By Melissa Jacobs
It may be the most famous spot in Texas: Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known simply as The Alamo. The site where a rag-tag group of defenders, outnumbered in weapons and men, took on the Mexican Army in a pledge to fight ’till the last man standing.
After a 90-minute battle, it was over. The defenders all died, but the 1836 battle is considered a turning point in the war for Texas independence. Military historian William McWhorter said it “galvanized” fighters who, a month later, defeated Mexican forces at the Battle of San Jacinto, “crying ‘Remember the Alamo.'”
Problem is, these days, the Alamo is decidedly unmemorable. The site, a 4.2-acre complex in the heart of downtown San Antonio, captures visitors’ attention, on average, for less than eight minutes.
Texas wants to change that.
Under a newly signed budget bill, the state is stepping in to provide $32 million to revive the iconic facade and resurrect the heroic tale using 21st century technology and a master plan in partnership with the city.
“The Alamo is our top tourist destination, but honestly it’s underwhelming,” said Alamo Director Becky Bridges Dinnin. “We have not told the whole story. The Alamo defined the heart and soul of the West. It’s a snapshot of history.”
Dinnin envisions the “new” Alamo employing a range of technologies to tell the story, as well as living historians or characters role-playing the Alamo experience, similar to Colonial Williamsburg — along with a new center to house an expansive collection on permanent display.
‘The Alamo is our top tourist destination, but honestly it’s underwhelming. We have not told the whole story. The Alamo defined the heart and soul of the West.’
– Alamo Director Becky Bridges Dinnin
Along with gardens and the church, the existing compound encompasses the Long Barracks site, the oldest building in the complex and a visitor’s center built in the early 1930’s.
Yet space is so tight, Dinnin says there are 30,000 to 40,000 artifacts not on display, including Santa Anna’s sword and musician Phil Collins’ collection donated last fall of 200 Texas treasures. The Collins collection includes the original Jim Bowie knife and a rifle used by Davy Crockett. Bowie was a renowned knife fighter; Crockett was a Tennessee congressman and frontiersman inspired by the Texas cause. Both lost their lives during the battle.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill granting the funds on June 12.
“It’s no secret that Texans take great pride in the history of their state, and there is no symbol more evident of that pride than the Alamo,” Abbott said in a statement. Along with bolstering the reputation of the site, Abbott said he hopes the money will “ultimately preserve the memory of those who so bravely fought for the freedom of the people of this great state.”
The investment comes as the General Land Office takes over day-to-day operations of the site from The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, a volunteer organization which has managed and maintained the site historically.
The funds are from a bill spearheaded by state Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio.
“It’s a sacred site around the world,” said Menendez. “Unfortunately, the limestone is crumbling and unless the state acted for the preservation of the Alamo, I was afraid this unique Texas identifier would fall into disrepair.”
Founded in 1718, the site is one of the oldest churches in the nation and was the first hospital in the state.
Menendez said he hopes the funds will be used to “develop a museum-like atmosphere.”
The history inside the compound is undoubtedly rich. A recent exhibit included theWilliam B. Travis letters, which chronicle the countdown in which 182-257 Texians, (as they were known at the time) and Tejanos battled to hang on to the garrison during the 13-day siege.
“Our flag waves proudly from the walls,” writes Travis in a letter spirited across the plain by one of his cavalry. Another letter in the collection is addressed: “To The People of Texas and All Americans in The World.”
Once a formalized master plan is forged later this summer, the Alamo team hopes other collections will emerge.
Alamo historian and curator Richard Bruce Winders says the battle of the Alamo continues to resonate with a timeless message. “It demonstrated that this was a war that had to be won or Texas would be lost. ‘Remember the Alamo’ means to remember the courage, honor and dedication to duty of those who perished.”
Originally posted here