The Cenotaph

The Cenotaph was erected as part of the United States Texas Centennial Commission Celebration in 1936 in conjunction with the President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. The Public Work Administration was originally established following the Great Depression with the goal of providing jobs and financial relief for Americans. After much controversy, heated discussion and disagreement, the Cenotaph was formally accepted by the State Board of Control in 1939. The Cenotaph has been called  the “Spirit of Sacrifice,” standing as a monument to the Defenders of the Alamo.

While the Alamo Church and Long Barrack are original to the Alamo mission and almost 300 years old, the Cenotaph was not added to the Alamo grounds until 100 years after the battle of 1836. It does not match the style or scale of the Alamo Mission and is not harmonious with the two original historic Alamo structures.

Causing controversy from the start, the original location of the Cenotaph was hotly debated in San Antonio, with five different locations proposed between 1936 and 1937 before the City finally settled on it’s current location – a last minute decision by the state planning board to preserve the 1920s bandstand and increase traffic flow around Alamo Plaza. Ironically, that 1920s bandstand was demolished and replaced with a wooden one in the 1960s or 1970s. The descriptions below come straight from contemporary documents.

  1. Municipal Auditorium [ca. 1936].
  2. Travis Park [1936].
  3. “Alamo Plaza or elsewhere near Alamo Park,” [1936].
  4. Alamo Plaza Bandstand site, [1937].
  5. Last minute change from the south part of Alamo Plaza to the north part, to save the bandstand, [1937]. (Current location of the Cenotaph)

Today, both the Alamo grounds and Cenotaph have become enveloped by city growth, entertainment, carnival like attractions, and traffic. Visitors are unable to see the Alamo as a once lived-in place of much greater size and historic richness because of the surrounding 20th and 21st century buildings and features. 

1937 section drawings of the Alamo Cenotaph by architect Adams & Adams, designed and executed by the sculptor Pompeo Coppini (click to enlarge):

Cenotaph 1 Cenotaph 2 Cenotaph 3 Cenotaph 4 CCenotaph 5 Cenotaph 6