Looking back at San Antonio’s beloved Alamo Plaza attractions

The site of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo is now synonymous with San Antonio. It’s hard to forget the Alamo and the group of longtime tourist attractions that are right across the street. One could argue that those attractions are just as much part of the culture of Alamo Plaza as the mission facade. Loved or hated, locals will soon say goodbye to the Alamo Plaza attractions.

The family company behind the neighboring attractions like Ripley’s Haunted Adventures and Tomb Rider have a connection to the South Central Texas tourism that begins in San Marcos.

MySA took its own dark ride through the archives to look at how Phillip’s Entertainment Inc. established the attractions in Alamo Plaza that are set to move out this fall.

Aquarena Springs was known for its glass bottom boat that let riders peek at underwater life and mermaid shows.

Aquarena Springs was known for its glass bottom boat that let riders peek at underwater life and mermaid shows.

BOB OWEN/SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

Mermaid shows and a swimming pig

Phillips Entertainment, and its current CEO Davis Phillips, credit the beginning of the company back to Davis’ grandfather, Gene Phillips, and the water theme park in San Marcos known as Aquarena Springs.

Aquarena Springs opened in 1949 and Gene managed it from 1964 to 1986. It was known for its glass bottom boat that would float across the San Marcos River, its underwater mermaid shows, and Ralph the Swimming Pig, according to an Express-News article written in 2000.

An abandoned structure sits Wednesday at the site of the defunct Aquarena Springs Amusement Park at Spring Lake in San Marcos.  The area is now Texas State's Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.

An abandoned structure sits Wednesday at the site of the defunct Aquarena Springs Amusement Park at Spring Lake in San Marcos. The area is now Texas State’s Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.

Jordan Vonderhaar / Contributor

The theme park would close in 1994, despite as much as 175,000 guests visiting the park that year. Now it is the site of a Texas State University educational and conservation park called the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.

It still uses the glass bottom boat, according to its website.

Ripley's Haunted Adventures was the first attractions from Phillips that opened on Alamo Plaza, inviting guests to tour of a fictional casket making company.

Ripley’s Haunted Adventures was the first attractions from Phillips that opened on Alamo Plaza, inviting guests to tour of a fictional casket making company.

HELEN L. MONTOYA/SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

Fun at the Alamo church’s front doors

Gene passed away in September 1988. His son, Bill, would follow in his father’s footsteps and eventually open the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! wax museum at 301 Alamo Plaza, which is no longer associated with the Phillips family.

Davis Phillips stands at the entrance to Tomb Rider 3D.  Originally, it was Davy Crockett's Tall Tales Ride, but it changed after being renovated in March 2008.

Davis Phillips stands at the entrance to Tomb Rider 3D. Originally, it was Davy Crockett’s Tall Tales Ride, but it changed after being renovated in March 2008.

Lisa Krantz /Staff photographer

Bill and his son Davis would create Phillips Entertainment in 2000, and open its first attraction, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, on the third floor of the Woolworth building in 2002. The year-round haunted house took tourists on a tour of the fictional Grimsby & Streaper Casket Co., maker of caskets. Spooky.

Davy Crockett's Tall Tales Ride and Interactive Outpost was the first dark ride that opened at Alamo Plaza in 2005.

Davy Crockett’s Tall Tales Ride and Interactive Outpost was the first dark ride that opened at Alamo Plaza in 2005.

Courtesy of Sally Dark Rides – www.sallydarkrides.com

Davy Crockett’s adventures

Phillips Entertainment opened the Guinness World Record Museum on the second floor of the Woolworth building in 2003, then it would open its first dark ride — Davy Crockett’s Tall Tales Ride from Sally Dark Rides.

The dark ride would take riders though the Texas figure’s “mostly-fictitious adventures,” according to the Sally Dark Rides website. The ride would only last about three years until undergoing renovations.

A worker from Tomb Rider 3D Adventure Ride and Arcade, pushes a stuffed lion in place in 2015.

A worker from Tomb Rider 3D Adventure Ride and Arcade, pushes a stuffed lion in place in 2015.

Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

the tomb rider

Phillips Entertainment converted the Davy Crockett ride into Tomb Rider 3D in 2008, which takes riders through the temple of the ancient Egyptian God, Anubis.

Riders would also have light guns to shoot tomb baddies and rack up a score.

Ripley's Believe it or Not was quiet as downtown was deserted when San Antonio ordered people to shelter in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ripley’s Believe it or Not was quiet as downtown was deserted when San Antonio ordered people to shelter in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tom Reel/Staff photographer

The time it got quiet

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit San Antonio in March 2020, Phillips Entertainment closed its attractions doors, like a lot of businesses, by order of the city while it tried to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Davis told Express-News in September 2020 that its attendance was 67% down when it reopened in June 2020. The company took a $1.6 million federal loan to stay afloat.

And it has stayed afloat, only to be bought out.

The longtime attractions like Ripley's Haunted Adventure will have to vacate by the fall.

The longtime attractions like Ripley’s Haunted Adventure will have to vacate by the fall.

Courtesy of Texas General Land Office

An Alamo-centric future


Phillips Entertainment agreed with the Texas General Land Office to break their leases in those buildings in February and make way for an Alamo Trust’s plans for a museum.

The exact details of why Phillips agreed were not disclosed, but the company has to cease operations by September 1 and vacate by October 31.

What will Halloween night be now without Ripley’s Haunted Adventure?