Alamo, 9/11 site face similar obstacles

San Antonio Express-News - By Scott Huddleston

The Alamo’s new chief operating officer said the Texas shrine faces many of the challenges he had at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, including efforts to maintain a place of reverence and personal reflection.

“It’s going to take time, and we’re going to have to experiment with different ways to influence and educate our visitors,” Ian Oldaker, who previously was vice president of operations and planning at New York’s memorial and museum for nearly a decade, said during a daylong conference focusing on the Alamo on Saturday.

Oldaker, hired in May by Alamo Complex Management, a subsidiary formed under the nonprofit Alamo Endowment to support the site’s daily operations, said he will work to provide operational responses to a long-term master plan for the Alamo area, now in development by the city, state and the endowment.

“I’m going to be receiving a big gift, and it’s going to be my job to prepare to receive it,” he said during the 7th annual Save Texas History symposium held by the Texas General Land Office, the state’s Alamo custodian.

Although the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Alamo mission and battle site each has its own context, both are in a heavily urbanized setting but have the potential to make deep personal connections with visitors, Oldaker said.

The 9/11 plaza in New York, surrounded by new buildings, trees and other park features, a modern museum and memorial fountains in the footprint of the fallen twin towers, functions as an “urban oasis,” he said.

“It does feel like that when you’re there. You’re transported to another spot,” Oldaker said. “It really is about providing an opportunity to experience this huge memorial on your own — in your own time, and in your own way.”

Although the museum is filled with high-impact exhibit items, including the faces of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 9/11 attacks and a steel beam of the North Tower that incurred the impact of the first airliner strike, “the content never preached,” he said.

“It didn’t holler patriotism, or it didn’t try to beat you down with any sort of specific message. It presented facts and allowed visitors to draw their own conclusions,” Oldaker said.

He touched on complaints that have lingered for years that the traffic, parades, protests, raspa vendors and amusement businesses in Alamo Plaza detract from the Alamo’s reverence. Planners and staff of the 9/11 memorial wrestled with similar issues in lower Manhattan.

“We never really went as far as to police people. But we did have to put up a lot of signs about what we expected for decorum. It was a place of remembrance, reflection,” Oldaker said.

The symposium, which generated funds for preservation of historic maps and documents, included sessions on the Alamo’s mission era and past and current efforts under way to preserve it. About 300 people attended the event at the Menger Hotel.

Paul Hutton, a history professor at the University of New Mexico, said the plaza needs to be closed to traffic and renovated as a park setting, and the amusement businesses moved at least a block away.

“And I think that most people can agree on that,” Hutton said.

Another speaker, historian Andrés Tijerina, discussed the evolution of the Tejanos who made up at least seven of the Alamo’s 189 known defenders and about 300 who fought in the 1835-1836 Texas Revolution, to win independence from Spain. Many had died 23 years earlier in the Aug. 18, 1813, Battle of Medina — “the biggest battle ever fought on Texas soil” — in a bid for independence from Spain.

“Texas always led the way for democracy, liberty and independence,” Tijerina said.

Source: The San Antonio Express-News