San Antonio Uncovered: Hemisfair

Hemisfair 1968

Picture it: San Antonio, April 1968—the excitement in the air was electric and had hung over the city since it had been selected in 1965 to host the World’s Fair. For three years, the city had buzzed with preparations. A theme for the fair, The Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas, had been chosen. And the planning committees had been convening to make sure San Antonio proudly shared its beauty and history with the entire world. Architects had been chosen to create structures and exhibition pavilions, vendors had thrown their hats in the ring just hoping to be part of the historic event, and San Antonians had excitedly waited to buy tickets to see just what all that World’s Fair hubbub was about! Now folks from around the world waited in lines to enter the 96-acre site that housed the 1968 Hemisfair!

 Tower of the Americas

View of Tower of the Americas from Hemisfair Park, 2019

The grounds promised adventure for visitors to the Alamo City and homegrown locals alike. Pavilions housed cultural exhibits, ideas displaying the wave of the future, and theaters. There were shows, elaborate water features, restaurants and shops, and even an amusement park area called Fiesta Island. Visitors could get around on foot, by Sky Ride, mini monorail, or Lagoon Cruise.

Monorail

Mini-Monorail Monument at Hemisfair, which uses materials from the original monorail system

But the theme structure for that World’s Fair was the Tower of the Americas—a whopping 750-foot tower with a 4-level sprocket-like structure that housed two different levels of observation decks, a lounge, and a revolving restaurant. This crowning jewel of HemisFair ‘68 is second only to that other iconic structure—you know, a little place called the Alamo. 

Construction of the Tower

Construction of the Tower of Americas from the Institute of Texan Cultures


Hemisfair Park Today

If you’ve ever had the chance to go up one of the Tower of Americas’ three elevators, then you know that the first few seconds are like any other elevator ride, but then—gasp!—you realize that one of the walls is actually a window from which you can enjoy a breathtaking view of San Antonio. And that’s just a taste of what you’ll see when that elevator door opens. The observation deck that promised folks breathtaking 360° views in 1968 still exists today. And the revolving restaurant, a novel idea back in the day, continues to excite visitors 50 years later! Over the years, improvements and renovations have occurred, adding an award-winning restaurant, 4-D theater ride, and gift shop.

But the tower isn’t the only attraction Hemisfair Park has to offer. It has become a place “where San Antonio meets.” Over the last half a century, the park has seen multiple updates including the addition of eateries, shops, a children’s park with sand boxes, giant checkers and chess, climbing structures, swings and spinners, and a splash pad.

Sky Ride Gondola

Refurbished sky ride gondolas from Brackenridge now serving as historically significant gazebos in Hemisfair Park

 

The 1968 Texas Pavilion naturally became the Institute of Texan Cultures, a Smithsonian affiliate, that houses exhibits of the “Texan Cultures” that settled our state. Laterna Magika, a Hemisfair ‘68 attraction housed in Beethoven Hall, has given way to The Magik Theatre, which specializes in children’s theatre today.

US Pavilion Complex / SA Federal Courthouse

The John H. Wood, Jr. United States Courthouse was created as the United States Pavilion Complex during Hemisfair '68

Five decades may have passed since Hemisfair ‘68, but the aftereffects are still felt by the people of San Antonio. Hemisfair Park continues to grow and evolve, embracing history and the present, and preparing for the future for San Antonians and our visitors alike.

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