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The Alamo Is Under Attack! (It's Not Ozzy This Time)

A drawing of the Alamo, circa 1854, back when dinosaurs were still confined to zoos?
A drawing of the Alamo, circa 1854, back when dinosaurs were still confined to zoos?

Texans don't screw around when it comes to the Alamo. We're raised to talk about the "13 days of glory" with misty eyes and a defensiveness along the lines of how the Brits talk about the Queen.

Once Ozzy Ozbourne was caught urinating near it - he was peeing on the Alamo Cenotaph, legend has it -- and he was banned from San Antonio for a decade. Seriously, don't mess with the Alamo.

While Ozzy was told in no uncertain terms to steer clear of the place, time has proved to be a way more lethal enemy than Ozzy's urine and some of the folks over at Texas A&M University are doing something about that. Sort of.

For those that may not know the story - presumably because you've been living in a cave, or not in Texas - it was in the the middle of the Texas Revolution and the Texians were supposed to destroy the old mission when they arrived there in the spring of 1836, but James Bowie and William Travis ended up trying to hold the position instead.

Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna came, along with his troops. There was a siege. The story goes that Travis drew a line in the sand, and "not a soldier crossed the line." Famed frontiersman Davy Crockett was running away from defeat in the United States and ended up dying in the Alamo, shot outside the front of the modern-day Alamo, according to some legends, and dying elsewhere according to others. These are all tidbits of the story you pick up just growing up in Texas. As a kid, my family visited the Alamo the way Jimmy Stewart visited the Lincoln Memorial in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. I'm not in any way understating the reverence here.

Anyway, despite all the devotion to the old mission, it has been pretty badly cared for over the years. It was almost torn down, cattle grazed in it for a while and the building itself, what's left of it, hasn't had a real restoration done to it in a long while.

It's been more than 175 years since Sam Houston's troops attacked Santana and company, screaming, "Remember the Alamo!" It seems it's high time the building got a proper restoration. Or at least for someone to take really good notes so that someone can go in and restore one day if they want to. (Okay, most likely no one in the history of Texas ever actually thought about the latter option, but that's what's happening, and it's better than nothing.)

That's where Texas A&M comes in. A project is being undertaken by the Texas A&M conservation team, sponsored by the Ewing Halsell Foundation and administered by the Texas General Land Office, is undertaking the project. Robert Warden, professor of architecture and director of Texas A&M's Center for Heritage Conservation, is leading the project.

 

They aren't restoring the Alamo but they're going to create a bunch of hi-tech models of the building, recreating how it looked in 1836, the year of the battle, in 1895, the year San Antonio took over the building and in 1961, when detailed drawings of the site were created by the Historic American Buildings Survey.

"This kind of groundbreaking preservation project at the Alamo is long overdue, Jerry Patterson, commissioner of the Texas General Land Office and former Aggie, stated. "The data gained will be vital to ensuring the Alamo remains an icon of Texas history and personal freedom for future generations."

(Now, was it really an icon of personal freedom? It all depends on how you look at history. And this seems as good a time as any to note that there isn't any actual ground being broken. But fuzziness of Patterson's statement aside, and the history behind it - history is written by the winners, so bear that in mind - the Alamo is getting studied.)

Using historic texts, drawings, photos and pretty much anything else they can draw on, the team will create digital models of the Alamo, using them to look at the effects of erosion, cold and heat on the building. The whole thing will act as a database of the Alamo's changes over time, a resource the Alamo's conservator, Pam Rosser, will be able to use to track preservation work and maintenance of the site. (Translation: This is a project to chronicle how the Alamo has changed, but not a deal where they will actually be restoring it. This sounds a whole lot like standing back and taking pictures while the Alamo continues to deteriorate, but who are we to judge? Something is better than nothing.)

When the project is completed there will be a nice, neat reference of how the building has changed, which seems reasonably cool. There will also still be that speech from John Wayne's "The Alamo," and that song, the "Ballad of the Alamo," sung by Marty Robbins. And the Alamo is still there too, without any enhancements from Ozzy. For now.


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