Texas Historical Commission blocks effort to move Cenotaph

Commission rejects (12-2) city permit to restore and relocate monument to fallen Alamo Defenders

SAN ANTONIO – The Texas Historical Commission blocked a controversial plan to move the Cenotaph following a marathon meeting Tuesday night.

The commission voted 12-2, with one abstention, to deny The City of San Antonio’s permit to repair and relocate the monument to outside of the historic footprint of the mission courtyard, several hundred feet to the south of its current location. The proposed move was part of a larger, years-long plan to renovate the area around the Alamo, which Councilman Roberto Trevino said has now been thrown off by this change in its first phase.

“With this failing today and the project not being executed the way it was prescribed as city council voted on it in 2018, it puts the whole the whole project in jeopardy,” Trevino told reporters after the vote.

The larger “Alamo Master Plan,” which the city estimates will cost approximately $400 million, includes repairing the Church and Long Barracks, delineating the historical footprint, and building a visitor center and museum. The proposed move of the Cenotaph, which pays tribute to the fallen Alamo Defenders and was commissioned in 1936, has been one of the most contentious portions of the plan.

Assistant City City Manager Lori Houston told the commission that the monument’s size overwhelms the site, blocks the view of the Alamo, and doesn’t “fit the context of Spanish architecture.” Additionally, she said, the replacement of its foundation at its current site could cause vibrations that could damage the nearby Long Barracks.

“The City of San Antonio worked in good faith to develop a plan with our project partners, including the Texas General Land Office, Alamo Trust and the public to do something truly transformational with this iconic site,” Houston said in a statement released after the vote.

“Unfortunately, after tonight’s disappointing vote to deny the restoration and relocation of the Cenotaph, the Alamo Master Plan remains a plan without a project. For the moment, the answer to the question of many Alamo visitors — ‘Is that all there is?’ — remains a resounding ‘yes.’”

Project partners would discuss next steps in the coming days, Houston said.

Trevino, who is Chairman of the Alamo Management Committee and one of the tri-chairs of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee, helped Houston and U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-TX, present the city’s case to the commission.

Following the permit’s rejection, Trevino told reporters the plan had gone through many boards and commissions. All those meetings “basically had the same premise,” he said -- an “up or down” vote. So making a change without involving them would be a disservice.

“It may restart the entire process, but this city council is going to have to have a discussion, along with the Management Committee, the Citizens Advisory Committee. This is -- we’re going to have to try to map this out and see what can be done,” Trevino said.

The vote came at the end of a nearly 10-hour meeting, following more than six hours worth of public comment, including breaks, as well as numerous questions and comments from commissioners.

Supporters of moving the monument say it would help tell a better story of the Alamo. However, opponents of the move saw the plan as an act of disrespect and raised concerns about possible damage to the monument by moving it.

Chairman John Nau said he had a problem that the monument would be moved to “outside the battle walls.”

“I’ll close by saying to San Antonio that we would hope to have two permit requests that we will act on expeditiously. The issue -- one is to fix. The other is location. We think that that is the logical way to approach this,” Nau said following the vote.

For opponents of moving the Cenotaph, the vote was a reason to celebrate.

“We won. Texans won today,” Brandon Burkhart, president of This Is Texas Freedom Force, which helped organize opposition, told supporters in a Facebook Live video following the vote.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a high-profile opponent of moving the Cenotaph, told the commissioners the state could pay for the entire project, provided the plan be adjusted to leave the Cenotaph in place.

“We don’t need to go out and raise hundreds of millions of dollars. We’ll do it. Our budget is $125 billion a year,” Patrick said. “We can afford $300 million to $400 million over the next several years. And if we have the right plan, the members will be behind that. This is the Alamo we’re talking about. We have to get it right.”

About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.