The Say-Town Lowdown

When the $10-million Main Plaza redesign went before the City Historic and Design Review Commission on September 20, lead designer Larry Clark called it the City’s lawn — a square block of grass with no flowers, benches, or statues, but with a modern fountain set into the pavement in front of San Fernando Cathedral.

Some audience members said the new look reminded them of a miniature golf course, or a croquet court. By the time design plans were revealed on November 15, the grassy square had morphed into an oval.

Jon Thompson, who teaches architecture at UTSA and is currently writing a book on Spanish and Mexican plazas in the United States, called it “awful,” “inappropriate,” and dubbed it “Plaza del Huevo” — the Egg Plaza.

Frankly, the critics have been too restrained. This goes way beyond any fried egg. The new plan actually resembles the scoured path of devastation left by a tornado.

Because the plan lacks vertical architecture, sculpture, monuments, or furnishings, should this design be approved at the HDRC meeting today, pedestrians who visit the renovated plaza might not see more than a blob of green turf.

This plaza will be both an embarrassment and a waste of money, although it is hard to imagine how this could possibly cost anywhere close to the $10-million estimate: There are no clues indicating this plaza is where the City of San Antonio began in 1731. Nothing hints that the plaza and the city were designed according to 17th-century laws and blueprints for Spanish colonial cities. Nor is there any sense of celebration of the incredible history that has unfolded there over the past 275 years.

The plaza’s historic legacy includes everything from the first business to plug into the city electrical system to, much earlier on the timeline, the climax of the Battle of Bexar in 1835 when residents and settlers upset over promises broken by the government in Mexico City defeated the local Mexican garrison. That provoked Mexican dictator General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna to march his army to San Antonio, lay siege to the Alamo, and six weeks later suffer defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto, where Texas independence was declared.

And this Texas independence ultimately led to a war in which Mexico lost half its territory to the United States: the addition of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and parts of several other states was a boon to a country that suddenly found its domain splayed from sea to shining sea, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This whole cataclysmic upheaval began on Main Plaza.

There are dozens more pages of remarkable Main Plaza history that should be showcased in this renovation project. Instead, the whole design process has been a landscaping exercise rather than an attempt to create an historic ambience reflecting the plaza’s Spanish-colonial origins or at least a tip of the hat to the city’s official center.

And if this project isn’t going to showcase our historic roots, why do it? Is it just to give tourists and residents the engaging activity of debating whether Main Plaza looks more like a fried egg, a UFO landing site, or a bad $10-million joke?

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