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Alamo Redevelopment, Cenotaph Relocation Move Forward After San Antonio Commission Approval

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Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
Relocation of the Cenotaph monument has been one of the most controversial portions of the Alamo's redevelopment plan.

The City of San Antonio’s Historic Design and Review Commission has advanced parts of the Alamo’s multi-million dollar redevelopment plan in a 7-4 vote.

The commission approved street improvements, landscaping and a placement for the Cenotaph monument – which is one of the most controversial aspects of the $450 million project. The vote comes less than a week after the Texas General Land Office announced the remains of three bodies found during an archaeological dig.

10.17.18 Alamo Cenotaph
Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
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Texas Public Radio
The Cenotaph

Wednesday’s meeting was heavily packed with opponents of the Cenotaph’s relocation – on which much of the public comment focused despite commissioners already granting the initial relocation approval at a meeting in late 2018.

The Cenotaph was erected in the late 1930s, about 100 years after the Battle of the Alamo. It was designed to be a tribute to the Alamo’s nearly 200 defenders who died during the battle against an army led by Mexican general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna in 1836. The Cenotaph depicts many of the defenders.

District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino, whose council district contains the Alamo, praised the commission’s decision.

“I look forward to the next step which will result in the complete telling of the history of the Alamo for the first time. San Antonio will soon see tangible elements restored and taking shape as the plaza follows the master plan,” he said via a statement.

Moving the Cenotaph is one of the first steps of the Alamo redesign’s master plan and has always been contentious.

Members of the public who spoke brought up grievances regarding the Cenotaph and how the process to move it has progressed. Opponents of its relocation say it belongs where it is because it stands on what is believed to be part of the battlefield.

“The Alamo and Cenotaph are the pride and joy of Texas,” said Lamar Henry, vice president of This is Texas Freedom Force. “The Battle of the Alamo and what it represents are known worldwide.”

However, supporters of relocation say the monument has no historical significance on where it is placed.

“There’s no more scared about that site than there is about any other part of the Alamo battlefield, so there’s not really a good reason to consider not removing it,” said John L. Hinnant, an Alamo historian who attended Wednesday’s meeting.

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Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio
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Texas Public Radio
HDRC Commissioner - District 3 - Gilbert Velasquez (Left)

He said he’s one of many historians who support reverting the Alamo grounds to a recreation of how the site looked during the time of the battle, which is a goal of the master plan.

“That cannot be done unless the Cenotaph is moved,” Hinnant said.

The plans call for moving it about 500 feet across Alamo Plaza near Rivercenter Mall, where a bandstand currently stands.

There was also a strong focus on human remains found during archaeological excavation in two rooms at the Alamo in November.  The excavation was to install moisture monitoring equipment ahead of the Alamo grounds redesign. Three bodies were found, and the excavation was halted.

In September,  the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation filed a federal lawsuit against the Texas General Land Office – which oversees the Alamo – and the City of San Antonio. Their complaint asks for the nation to be at the table in the decision making process when human remains are found.

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Credit Historic Design and Review Commission
A rendering for the new location for the Cenotaph approved by the Historic Design and Review Commission shows the monument near the Menger Hotel and Rivercenter Mall.

At least one member of the commission openly voiced concern over that aspect of the project. Commissioner Gabriel Velasquez agreed that the Alamo grounds need to be observed as a cemetery.

“It does amount to a desecration of a cemetery. It does,” Velasquez said. “When you think about the history of San Antonio that is probably the most horrible thing we can do once we know that we’re doing it.”

Velasquez attempted to introduce an amendment to hold off on some of the project until the city’s Office of Historic Preservation could determine if the Alamo grounds qualifies as a cemetery of historical significance. His request was denied.

Velasquez serves on the commission as District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran’s representative. The HDRC is made up of commissioners appointed by members of the San Antonio City Council.

Questions about any historic cemetery designation from the City of San Antonio were directed to the City Attorney’s Office.

Following the affirmative vote, the next steps in the Alamo’s redevelopment plans are the closing of Crockett Street – which could take place in February – and dismantling the Cenotaph for its relocation.

Dismantling and relocating Cenotaph is expected to begin in January.

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story listed the incorrect name of a commissioner. His name is Gabriel Velasquez.