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Alamo redesign is not about the physical space — it’s about the story

August 11, 2018 GMT

Imagine being assigned the challenge of developing and implementing a comprehensive interpretive plan of a military site that was destined to become the setting of a famous battle cry, leading to the creation of a constitutional republic and a free people.

What would become the heart of this iconic story?

It wouldn’t be what I’ve seen, read or heard to date from PCAV Destinations, Reed Hilderbrand or city officials.

I see a lot of sizzle in the form of site planning, storytelling, visitor experiences and education, area connectivity, public safety, archaeological preservation and an “open air” museum, all under a “sustainable business model.”


But I don’t see the steak.

This comprehensive, expensive public engagement exercise is a long-term civic statement about what makes Texas, Texas. We better get it right or they’ll be some reckoning at the OK Corral before sunset.

Officially, the consultant’s charge is to “develop a comprehensive analysis and strategic design of the Alamo — physical approaches to the historic site and immersive educational experiences that engender powerful emotional connections.”

If the goal is to “engender powerful emotional connections,” the consultants have already succeeded. Maybe they should get paid, and we should cut our losses and send them back to the East Coast.

This Alamo “redesign” is not about the physical space.

We need native-born Texans — the blend of our cultural mosaic with ties to this historical setting — to share their context of 1836. The Alamo defenders’ story is our enduring story, greater than themselves, greater than their racial, ethnic, indigenous or cultural identity. Their yearnings are our yearnings, but they distinguished themselves by paying the ultimate sacrifice, nothing of which can be interpreted from plans presented so far.

Where is this most important “interpretive design”?

The public needs to hear in separate presentations the nature and scope of the “reverence and respect” identified as among the five key concepts adopted by the City Council in May 2017. It must become the centerpiece of the visitor experience, understood from the heart and mind, rather than germinating from a business model.

Do not make us soft by softening our hard-earned history. Texans don’t wear soft faces.

Nor should the visitor experience “change the understanding of the Alamo as a building to the Alamo as a place.” Wrong again.

The power of “the Alamo” is in our heroic imagination, to the extent we have one, and if not, it needs to be cultivated. This is exactly the education our educators need to invest in. This must become the “design principle” guiding us, not some place-based jargon planted by design professionals familiar with the conventional, theme-park World Heritage artificiality.


Why are we ruining this revolutionary moment, the turning point between one form of government vs. another?

For my taste in authenticity, bring the Alamo back to its original setting as much as possible, because we’re not enshrining a place — we’re understanding and recognizing the context of personal sacrifice, from both sides of the battle. I’m imagining period actors at the crossroads of their momentous lives, with words of inspiration and desperation, foreboding defeat and death, and the foretelling of victory, rebirth and glory.

Is anyone against authenticity? Allow us to learn hard, uncomfortable truths and realities to facilitate healing. Let’s understand why our history is told from the losing side.

These are our actual birthmarks; why must we hide them? We wear those scars to signify our ancestors’ life work; why must we mask them?

As a native-born Tejano whose forebears were instrumental in the creation of Texas, I want to see and experience that true grit, character, resiliency, fervor for independence and honor.

At $400 million, we are shooting blanks for the sake of “a vibrant urban space” that some want imposed upon republican Texans who know their creation story better than “pedestrian-friendly” design consultants.

We also must not accept characterizing this historical site as an “entertainment area,” as described by City Manager Sheryl Sculley, nor should we accept that the telling of the Alamo story as one where “myths are allowed” as a way to “provide an engaging visitor experience.”

Are these ideas consistent with the vision to “tell the in-depth history of the Alamo as a tribute to all who lived, fought and died there”?

To date, we have not seen a comprehensive analysis nor a strategic design. We’ve seen too much focus on physicality expressed at the expense of silencing those heroic voices of our forebears, denying their legacy of inspired sacrifice, and their foundation of our values, beliefs and principles they died for.

Their silence is deafening.

Native Texans need to muster and draw a real line in the ground to hear our authentic story, rather than settle for folkloric storytelling, myths and being entertained under a canopy of cottonwood trees.

Fernando Centeno specializes in community economic development strategies. He has a master’s degree of education, and in administration, planning and social policy from Harvard University. He can be reached at fcenteno@satx.rr.com