The Alamo's mid-20th-century library building is being turned into exhibit space that could open to visitors as early as this winter.
Under a lawsuit settlement between the state and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the DRT retained ownership of 38,000 items in its library collection but agreed to move them. The collection was taken to a storage facility last week.
Guido Brothers Construction, a local contractor, began work last week on an extensive renovation of the former DRT Library that will radically change the building's use. The research library normally had been open by appointment only.
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"Visitors will be invited into that building, instead of being turned away at that entrance," Kim Barker, preservation planner and construction project manager for the Texas General Land Office, said in an update last week on $5 million in improvements finished or underway at the site.
Some visitors passing through the Alamo's iconic mission-era church saw staff conservator Pam Rosser working in the building's most sacred room, the sacristy, where indigenous people and Spanish friars gathered to worship. Removing whitewash applied during the U.S. Army occupation after 1845, she used colored sticky dots to mark traces of the room's now-faded mission frescoes of the 1700s.
"If I don't mark them, I won't remember where they are. They're the size of a freckle," she told the San Antonio Express-News.
Aside from Rosser's work, there is not much in the hallowed church to halt the flow of visitors. The Alamo complex has little room, other than in its Long Barrack and gift shop displays, to show artifacts.
"Currently, we don't do special exhibits in summer, because of the high volume of visitors that we have coming through," said Brittany Eck, Land Office press secretary.
Elsewhere on the grounds, fencing is up around the gift shop for a moisture-containment project to protect that 1930s structure. Portable air-conditioned restrooms have been placed along Houston Street, on the north side of the complex, while an overhaul of public restrooms at the complex is in progress.
But the biggest change ahead for an estimated 1.6 million visitors annually is conversion of the former library -- the main rectangular "Reading Room" the DRT opened with private funds in 1950 and two 1970s additions. The building, now known as the Alamo Research Center, will likely be renamed.
The Land Office, which had requested funds from the Legislature in 2015 for priority upgrades, initially sought to reroof the library, patch and repaint ceilings and walls damaged by rainwater and remove asbestos-containing materials under the carpet.
It now plans a complete overhaul: new furniture, more offices, improved ventilation, complete asbestos abatement, replacement of fluorescent lighting with track and pendent lighting and enlargement of the vault to store artifacts from the state's Alamo collection and items donated by musician Phil Collins. Barker said the library renovation is set to cost about $600,000, not including the interior work.
"We're expanding that project to include a total interior rehabilitation," she said. "We've got lots of areas of moisture infiltration in the building. The reroofing will address that."
The DRT, meanwhile, is in talks with Texas A&M University-San Antonio to find a home for its library collection.
The building renovation is not part of the Alamo master plan, which will consider use of the city-owned plaza and surrounding area to improve the visitor experience through a modern visitor center and enhanced public art and historical interpretation. Archaeologists will begin excavations this week in the plaza to verify the location of the compound's original walls, as part of the master plan.
As that plan is implemented, use of the former library may change again.
"This space will be flexible. If we find that we have a better location for temporary exhibits in the future, this can be modified to serve a different purpose," Barker said.
Next door, workers were adding plumbing in the basement of Alamo Hall for a women's restroom upgrade and a new unisex, ADA-compliant restroom. The men's room in the hall, an event venue, may get a future face-lift. In addition to restrooms elsewhere at the Alamo that are being renovated, the ones in Alamo Hall will be publicly accessible.
At the gift shop, work at the request of the state fire marshal's office included installation of historically aesthetic fire-rated doors in the building. The shaft of a dumbwaiter, once used to transfer cash and supplies, was plugged.
To keep water from damaging the store's stone building, perimeter landscaping is being replaced with a bituminous membrane and a layer of aggregate material, sloping toward the sidewalk. The gift shop's basement has incurred water seepage "for many, many years," Barker said.
As part of a historic structures report, a subcontractor is using ground-penetrating radar to peer into the walls of the Alamo church to reveal any new archaeological or structural data.
"It provides information that can lead to further investigation or analysis," Barker said.