I recall how as a young girl attending the Sunset Hills Elementary School fall carnival I was treated to free miniature white-cased samples of Avon lipstick at the makeup booth. It was a sheer, unexpected delight. I still get a charge queuing up for a free taste of guacamole or the latest flavor of Blue Bell ice cream at the local H-E-B.
It's a simple, proven theory: Try it, you might like it.
It's that same concept that has the city closing off Alamo Street between E. Houston and E. Crockett for the Alamo Plaza Better Block event taking place August 17 and 18. It's time to do some re-thinking.
It's also a sort of challenge to locals to re-imagine and re-experience the plaza that not only stands at the front door of Alamo church, but also encompasses a large percentage of the original walled compound - the grounds of the 1836 battle of the Alamo.
"It’s a gathering place," said Andrew Howard of Team Better Block, "We need places for people to linger. They want to love Alamo Plaza."
But somehow they don't seen to right now.
Howard and business partner Jason Robert have been contracted by the city to jump-start our imaginations and get us re-thinking of areas that have become, well, unused or underused by setting up pop-up elements and daring us to take another look. Pop-up blocks usually have a lifespan of anywhere from a few hours to 24. It's a look - a test-drive of ideas.
San Antonians got their first glimpse of what Team Better Block could do when they worked with the City of San Antonio's Complete Streets Initiative during the spring Síclovía. Then, they temporarily transformed an empty building into a hub of cafes, flower shops, art spaces and outdoor food courts as they tested cycle tracks, and reverse angled-parking during the spring Síclovía.
Howard said Team Better Block's efforts got praise from city leaders who said, "Lets really put them to the test and take them to the Alamo."
He explained that urban revitalization usually takes a public meeting where ideas are presented and hashed out. That takes a lot of time.
"Instead, we want to live it for a day," Howard said. "It’s about myth-busting and changing perspective."
This is how they do it
Six teams are working to install temporary, or 'pop-up' streetscape that will set the stage for the event. In this instance that includes: a market, historical kiosks, food trucks, a scavenger hunt, lantern tours, family games and unusual activities - like adobe-brick making, and a ghost-footprint of the front gates to the 1836 Alamo compound.
Taking a cue from historic chili queens and European cafes, renowned local chef, Andrew Weissman, along with the San Antonio Chef Coalition and Alamo Brewery will offer romantic al fresco dining and wine options, complete with hurricane lamps wooden tables.
It's a good time for it. The first night coincides with the 226th birthday of Alamo defender, Davy Crockett.
Kiosks by Overland Partners and Lake Flato Architects will be staffed by the Sons of the Republic, Native American storyteller Isaac Cardenas, along with members of the San Antonio Living History Association - many dressed in worn and weathered boots, flannel britches, calico gowns and sunbonnets. There will be a musket or two, is my guess.
Bob Benavides with SALHA says at the 8 p.m. Friday night lantern tour Alamo reenactors will give a realistic and personal perspective of the times.
'The tour narrator makes stops at key points for “interviews from the past” as the audience meets some of the historical men and women from “both sides of the Alamo walls”, finds out who they are, how they came to be in San Antonio de Béxar and the Alamo, and what experiences each had during the siege and battle of the Alamo," Benavides explained.
When asked, Benavides paints a gray picture of the circumstances surrounding the 1836 battle. Who are the good guys; who are the bad guys - it's a matter of perspective, of course. Nothing's black, nothing's white here. The thread of the tale is just so tightly wrapped around issues of taxes, slavery, property, greed and broken promises, and the final chapter is what we are all living out in the Alamo City today.
"The bottom line of our efforts is that Alamo Plaza is also the Alamo," said Benavides. " In fact, it is the majority area of the national landmark registered as the Alamo. That is one of the major interpretive points that the Better Block Alamo Plaza Project will make."
On that Saturday, the City of San Antonio will also be launching a new free smart-device tour of the Alamo grounds.
"For those that would be lured into history by technology,” she said. “It’s a different way to tell the story about the plaza," said Colleen Swain with the Office of the City Manager.
Stop talking and do it
Andrew Howard said there has been a lot of talk about what permanent changes should be made to transform Alamo Plaza. He said many different factions have voiced opinions: some who want it to harkens back to the 1700s, others to the 1800s and still others who want it to reflect modern times.
He said you have to stop talking and do it.
"At first, it's kind of a shock to think about it differently, but then everybody comes together and agrees that something has to change there," said Swain.
Swain says the hope for the Alamo Plaza Better Block is that people will come away with a better understanding of the history of the place.
What will work, what won't? We'll find that out following this testing - this little sampling. The city is expecting some feedback, positive and negative, to help redefine and improve the area and make it more livable, a place where people want to regularly hang out - and not just when relatives come to town.
"It's not just a place for tourists," Swain said. "It's part of making the downtown that we all want to see. Its part of that."
Alamo Plaza Better Block Pre-Build - HELP WANTED
Team Better Block counts on volunteers and borrowed resources. They could use some help during the pre-build workshop, Friday, August 10 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday August 11 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the former Express store on the corner of Alamo Plaza and Commerce Street.
Alamo Plaza Better Block
Downtown at Alamo Plaza, Alamo and E. Houston
Friday, August 17: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Saturday, August 18: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (streets closed until 4 p.m.)