The New Battle Over the Alamo

A new museum and visitors center is in the works for the Alamo, but will the collection in the library curated by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas be a part of it?

By Laura RiceApril 3, 2015 9:30 am| ,

For about a century, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas or DRT were caretakers of the Alamo. The group rescued parts of it from being demolished and made efforts to carefully preserve its history.

But new Texas General Land Commissioner George P. Bush ended an arrangement with the DRT last month. Bush cited multiple issues – including the DRT’s failure to keep the Alamo operating without placing significant financial demands on his office.

That’s ignited a new battle over the Alamo.

When you think of the Alamo. What do you see? Probably the church building with the distinctive façade. But new Alamo Director Becky Dinnin says it’s much more than that one building.

“When you’re here on the grounds, like we are right now, it stretches all the way on the north side to Alamo Plaza Street and then over to a federal building over here – that is where one of the walls were – and then all the way down to the back,” Dinnin says. “So it’s a much bigger footprint – if you see models of it you kind of get a picture of it in your head.”

Dinnin has been the director of the Alamo since February – just before the General Land Office announced it’s cancelling its contract with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Dinnin’s job is to guide the Alamo through a new chapter.

“What we’d like to do is take the plaza and the Alamo complex and begin to think through a planning process of how we can restore more of the original pieces together in a visitor setting,” Dinnin says.

Alamo visitors Emily and Isabella Solis admit they wanted a little more from their trip.

“Oh I thought it was cool. I was expecting more rooms… but… fun,” Isabella Solis says.

Isabella is 7. Her favorite part of the historic site?

“Well, kind of the opening,” Solis says. “I wanted to get inside really bad but after I came inside I wanted to go out.”

Dinnin and the Texas General Land Office want to restore forgotten parts of the Alamo and build a new visitors center and museum. That’s become a priority since Texas history enthusiast and British rocker Phil Collins donated his enormous Alamo collection to the state.

“Maybe that’s a little bit of what sparked it, maybe that was a great kick in the pants that he gave to all of us to say, now is the time to do the right thing for the Alamo,” Dinnin says.

But new buildings cost money… and right now that’s in short supply.

Still, Dinnin says money is not the biggest focus.

“This is not about making money,” Dinnin says. “This is really about telling the story of the Alamo – certainly we want it to operate in the black – but our goal is not revenue.”

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas say part of that story is told through its library  – accumulated while the group was caretaker of the Alamo. And that its collection should not be put into a museum under the control of the state. The DRT is suing to make that clear.

“The lawsuit basically says that the daughters own the collection at the library that is on the Alamo complex the State of Texas has taken the position that the collection belongs to the State of Texas unless the daughters can prove otherwise,” DRT’s lawyer Lamont Jefferson says.

Jefferson says preserving the history of the Alamo is one of the reasons the DRT was formed – and that it has always owned and preserved this library.

“If the DRT cannot resolve its differences with the state, it’s likely the collection will have to leave the place that it is now and find another appropriate location,” Jefferson says.

That means big chunks of Alamo history could leave the Alamo, including one of the first printed copies of the Texas Declaration of Independence.

“It does make me sad. I think this is the best place for it but I think, most importantly, is that the collection is protected and that it’s all together in one place and available to the public,” Alamo Research Center Director Leslie Stapleton says.

Stapleton was hired by the DRT to run the library. She says the idea of an Alamo museum is great – but the library’s mission is research.

“The collection is used by students, it’s used by professional historians, it’s used by lay historians, it’s been used by movie makers, it’s used by genealogists,” Stapleton says. “So, if they’re on display, then researchers can’t get their hands on them to actually use them for research.”

Neither Alamo Director Becky Dinnin nor the Texas General Land Office would comment on the DRT’s lawsuit. They’re focusing on hiring new management, fundraising and thinking of other ways to boost the Alamo. They say that will not include a fee to get into the chapel itself – but may include fees for the museum or a membership-type model.

The DRT worries it could all become too commercial.

But visitors Emily and Isabella Solis are ready.

“I would pay for the museum part,” Emily Solis says. “I think the Alamo part should be free. You know, sometimes people don’t have the money for that. But I think I would definitely pay for the museum for sure.”