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Vintage photos show the Alamo as far back as 140+ years ago

Earliest known photo of the Alamo was taken in 1849

Photograph shows the Alamo, Long Barrack (left) and Chapel (right).  Crockett Hotel in background (right). Photo ca. 1927.
Photograph shows the Alamo, Long Barrack (left) and Chapel (right). Crockett Hotel in background (right). Photo ca. 1927. (UTSA Special Collections)

SAN ANTONIO – The Alamo is a former Franciscan mission in the heart of downtown San Antonio and it’s one of, if not the most, recognizable buildings in Texas. But have you seen it as far back as 140 years ago?

Construction began on the famous mission, known as San Antonio de Valero Mission, in 1718 and it was converted to a fort in 1803.

The earliest known photo of the Alamo is actually a daguerreotype which is first publicly available photographic process. It was taken in 1849 and shows three men standing outside the landmark.

Photos from the University of Texas at San Antonio’s special digital collections show photos of the Alamo throughout history, with one of the oldest photos dating back to the 1870s.

This unmounted print made for a stereograph shows a view looking northeast towards the Alamo. Photo is dated ca. 1872-1877.
This unmounted print made for a stereograph shows a view looking northeast towards the Alamo. Photo is dated ca. 1872-1877. (Mary Ann Guerra and Wandita Ford Turner)

According to a description on UTSA’s digital collections site, the photo below was taken from Dreiss’s Alamo Drugstore in Alamo Plaza ca. 1882.

Photograph shows Alamo Plaza with meat market in foreground. The Alamo chapel and Grenet Building in background. View looking northeast. Ca. 1882.
Photograph shows Alamo Plaza with meat market in foreground. The Alamo chapel and Grenet Building in background. View looking northeast. Ca. 1882. (UTSA Special Collections)

The photo below shows the interior of the Alamo with an inscription that reads “Interior Alamo. Erected 1738. San Antonio, Tex.”

Photograph shows the interior of the Alamo chapel with frame roofing visible. Photo ca. 1900.
Photograph shows the interior of the Alamo chapel with frame roofing visible. Photo ca. 1900. (UTSA Special Collections)

A Japanese monument donated by Professor Shigetaka Shiga, from Tokyo, is shown below in a photo from 1914. The monument is dedicated to the “heroes of the Alamo” who defended the mission from Spanish forces led by Santa Anna for 13 days. “Remember the Alamo” later became a battle cry during the Mexican-American War, according to History.com.

Photograph shows stone monument, dedicated to the heroes of the Alamo, that was donated by Professor Shigetaka Shiga, from Tokyo, and placed in the Alamo convento courtyard in 1914.
Photograph shows stone monument, dedicated to the heroes of the Alamo, that was donated by Professor Shigetaka Shiga, from Tokyo, and placed in the Alamo convento courtyard in 1914. (UTSA Special Collections)
Photograph shows the Alamo chapel as viewed through the gateway on the north side of the building. Prickly pear cactus growing on Alamo parapet. Photo ca. 1927
Photograph shows the Alamo chapel as viewed through the gateway on the north side of the building. Prickly pear cactus growing on Alamo parapet. Photo ca. 1927 (Ann Russell)

Some photos don’t just show the old mission but also the area surrounding it. Below is a photo that depicts the Alamo along with Alamo Plaza ca. 1935. Palm trees and old cars can all be seen, in addition to pedestrians in the distance.

Photograph shows view looking toward the northwest from Menger Hotel. Buildings, from left to right, include:  Crockett Block, Palace Theater, and Woolworth's (all on Alamo Street); the Gibbs Buildings; and the Post Office. Photo ca. 1935
Photograph shows view looking toward the northwest from Menger Hotel. Buildings, from left to right, include: Crockett Block, Palace Theater, and Woolworth's (all on Alamo Street); the Gibbs Buildings; and the Post Office. Photo ca. 1935 (General Photograph Collection)

The Alamo and the Alamo Cenotaph monument which commemorates the Battle of the Alamo can be seen in the photo below which is thought to have been taken sometime around 1940.

Photograph shows bird's-eye view looking southeast towards the Alamo, the Alamo Museum and gift shop (left), and the Cenotaph on Alamo Plaza (right).
Photograph shows bird's-eye view looking southeast towards the Alamo, the Alamo Museum and gift shop (left), and the Cenotaph on Alamo Plaza (right). (UTSA Special Collections)

The Texas Historical Commission blocked a controversial plan to move the Cenotaph in September 2020. The commission denied 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. Read more on that here.

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