by Ryan Thorson

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TNM LAW: Preserving the Alamo
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For this session of TNM’s Legislative Action Workshop, former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson joins Claver Kamai-Imani and TNM President Daniel Miller for a panel regarding the “Past, Present & Future of the Alamo.”

Miller began the event with a little history on the embattled fort. Since the days of the siege, the Alamo has been a target for dishonor and destruction. Back in the early 1900s, Adina De Zavala, granddaughter of the Republic’s own Lorenzo De Zavala, “mounted a campaign to save” this fort, the hallowed ground where heroes died, from being knocked down. Along with Clara Driscoll of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT), they purchased the chapel and long barracks. Unfortunately, San Antonio retained the rest of it, known as Alamo Plaza.

“Forces within the leadership of San Antonio, if left to their own devices, would’ve bulldozed it a long time ago and put up a Walgreens there,” said Miller on how the city has always been at odds with the rest of Texas on properly preserving and memorializing the Alamo. “The City of San Antonio sees it as a tourist trap,” Miller commented, something to be exploited. Because of this attitude, and because the city seems bent on using the current Alamo Masterplan as a conduit for their own “dangerous” ideology, re-casting the Alamo’s 1836 resistance to tyranny as a tale of slight importance or even something loathsome, TNM has long realized the need to adopt it as a priority concern for its organization. “What it boils down to is that there are, I believe, driving forces within the City of San Antonio that, while trying to make a passing approval of the sort-of symbolism of the Alamo, really are trying to gut what the Alamo means.”

Jerry Patterson spoke on how the Alamo changed from the DRT as managerial agents for the State to being put under the General Land Office in 2013. The DRT stayed on in a capacity similar to what they had been doing. When George P. Bush was elected as Land Commissioner, he cancelled the DRT’s contract and became embroiled in litigation over the ownership of certain items in the Alamo library. He lost and was forced to pay the Daughter’s legal fees. Patterson seemed regretful for how things went after he left and was concerned about the bifurcated ownership of the Alamo footprint between State and City, especially concerning the Alamo Cenotaph. As Patterson put it, “the majority of the footprint of the Alamo… The Cenotaph is owned by the City of San Antonio and it is on San Antonio property. Therein lies one of the problems.”

Miller lamented the Alamo situation and the reimagining scheme (with its threatened removal of the Cenotaph), that it hadn’t yet penetrated the public consciousness like it should. Even with Jerry’s unsuccessful challenge to Bush during the primary (leading with this issue), the dangers to the preservation of the heroic story of the Alamo and the Cenotaph (scheduled for disassembly) persist.

Miller also recoiled at the crass exploitation of the site, such as the city’s attempt at having beer vendors on the grounds. “What’s next? Are you going to put a Ferris Wheel in the state cemetery? Can you imagine for a moment, one moment, someone tendering a proposal to let kids roast hotdogs and marshmallows on the eternal flame? No one would do it!  It would be political suicide!” Yet, the City seems to either not understand or care that the Alamo is a grave and a war memorial and should be accorded a befitting level of respect. This is something that TNM has lobbied for, as well as restoring the Alamo and to its original footprint, under one management; memorializing the site, closing it to vehicular traffic; opening a proper Alamo Museum; and rejecting UNESCO World Heritage Site status for the federal and U.N. influence it brings to this most Texan of historical sites.

“There are two 800-pound gorillas in this fight,” said Patterson, adding to the discussion. “We’ve got the State and we’ve got San Antonio, and the State can’t do what it would like to do (assuming that’s the right thing) without San Antonio’s cooperation.” Continuing, Patterson commented, “The City of San Antonio has a different perspective than the State of Texas. And it’s not necessarily a bad one, but you have to continually be aware that their objective is to make this a downtown amenity, a downtown place to stroll, like a park [or] a meeting place.” Or, as Claver put it, an extension of the Riverwalk. “[George P.] has done some right things, [but the problem is] you need to be much more aggressive than, in my opinion, that Commissioner Bush has been in dealing with the City of San Antonio.”

Certainly, as Patterson noted, “We have leverage. The big spender in this endeavor is the State of Texas.” With this perspective, the State could better motivate San Antonio to value the historic preservation side of the Alamo. “Things that concern me are generally in the interest of telling the whole story of the Alamo, and I am absolutely in favor of telling the whole story. But when you put together a laundry list of items (and I have seen it) that encompasses everything that happened on that site going back to the 1600s, you cannot do that without (even possibly, unintentionally) diminishing the story of what happened in 1836. Absent 1836, there would be no discussion about this today! Nobody would care.” Patterson has no problem with the pre-1836 information being available, but its equal presentation with the battle cannot be done for the tourists but at the expense of the only reason people visit the Alamo.

Patterson’s other major concern was the Land Office’s lack of transparency. “I created a 501C3 nonprofit solely for the purpose of raising private dollars to help restore the Alamo. Commissioner Bush has created two or three more nonprofits which have been used to hide the ball on how the money is being spent. There’s just no way around it!” As an example of this Patterson cited Bush’s firing of the DRT, which meant that he now had to find a way to fund the 100+ employees (such as security) that the Daughters previously covered. So, he formed a 501C3 for securing state funds for their pay, but this way his books didn’t show that he increased state expenditures, preserving his image as a small-government Republican. “It’s too much about appearances,” said Patterson.

Going forward, Patterson favors the Texas Legislature having more direct control to eliminate some of the political garbage that has attached itself to the Alamo, which won’t happen as it is under the General Land Office. He instead favors giving it to the Texas Preservation Board, which is directly accountable to the legislature. Differing somewhat from the former commissioner, Miller believes putting it under Texas Parks and Wildlife is a suitable fallback position for the Alamo, but ideally would like to see the entirety of that footprint owned by the State of Texas, possibly by the State coming in to “eminent domain the whole thing.” But regardless of the method, both agreed on the goal of preserving and protecting the Alamo.

You can watch the entire session below.


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