By Lynn Ashby 17 May 2010
Okie: If there was a backdoor to the Alamo, there wouldn’t be a Texas.
Texan: There was a backdoor to the Alamo. That’s why there’s an Oklahoma.
Hehehe. Just an old joke to start today’s discussion of who owns the Alamo? It would seem obvious the mission and adjacent grounds are owned by the people of Texas, but now a new fight has broken out over the name itself. This brings up a terrible prospect: How many times must we endure headlines reading: “Second Battle of the Alamo”? There have been so many second battles that we must be into our 145th.
The situation – it’s not yet a dispute — began when the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, or DRT, filed paperwork with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register a trademark on the name, “The Alamo.” The organization says the move would apply only to museums or historical sites and is not an attempt to prevent the use of the name “Alamo” by others. But the outsiders would have to get the DRT’s permission first and might have to pay a licensing fee.
When the state government got wind of the DRT’s move, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott obtained a 90-day extension to file an opposition, then passed the problem on to Gov. Rick Perry. Everyone hopes something civil can be worked out.
But the Daughters, a 7,000-member nonprofit group, are standing their ground. They say their filing is strictly a business decision because they need money to maintain the Alamo. That is believable, for they have always had financial troubles operating the mission. The group gets no state funds although several appropriations to improve the Alamo have been made, the largest being for the celebration of the Texas Centennial. There is no admission charge, so most operating funds come from the gift shop.
“If anyone should trademark the Alamo, it should be the people who have been running it for 105 years. This is not that big of a deal. There are no issues here, at all. We’re just looking for ways to raise money for the Alamo,” Patti Atkins, president general of the Daughters, told the Austin American-Statesman.
The newspaper scanned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website to find page after page of trademarks that include the word “Alamo.” There is the Alamo’s Best Smokehouse Meats; Alamo Café Tortilla Factory; Alamotorcycle Rentals; Remember the Alamo For All Your Trailer Needs; Alamocrackers; Alamo Bingo; The Alamo of Nashville and The Alamo Mexican Food Worth Fightin’ For. This last one was a now-cancelled trademark held by a Mexican restaurant named The Alamo on Main Street in Rosendale, N.Y.
My own research turned up the obvious Alamo Car Rental Co., plus two Alamo Steak Houses – in Tennessee. Here’s one: “Alamo Industrial is the world’s largest manufacturer of tractor-mounted mowers, bush cutters and land clearers.” There is the Alamodome which hosts the Valero Alamo Bowl. The on-line bookseller Amazon lists 3,869 separate books with the word “Alamo” in the title. There have been three movies called “The Alamo” plus offshoots such as “The Man from the Alamo.” The Handbook of Texas has 551 listings for the mission. There is even a registered trademark for “Friends of the Alamo,” a splinter group of two members who were kicked out of the DRT over a fund-raising feud. Must all these parasites pay royalties to the Sisterhood of the Siege?
Some background for newcomers: The mission was built by Spanish padres in 1718 and called San Antonio de Valero. Over the years it was occupied by Spanish troops, the Mexican Army, the Texas Army (briefly), the U.S. government — which used the mission as a warehouse – the Confederacy, the city of San Antonio and the Catholic Church. In 1883 the state purchased some of the property and put it in the custody of the city of San Antonio, again, on condition that the city care for the building and pay a custodian – one guy with a broom. In 1905 the state purchased the rest of the old Alamo fortress, which was occupied by a business concern, for $65,000, then delivered it all to the DRT to run, which they have done ever since.
Ownership of the name of any icon might not be too clear. For example, the UT Students’ Association copyrighted “The Eyes of Texas” in 1936. That’s why at the end credits in the movie “Giant” the producers thank the Longhorns for the use of their song. The copyright expired and the song now belongs to UT-Austin. The name Bevo is state, or school, property. UT had to sue the city of Fort Worth to stop using for its logo a burnt orange longhorn head. The Seattle Seahawks were taken to court by the Texas Aggies for using the term, 12th Man.
This trademark move is not the Daughters’ only attempt at fund raising. Last year an Austin PR firm, pro-bono, created a fund-raising campaign that included a dues-paying support group, Allies of the Alamo, and snappy slogans such as, “Bowie defended it with a knife. Now all you need is a ballpoint pen.” “Support our troops. Even the ones from 1836.” “Real courage is fighting 2,000 men while wearing a hat with a tail.”
A great idea, so let’s help out. “The condition of the Alamo is a Travisty.” For the intimidated newcomers: “You don’t have to be a Crockett scientist to support the Alamo.” Here’s one: “I’m an Ally of the Alamo — Mission Accomplice.” We need a slogan for the federal bureaucracy-hating Tea Party members: “The Alamo was defended by government workers – deal with it.” Maybe the Daughters could turn a buck by installing a Ben & Jerry’s in the Long Barracks with the motto: “Remember the a la mode.” Finally: “If we had two Alamos to remember — Los Alamos – forget the knife, Bowie, we’ve got the Bomb.” Anything is better than some dumb line about “the second battle.”
Ashby is trademarked at firstname.lastname@example.org