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  • Writer's pictureMichael T. Berger, MBA

History Engaged: Alamo Plaza

The City of San Antonio recognizes 30 different Historic Districts throughout the area. Every few weeks, we are going to focus on these to expand our knowledge and understanding of where we came from. Today let's take a look at Alamo Plaza. The following is from the city website and provides good basic understanding of Alamo Plaza:

Located in the center of downtown San Antonio, adjacent to Hemisfair Plaza and the San Antonio River, Alamo Plaza is the commercial center that developed around Texas’ most famous shrine, the Alamo. The plaza itself was originally part of the courtyard of the Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo). Today, the Alamo Plaza Historic District contains the Alamo chapel, the public plaza, and the surrounding commercial structures built mainly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Alamo Plaza has hosted a diversity of cultures and people throughout its history. Archaeological excavations have identified Native Americans remains dating from 2000 years ago. Upon arrival of the Spanish Catholics in the early eighteenth century, local Native Americans asked the Franciscan missionaries for permanent shelter and protection from rival tribes. In exchange for conversion to Christianity, Native Americans were provided safe havens within the missions and were given Spanish names, resulting in the establishment of Missionary-led Indian towns. Originally founded in 1718, the Mission San Antonio de Valero was moved twice before it settled at its final location in 1724. As military protection became more of a necessity, the Spanish military established presidios or forts as part of the mission system. In 1793, the former Mission San Antonio de Valero became a military garrison to protect Spanish colonial land from the French. The Alamo later served Mexican armies until the Texian forces occupied it during the famous 13-day siege in 1836.

The Alamo ca 1880. The Convento/Long Barrack has been remodeled as the Grenet Store with a new facade and porches.

In the decade prior to the Civil War, Alamo Plaza became the hub of a bustling commercial center. Because of Alamo Plaza’s close proximity to the terminus of the Camino Real, also known as the "King’s Highway" that connected San Antonio to the eastern edge of Spanish territory in Texas, the area had traditionally served as a central location for market trading. A city market operated just in front of the Alamo for many years. Construction of the Menger Hotel (1859), St. Joseph’s Church (1868), the Crockett Hotel (1868), and the old Federal Post Office (1877) further fueled urbanization and commercial activity within the area.

In 1877, a Frenchman, Honore Grenet, bought the Convento building (the long annex of the original mission compound) and courtyard from the Catholic Church and built a two-story museum and grocery store complex with three wooden towers housing false wooden cannons. In 1888, Alderman Anton Wulff called for the building of four paved streets around the plaza and the landscaping of a garden in the center with multiple iron benches installed at his own expense. This first pavement around the square consisted of mesquite blocks. William Reuter, who erected his building on the plaza in 1891, paid to construct the first bandstand on the plaza, a replica of which stands today. Joske’s Department Store moved to the Plaza in 1888. During the late 19th century other leading businesses began establishing stores in the area, and the majority of buildings within the district date from this period.

For a map of the district, click here.

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