Thirty-seven years ago this week, Pee-wee Herman embarked on a cross-country odyssey to the Alamo to retrieve his lost bicycle from its basement. Once here, he got the bad news: “There’s no basement in the Alamo!”

“Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” filmed partly in San Antonio, hit theaters on July 26, 1985. 

Audiences watched as Tina, the Alamo tour guide played by the late Jan Hooks, delivered the six devastating words that brought Pee-wee Herman’s search to a standstill. 

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Tina was right, but she also wasn’t forthcoming with all the details of the historic site. The Alamo grounds, in fact, have two basements. 

While there is no basement in either of the Alamo’s historic structures, there is one under the gift shop. Built in 1937, “the basement was dug out in the 1980s,” the Alamo’s official Twitter account tweeted in 2018

The other basement is beneath Alamo Hall, which is now used as a alamo-hall-and-patio”>reception venue. The structure was built in 1922 as San Antonio Fire Station No. 2. It was used as a fire station until the Alamo compound came under state control in the late 1930s. 

Directed by Tim Burton, “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” stars Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman, whose signature look includes a tight suit, a red bow and butch wax on his short-cropped hair. 

The Alamo is an 18th-century Spanish mission that became a 19th-century makeshift fort during Texas’ quest for independence. It became an iconic historic site in the 20th-century thanks to its depictions in books, television shows and movies such as “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” 

“Though the Alamo interior was filmed at the Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana in California, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure helped connect the site with a new generation in the 1980s,” said Jonathan Huhn, a spokesman for the Alamo. “The film helped to confirm the myth that the Alamo Church does not have a basement. However, it will surprise some readers to learn that the Alamo gift shop, located next to the Alamo Church, does indeed have a basement.”

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In the film, Pee-wee’s adventure leads him through a maze of events, including a run-in with police and a wooing by a waitress in a highway diner who dreams of running away to Paris. Pee-wee ends up in San Antonio, where he learns that his red, balloon-tired bicycle has won a starring role in a major motion picture. He runs off to Hollywood to retrieve it. 

While Pee-wee’s time in San Antonio was brief, the Alamo gag has lived on. 

“Our tour guides usually receive this inquiry once a day,” Huhn said. “If a popular streaming service picks up the movie or there is any related convention in town, that number can increase in frequency.” 

In 2004, the Express-News reported: “If you expect the ushers to bust a gut when you ask them where the basement is, don’t be disappointed if Pee-wee Herman’s well-worn gag only gets you a polite but weary smile.” 

David Stewart, the last Alamo director under the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, told the newspaper that he’d heard Pee-wee’s question so often that he could tell when someone was about to bring it up again. 

“They get this little smile on their face and say, ‘You know what I’m going to ask,’ ” Stewart said. “And I always say, ‘No, we don’t have a basement.’”

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