Vultures Row: Caring for the Alamo

Caring for the Alamo

Daughters of the Republic mark centennial with Alamo
Group has cared for the historic site without the state's financial support
By JOHN W. GONZALEZ - Houston Chronicle

The Alamo

SAN ANTONIO - When they took custody of the Alamo 100 years ago, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas were handed a cluster of dilapidated buildings where their ancestors perished in 1836, including a chapel with broken windows and a leaky roof and a barracks converted to a dry-goods and liquor store.
A century later, the Alamo is one of the nation's most revered historic sites, and Wednesday the organization proudly marked the anniversary of the signing of state legislation that made its members stewards and caretakers of the cradle of Texas liberty.
Texas Secretary of State nominee Roger Williams said it's crucial to preserve the battle site in downtown San Antonio.
"In 13 days of blood and bullets, a national conscience was born. One hundred and 69 years later, our understanding of who we are is still fundamentally tied to this very stone building," Williams said.
The 1905 measure coauthored by Sen. Samuel Johnson, father of Lyndon B. Johnson, ordered the Alamo battle descendants to keep the Alamo "in good order and repair, without charge to the state, as a sacred memorial to the heroes who immolated themselves on that hallowed ground."
The group's officials said they have lived up to that mandate, and they vow to continue improving the state-owned site by modernizing its educational facilities and remodeling its oldest structure, the Long Barracks, which they narrowly rescued from conversion into a hotel.
In ceremonies in front of the Alamo Chapel that drew scores of DRT members from across the state, including representatives from chapters in Houston and Galveston, officials credited the 6,000-member organization with saving the shrine from ruin and later developing museum and other facilities used by 3 million visitors a year.
"On this beautiful day ... we will begin a yearlong celebration honoring a group of dedicated ladies who have given 100 years to the mission of preserving this hallowed ground as a shrine to the heroes who sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom," DRT President General Mary M. Walker said.
A message from Gov. Rick Perry praised the group for fulfilling its obligation as set out by the 29th Legislature.
"Today the Alamo stands as an enduring symbol of the spirit and fortitude of the Texans who built this state of incomparable greatness," the message said.
"As citizens who have worked tirelessly to preserve that proud heritage ... the DRT have made a difference. I salute your many accomplishments," he added.
Soon after winning custody of the Alamo, the DRT began preservation efforts by fixing the chapel roof, restoring the colonial-era acequia, or irrigation canal, and replacing dirt floors with flagstone, often with members' own money.
"Had it not been for the determination of two strong-willed ladies, Adina De Zavala and Clara Driscoll, we would not be gathered here today in front of an international shrine," Leonard Cloud, president general of the Sons of the Republic of Texas, said of two early DRT members who spearheaded the preservation effort.
Through the years, the DRT overcame internal squabbles and legislative efforts to remove them as custodians as it built a museum and developed educational displays. The DRT-operated gift shop generates more than 90 percent of the facility's $5 million annual budget, which provides for the Alamo's staff of 87 workers.

Even though there is no basement in the Alamo, it has become a symbol of freedom and independence the world over.

Several movies have been made about it, John Wayne even built a full scale replica of it in west Texas for his classic epic about the tiny mission.

The Alamo is an historic treasure to both the state and the nation. It is one of the most visited sites in the world today. The mission has been restored as much as possible and is in wonderful shape. One hundred years ago the roof leaked, part of it had been turned into a liquor store, windows were broken out and it was falling apart. One would never be able to tell that today by looking at it. The restoration project was long and difficult, but it was done without any taxpayer funds. The entire effort has been in the hands of the Daughters of the Republic.

I tip my hat to the efforts of the gallant ladies to preserve our history and to help keep a symbol of freedom and integrity available to countless new generations to witness and see first hand.

It's amaxing what people can do without the help of the Government.



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