Monumental debate

Panel makes monumental decision about future of San Antonio's Alamo Cenotaph

Panel makes monumental decision about future of Alamo Cenotaph

alamo cenotaph monument
A monumental decision has been made about the Alamo Cenotaph. Photo courtesy of The Alamo

A more than 80-year-old monument that pays tribute to the 200 defenders who died at the 1836 Battle of the Alamo is staying where it is.

On September 22, the Texas Historical Commission voted 12-2 to reject a request from the City of San Antonio to move the nearly 60-foot-tall monument, known as the Alamo Cenotaph, about 500 feet to the south as part of a planned $450 million makeover of the Alamo. One commissioner abstained from voting.

The Cenotaph (the word means “empty tomb”) has stood in its current spot at Alamo Plaza since 1939. The stone and concrete sculpture, titled “The Spirit of Sacrifice,” was commissioned in 1936 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo.

Hours before the commission’s vote, the Texas Antiquities Advisory Board had recommended 6-3 that the commission approve the city’s request.

In a statement, chairman John Nau says the Historical Commission “recognizes the significance of this decision and the importance of the Alamo Master Plan to the future of our state’s most important historic site. The 15-member commission voted on this issue based on their individual determinations of what was in the best interest of Texas.”

During a marathon six-hour virtual meeting of the commission, supporters and opponents made forceful arguments about the proposed move of the cenotaph. (Musician Ozzy Osbourne infamously relieved himself at the monument in 1982.)

Among those expressing opposition were Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Patrick complained that relocating the cenotaph would “erase history,” while Patterson worried that moving it would “de-emphasize the events of 1836.”

In advance of the commission meeting, Patrick said in a five-minute video that the Cenotaph should remain within the walls of the Alamo battlefield where the defenders died. 

Those voicing support included San Antonio City Councilman Roberto Treviño; Casandra Matej, president and CEO of Visit San Antonio; and Carolyn Raney, president of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Supporters say relocating the Cenotaph is critical to better conveying the history of the Alamo, contending the monument distracts from the site.

Indeed, the official Alamo website says the cenotaph “does not match the style or scale of the Alamo ... and is not harmonious with the two original historic Alamo structures.”

Treviño is chairman of the Alamo Management Committee, a public-private partnership overseeing the $450 million Alamo renovation plan. He said the commission’s vote “puts the whole project in jeopardy.” Last year, the Alamo drew a record-setting 1.8 million visitors, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions in Texas.

The Historical Commission received more than 30,000 letters, phone calls, and emails about relocating the cenotaph, mostly from people who opposed the idea. Over 300 people testified during the September 22 commission hearing.