Integrating History: The Role of Alamo Plaza in Bexar County’s Civil Rights Legacy

February 4, 2020 Blog, Global Heritage, History, Interpretation, Texas Comments (0) 129

Our World Monument Watch Day Event took place this past Saturday at the double-height courtroom of the Bexar County Courthouse, and it was stupendous. We had five excellent speakers who offered new insights into the role of Alamo Plaza and specifically the Woolworth Building in the story of Civil Rights in Bexar County.

The entrance to the Woolworth’s lunch counter as it appears today.

You can see a full video of the event here. It began with a welcome from Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Conservation Society President Patti Zaiontz. Then, 16-year old Taylor Andrews, grandniece of Mary Lilian Andrews, read the letter that Mary wrote – at age 17 – in March, 1960 asking the downtown lunch counters to integrate.

Mary Andrews and friend appear at Woolworth’s following the integration – Jet magazine, March 31, 1960.

Her letter, as Youth President of the NAACP San Antonio branch, led to a mass meeting on March 13, 1960. The meeting of 1500 persons agreed that a sit-in demonstration should begin on March 17. Business and religious leaders gathered on Tuesday and convinced seven downtown lunch counters to peacefully and voluntarily integrate on Wednesday, March 16, 1960, a first for the South. Jackie Robinson was in town Friday and said – in a Page 1 New York Times article – that it was “a story that should be told around the world.”

I gave a background of the issue – how the Conservation Society got the building listed on the state’s Most Endangered List in 2016, shortly after the state purchased it. Then the 2017 Alamo master plan and the 2018 Alamo interpretive plan. It was that 2018 plan that illustrated the Woolworth replaced with a new building. They have always wanted to reclaim the “footprint” of the original mission and battlefield, even though there are no archaeological remains (the buildings have basements)

Besides, there is more footprint under the northern buildings.

The Conservation Society has consistently argued FOR a new Alamo museum WITHIN the Woolworth and Crockett Building facades. We even released a plan this May illustrating exactly that.

In May Woolworth’s was designated a State Antiquities Landmark and in October it was listed on the World Monuments Watch List 2020, one of 25 sites in the world. You can read all about that here. Thanks to that designation, we have hosted a series of events, including the symposium, held on February 1, the 60th anniversary of the very first sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Our first speaker was Everett Fly, who traced a series of Civil Rights events on Alamo Plaza, beginning back in the 1880s when an African-American group successfully sued the Mayor for denying their right to assemble there. Everett passionately defended the character of the Alamo city, where diverse groups were more likely than other places to mingle, and Alamo Plaza was the premier place they did so.

Everett Fly, FASLA

Next was Dr. Tara Dudley of University of Texas – Austin, an expert on the National Register. African-Americans are nearly 13% of Texas’ population but are represented in less than 5% of our National Register properties. Indeed, the Woolworth Building National Register listing from 40 years ago is only about its excellent architecture and the Civil Rights story was not told until it was listed as a State Antiquities Landmark in 2019.

Dr. Tara Dudley

Dr. Bruce Winders, who was Alamo historian and curator for 23 years until last July, voiced his support for keeping the buildings on Alamo Plaza and not destroying them to recreate a space that became a city more than a century and a half ago. You don’t tear down a real historic building to reveal the site of a long-lost wall.

Dr. Bruce Winders

Dr. Todd Moye of the University of North Texas shared some videos from his Civil Rights in Black and Brown project, which has collected more than 500 oral histories from veterans of the Civil Rights movement in Texas. He described in vivid and unpleasant detail what the sit-in activists faced in other cities, further underscoring the unique response of San Antonio.

Dr. Todd Moye

Finally, Dr. Kathryn O’Rourke gave a rousing presentation on how plazas have defined the power relationships in a society from the Renaissance forward. She passionately related how Alamo Plaza is a civic space made richer by its layered history and legacy of freedom of expression over the last century and a half. She received a standing ovation.

Dr. Kathryn O’Rourke

Everyone agreed that the Symposium was a roaring success, with five excellent speakers and nearly 100 engaged participants. It proved that the story of Woolworth’s and the other lunch counters resonates with people and can be a force for preservation.

Many thanks to sponsors Bexar County Commissioner’s Court, World Monuments Fund, H-E-B and the San Antonio Public Library. You can view the full symposium here.

.

Continue Reading

Upcoming Events: World Monuments Watch Day!

January 14, 2020 Global Heritage, Interpretation, Texas Comments (0) 67

Join us for these upcoming events celebrating the inclusion of the San Antonio Woolworth Building on the 2020 World Monuments Watch List!

🍩Friday January 17, 2020 🍩

10:30 to Noon – Talk, tour and donuts outside the Woolworth Building, 518 E. Houston Street.  Gather next door at Moses Rose’s, 516 E. Houston Street to hear first-person recollections of the early Civil Rights era, the Woolworth’s lunch counter, and its famous potato donuts!  Everett Fly will offer a tour of the civil rights sites in Alamo Plaza.  We will distribute flyers regarding our official World Monuments Watch Day event January 31-February 1 and pass out free donuts!

🚶‍♂️Monday, January 20, 2020🚶‍♂

10:00 AM – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. March.  Join the Coalition for the Woolworth Building as we participate in the nation’s largest Martin Luther King march.  Information about the campaign to Save the Woolworth!, an important African-American landmark, will be available in the park following the march.

👀Friday, January 31, 2020👀

3:00 PM – Press Conference featuring World Monuments Fund President Benedicte de Montlaur regarding the San Antonio Woolworth Building’s inclusion on the World Monuments Fund 2020 Watch List for the “underrepresented narrative” of Civil Rights history on Alamo Plaza.

🏛️Saturday, February 1, 2020 🏛️

10:00 AM to 3:00 PM – Symposium: “Integrating History: The Role of Alamo Plaza in Bexar County’s Civil Rights Legacy.”  Bexar County Courthouse, double-height courtroom.  Scholars of African-American history, architecture and preservation discuss the important legacy of civil rights in the Woolworth Building and throughout Alamo Plaza.

VOLUNTEER:  RSVP to conserve@saconservation.org or call 210-224-6163

Continue Reading

San Antonio Woolworth on World Monuments Watch List 2020

October 31, 2019 Blog, Global Heritage, History, Texas Comments (0) 435

Woolworth Building on the morning of the announcement, October 29, 2019

Notre Dame. Machu Picchu. Easter Island. San Antonio Woolworth. We are in good company.

The Woolworth Building was the heart of the first voluntary and peaceful integration of lunch counters in the South achieved a place on the World Monuments Fund Watch List 2020. #WorldMonumentsWatch

The list includes 25 sites around the world, from more than 20 countries. The San Antonio Woolworth is one of three in the U. S., and one of only seven featured in the World Monuments Fund video of the Watch List.

2018 Mural derived from photo taken March 16, 1960

Why? Because the Woolworth Building in San Antonio tells the story of unique moment during the Sit-In movement when a community decided to integrate before any demonstrations were held. It is a story that Jackie Robinson, in town two days later, said should be told around the world. Today the story is finally being told around the world.

It was another big week for the Woolworth Building, with our prize winning ofrenda to NAACP Youth leader Mary Andrews, who spurred the integration over the weekend and the World Monuments Watch announcement on Tuesday. It was like May when we announced our compromise plan for Alamo Plaza one day and secured State Antiquities Landmark Status a few days later!

Clipping from Jet Magazine, March 31, 1960.

Kudos to the Coalition for the Woolworth Building, which includes the local branch of the NAACP, The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum, the Westside Preservation Alliance, and many more. You can read about the Coalition here.

November 7 UPDATE: Great coverage from the Toronto Star this week!

Also a nice local TV spot from Kens5.

Above the fold!

NOVEMBER 9 UPDATE: Judge Wolff supports the Woolworth and The Conservation Society plan!

NOVEMBER 23 UPDATE: San Antonio Express-News editorial endorses preservation of the Woolworth Building!

NOVEMBER 26 UPDATE: Elaine Ayala writes an open letter to Phil Collins!

Continue Reading

Frank Lloyd Wright finally makes World Heritage

July 7, 2019 Chicago Buildings, Global Heritage, Vision and Style Comments (0) 264

His younger contemporaries Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier got there first, but Frank Lloyd Wright, the most influential American architect in history, finally made the UNESCO World Heritage List. As a Board Member of the Frank Lloyd Wright .Building Conservancy, I am very pleased that the long-awaiting recognition came today in Baku, Azerbaijan. A total of eight works were included, including Unity Temple in Oak Park and Robie House in Chicago.

Robie House, 1910
Unity Temple: the dynamic uncertainty of figure and ground

The inscription of Wright’s work took almost 20 years, twice as long as the effort that saw the San Antonio Missions inscribed four years ago. Two buildings originally proposed, the Price Tower in Bartlesville, OK and the Marin County Courthouse in California were dropped as the nomination was extensively revised.

Marin County Courthouse. Loved it in Gattaca.
Price Tower, Bartlesville, OK. I was actually wearing my Price Tower tie when the inscription was announced. Really!

The selected sites do reflect Wright’s genius, from his pre-World War I Prairie period that gave us the incomparable Unity Temple and Robie House, through his California textile block houses (represented by the Hollyhock or Barnsdale House) and his mid-century Usonian style that began with the Jacobs I house in Madison Wisconsin.

Jacobs I House, 1937

The inscription also includes both of Wright’s sprawling “schools” – Taliesin in Wisconsin and Taliesin West in Arizona, where his apprentices learned for over 20 years.

Taliesin interior
Taliesin West, exterior

And of course, Wright’s famous “comeback” building, Fallingwater, is included, where he ditched the idea that he was a 19th century architect and cemented his reputation with a building that not only balances above a waterfall and integrates with the landscape, but becomes a landscape. Wright loved nature and his gift was not simple integrating buildings with nature, but allowing buildings to be inspired by nature, designed by nature, so that they elevated and improved the landscapes they occupied.

Taliesin West

Wright’s early apprentice Barry Byrne said Wright only needed to sketch plans and elevations, because he could think in three dimensions. When Ken Burns did that documentary on Wright, even his needling adversary Philip Johnson admitted that Wright could imagine space in a way few mortals can.

The story of Fallingwater is that Kaufman was on his way to Taliesin to see Wright’s design for Fallingwater but there were no drawings prepared. Wright calmly started sharpening his pencil and within an hour or so had what he needed. He had been designing it in his head for months. So the story goes.
Unity Temple, 1908

The recognition is long overdue, but well deserved. For decades I have said that Unity Temple is one of the best buildings in the world. I lived less than a block from it for a dozen years and my children grew up with it. There is no question in my mind that it belongs in the company of the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat.

Finally!

Continue Reading

My Favorite World Heritage Sites Vol. 4.

June 28, 2017 Global Heritage Comments (0) 1137

So, more favorite World Heritage sites I have visited.  And before you get too jealous, look at some of the places I have NEVER been and think how many World Heritage sites are there:

Egypt

Greece

Turkey

Denmark

Belgium

Brazil

Almost all of Africa and the Middle East

I still kick myself that I didn’t make it to Borobodur in ’86, and I was only 90 minutes (but no car) away from the most excellently named World Heritage Site of all in 2015:

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.  That’s in Alberta, Canada and it was inscribed way back in 1981.

Continue Reading

Continue Reading

My Favorite World Heritage Sites Vol. 3

June 24, 2017 Global Heritage Comments (0) 1106

I live in a World Heritage site in a city in the U.S.A.  Here are the only other two World Heritage sites in U.S. cities and I have visited both – as you probably have as well.

It’s a woman.  Gift from France.

Continue Reading

Continue Reading

My Favorite World Heritage Sites Vol. 2

June 8, 2017 Global Heritage Comments (0) 943

In the last blog I mentioned that I am now living in a World Heritage site (San Antonio Missions) for the first time, but that is not quite true.

Continue Reading

Continue Reading

My favorite World Heritage Sites Vol. 1

June 3, 2017 Global Heritage Comments (0) 1154

If you wander back through the dozen years of this blog, you will encounter a fair range of World Heritage Sites.  Since 1972 UNESCO has inscribed more than a thousand, a significant number of which are “cultural heritage” sites. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

Japan Ancient and Modern

October 17, 2016 Global Heritage, Interpretation, Vision and Style Comments (0) 1017

There is a wonderful aesthetic unique to Japan.  It is spare and austere. Like some modern architecture, there is a reduction that forces you to focus. Continue Reading

Continue Reading

World Heritage Festival and Saving San Antonio

September 13, 2016 Global Heritage, History, Intangible Heritage Comments (0) 897

Last weekend was the first annual World Heritage Festival here in San Antonio, celebrating one year since the inscription of the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage Site.  Having spent my career in heritage, this is exciting for me because now I live, work and play in a World Heritage site for the first time in my life. Continue Reading

Continue Reading