Historic Texas Alamo to undergo first renovation in a century

Thu Mar 31, 2016 6:25pm EDT
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By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The Alamo, the highly recognizable monument to Texas independence, will have its first major renovation in a century in a project overseen by a Philadelphia firm, officials said on Thursday.

The San Antonio landmark, which began life as a Spanish colonial mission in the 1700s, was the site of the 1836 battle in which the Alamo's vastly outnumbered defenders, including such notables as Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, were routed by Mexican forces after a 13-day siege.

But the battle became a rallying point for the Texas forces, who inspired by the cry "Remember the Alamo!" defeated the Mexican army a few weeks later at the Battle of San Jacinto near modern-day Houston to secure Texas independence.

The white stone-walled structure, with its distinctive curved facade, was named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations last year along with four other Spanish colonial missions that line the San Antonio River.

Even though it is the most-visited tourist site in Texas, its stature has been diminished by the emergence of surrounding hotels and office towers and the clamor of city traffic. In recent years, some tourists have complained the site is unimpressive and looks like a tourist trap.

"We will have no small thoughts and make no small plans," said Gene Powell, a Texas businessman who is one of the heads of the Alamo Endowment, which has been formed to raise up to $300 million in private donations to complete the ambitious project.

The Texas legislature has appropriated $30 million for the facelift of the structure. The state's land commission took over its management last year with the intent to renovate the building and downtown plaza.The renovation project will be run by Philadelphia-based Preservation Design Partnership, which specializes in historic sites and buildings. It will work with Mexico City-based firm Grupo De Diseño Urbano to preserve the site's bicultural nature.

"We want to go back to 1724 when this site was originally built, and honor those people and those Spanish fathers who came here representing the country of Spain and representing the Catholic Church," Powell said.

(Reporting by Jim Forsyth; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Peter Cooney)

A woman walks past as men use a lift to repair and restore stonework along the curved facade of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas in this October 26, 2015 file photo.   Preservation Design Partnership, a Philadelphia-based firm that worked in the refurbishment of landmarks including Independence Hall, the U.S. Supreme Court Building, and the Virginia State Capitol was named March 31, 2016, to head the effort to renovate the Alamo in San Antonio.  REUTERS/Adrees Latif/Files