ve found there’s an admission
fee of some sort. You’ve also found that they’re pretty much in a state of dilapidation.
Jacinto Monument had to be closed a few years back because its maintenance
had been so sorely neglected for so long that the monument itself was unsafe.
It cost you, the taxpayers of Texas, a bundle to
fix it. The forts of a later era on what was once the Texas frontier are, for
the most part, preserved in a state of ‘arrested decay.’ That means they were
falling apart, so the state went in and put some cement in strategic places so
they won’t fall apart any worse.
What about in other states? Texas has
perhaps the lowest park-use fees in the country. When my wife and I lived in Kentucky
in the late 1960s, we tried to visit some of the more famous spots there—among
them The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home; Fort Boonesboro State Park, Federal
Hill Plantation House, which is the ‘Old Kentucky Home’ Stephen Foster wrote the
song about, and the Shaker settlement in Kentucky. Admission fees—in the late
‘60s—were $5 per person and up, just to tour the houses.
Have you tried a National Park recently? In 1994, when we visited my wife’s relatives
in Washington State, it cost nearly $20 per car to get into Mount Ranier National
Park. I’ve since found that fees are substantially higher at other National Parks.
Yet here in Texas, to visit the most famous site in the state—one that’s
known the world over—it won’t cost you a cent. Now, why is that?
Te photo, 2006
Daughters of the Republic of Texas—the ‘li’l ol’ blue-haired ladies’—made that
possible. By efficient management and volunteer help, they’ve made it free, for
nearly a century, to visit our greatest shrine. Recently some people in Austin
have been trying to take the Alamo
away from them. We might be moved to ask why. |
As a fact, the Alamo
is the single most widely visited historical site in Texas. If it were run by,
say, the Parks and Wildlife Department, with—suppose—a $2 entry fee for adults,
50¢ for children, it would furnish a sizeable portion of the Parks side of the
Parks and Wildlife Department’s budget each year. That, perhaps, would be beneficial,
but it would also mean that the revenue from the Alamo
would be going to support other state parks and historical sites. It’s entirely
possible that the Alamo and its
park wouldn’t be anywhere near as well maintained as they are today.
For nearly a century the Daughters of the Republic of Texas have made the Alamo
the best-run, most efficiently managed tourist attraction in Texas and probably
in the United States. Instead of thinking about taking it away from them, maybe
we ought to consider making the DRT custodians of all our historical sites. From
all indications, they’d do a better job than has been done to date.
I tip my hat—be it Panama or John B.—to the ladies of the DRT. Ladies, you have
done a truly magnificent job of preserving and protecting one of the most significant
historical sites in the world. You’ve made it where any schoolchild can enter
the Alamo and walk where Travis,
Bowie, and Crockett fought and died—and it won’t cost them a cent to do it. About
no other site in Texas—nor in the US and probably
not in the world—can that be said. You haven’t cost the taxpayers of Texas a cent
in the process. May your shadows on Alamo Plaza never diminish.
C. F. Eckhardt
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas" September
4 , 2007 column
Alamo is NOT best run, it is sadly neglected
In 2007, preservation
architect Carolyn Peterson, with the firm of Ford Powell Carson identified all
of the problems at the Alamo,
but the DRT do not have the funds to correct them. The estimated costs for the
Shrine, Long Barracks, and Centennial Museum totaled about $6.5 million. A $1
million grant from the Ewing Halsell Foundation, obtained by DRT member Erin Bowman
for pressing preservation needs, will be used to fix the roof leaks. The remaining
$5.5 million is unfunded, and dependent upon money raised by a fundraising campaign
that isn't being launched until 2010. THREE YEARS AFTER THE MASTER PLAN.
work on peripheral buildings, and the construction of a large auditorium, bring
the grand total to $35.5 million. This is all outlined in the Master Plan approved
by the DRT in 2007.
I feel that the Texas Historical Commission should
take over the custodianship of the Alamo.
They are acquiring responsibility of historical structures across the state. Preserving
is a priority for all of us - not just us San Antonians, but Texans everywhere.
We can’t wait for the DRT to raise the funds. They should have gone to the governor
years ago to get assistance, and retain professional preservationists to monitor
the Alamo. We need to act now to
save this sacred shrine, the symbol of our liberty.
My website has the
pages from the Master Plan that outline the problems. www.picturetrail.com/sfx/album/view/22617709
Reveley, November 15, 2009