For a hundred and twenty-five years, there was no plaza at the Alamo. Only the mission compound, enclosed by the outer walls of Mission San Antonio de Valero, rose above the open space between the mission and the river. The defenders of the Alamo could look straight across the rather barren area and clearly see the tower of San Fernando. Essentially an undeveloped area east of the busy center of the town, it was not until Texas joined the Union and the U.S. government took over the Alamo property that commercial activity came to that part of town.
From 1849 to 1859, the Alamo echoed with the roll of U.S. Army wagons. In 1854, Frederick Law Olmsted visited San Antonio, and the future landscape architect of New York's Central Park described the Alamo and the area around it as, "A few irregular stuccoed buildings huddled against the old church in a large court surrounded by a rude wall, the whole used as an arsenal... The church-door opens on the square..."
Slowly, the plaza took shape and color. First, a few small houses were built—Samuel and Mary Maverick built a home and moved from Main Plaza in 1849—then a merchant or two ventured an enterprise, and Alamo Plaza began. In 1854, William and Mary Menger started their second boarding house and the Western Brewery on Blum St. just off the plaza, and five years later opened the Menger Hotel. However, such building activity was still far from the hubbub of the town’s center of business and government activity on Main and Military Plazas; only Commerce Street linked the three plazas.
By the 1870s and 1880s, Alamo Plaza had taken its present physical shape. From here the first street cars, drawn by mules, set out on the two mile journey to San Pedro Springs. Honore Grenet built his "Palace" on the walls of the Alamo's convent, stage lines began their journeys at the Menger front door; carpenters and builders, a lumber yard, blacksmiths, barbers, a restaurant, boarding houses, and the iron-balconied Maverick Bank overlooked the now bustling Plaza. A City Meat Market stood out in the center; the first of three Post Offices, which were to lend importance to the area, occupied the elegant Gallagher Building at the northeast corner of Alamo and Blum Streets; livery stables were located just around the comer and later provided stylish transportation to music lovers at the Grand Opera House, which opened in 1886. There were numerous bars, Julius Joske's Store, Scholz's Palm Garden, and even a Chinese laundry. Alamo Plaza captured it all, mirroring life in the fastest growing city in the state, and would remain through all the years the most visited plaza of one of the world's most venerated shrines.
--Mary Ann Noonan Guerra,
excerpted from: The Alamo,
(San Antonio: The Alamo Press, 1996)