Sunday, April 8, 2018

Seven Ways HemisFair Changed San Antonio Forever


“Until Hemisfair, we were a good city, a quiet city, with not much vision or thrust for the future”
 William Sinkin   First President of HemisFair ’68


    50 years ago, in 1968, San Antonio hosted the World’s Fair, dubbed HemisFair 68. The site of the fair is now HemisFair Park in downtown on the corner of Alamo St, Market St and Cesar Chavez Blvd, marked by the Convention Center and the Tower of the Americas, both constructed for the event.
   While the city has discussed numerous proposals for the site over the past 50 years, one thing cannot be denied, HemisFair forever changed the path of the city. 


Post Card from Opening day of the Fair

1. It moved San Antonio into the ranks of America’s top cities.

   In 1920, San Antonio was the largest city in Texas. But after the depression, the city hit a prolonged period of stagnant growth. In the 1950s, while the rest of the nation was basking in the glow of post war growth, San Antonio slowly settled behind Dallas and Houston in population. Worse yet, a walk thru downtown San Antonio in the early 1960s, looked much like 1930s San Antonio. 
   The idea behind HemisFair was to kick start the city’s growth and propel the city out of its economic slumber. 
   Perhaps the most telling story of the city’s malaise is told by Red McCombs, who served on the fair’s executive committee. He was in charge of getting major companies to sponsor and build pavilions for the fair. They needed twenty to have the fair certified but could only sign 3. According to McCombs, the biggest problem was that “major corporations in 1966 thought of San Antonio as being something maybe like Laredo or maybe like Abilene.”
   With personal appeals from President Lyndon Johnson, HemisFair was able to secure enough corporate partners to have the fair certified.
   Today, San Antonio has over a 1.4 million people and is the 7th largest city in the US and the second largest in Texas.  


Post Card showing the RiverWalk extension into HemisFair and the then named HemisFair Theatre.  Renamed the Lila Cockerel Theatre, it still stands today as part of the Convention Center 

2. It saved the River Walk.

    In 1960, the River Walk was quite different that it is today. The beautiful Venice like attraction that architect Robert Hugman envisioned during the 1930s was built by the WPA, but it became anything but an attraction. Most buildings used the River Walk as an alley, storing trash. Casa Rio was the only restaurant on the river and most thought the owner was crazy to open there. The River Walk was so rough that the military had made it off limits to military personal.
Part of the HemisFair plan was to extend the River Walk into the fairground, stopping in front of the Lila Cockrell theatre and what is now Convention Center. That extension along with over 6 million Hemisfair visitors helped remake the image of the River Walk.
Today, the River Walk is the second most popular tourist destination in Texas.


Post Card from the Fair



3. It made San Antonio into a tourist destination.

   From the start of the Depression until the mid-1960s not a single new hotel was built in San Antonio. When San Antonio was awarded the fair, it set off a slew of hotel construction, including the Hilton Palacio Del Rio and the conversion of St. Mary’s College old downtown campus into La Mansion.  Millions streamed into the city to experience that fair and discovered San Antonio for the first time, making into a tourist destination for the first time. 
   Today, San Antonio host 7 million visitors annually and has the state’s top tourist attraction, the Alamo. 

Post Card depicting the The USA Pavilion for HemisFair. Today it is the Judge John Wood Courthouse 

4. It gave the city a convention center.

   When designing the fair, Congressman Henry B. Gonzales made sure that federal urban renewal funds used for the fair included permanent buildings that could be used after HemisFair closed. The HemisFair Exhibit Hall became San Antonio’s first Convention Center. Attached to the Exhibit Hall was the HemisFair Arena, which later attracted San Antonio’s first major league team, the Spurs. 
   The Convention Center has been expanded many times and the Arena has been replaced by more meeting space, but the HemisFair Theatre remains, now named the Lila Cockrell Theatre, after the city’s first female mayor. If you look above the west facade of the theatre, you can see on original HemisFair mural, “Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas by Mexican artist Juan O’Gourman.
   Today, the Convention Center is one of the 15 largest in the US, hosting 300 events a year with over 750,000 annual delegates. 


Post Card depicting the Tower of the Americas


5. It transformed our skyline.

   By far, the most recognizable structure in the city’s skyline is the Tower of the Americas. Designed by O’Neil Ford, the tower was the centerpiece of the fair. The tophouse was actually built on the ground and raised on the shaft.  The raising of the top house to its final resting stop became a bit of a civic event.
    The observation deck and the revolving restaurant are still popular San Antonio attractions. Sadly, after the tower was opened and became the city’s tallest structure, the observation deck atop the 1929 Tower Life Building closed to the public. 
 Today, at 750 Feet, the Tower of the Americas is still the largest structure in San Antonio. It is 145 feet taller than Seattle’s Space Needle and 187 Feet taller than Dallas’ Reunion Tower.  


Post Card depicting the nation of Mexico's Pavilion for Hemisfair. The pavilion is used today as  Universidad Nacional Autonoma De Mexico - San Antonio Campus and the Mexican Cultural Institute

6. It changed the political landscape.

  The city’s political landscape in the 1960’s was mainly run by white businessmen. But the undertaking of a World’s Fair took efforts from the entire community and opened the doors of political opportunity.
   1968 was a tumultuous year in the US for race relations. In San Antonio, city leaders knew it would be disastrous to invite people from all over the world, of a myriad of ethnicities, to the city only to have them denied entrance to restaurants and hotels. They made sure San Antonio became an open city. It was one of the few places in the US to escape the violence of 1968.
    
   “Until HemisFair came along, Jessica and I didn’t know a single Latino in San Antonio. HemisFair changed all that”

Henry E. Catto Jr.   San Antonian and Former Ambassador to Great Britain




Post Card depicting one of the original buildings in the neighborhood where HemisFair was built. Originally it was the Schultze Store. For the Fair it was used as the Humble Oil Pavilion. The building still stands today on the West Entrance to the park

7. It wiped a Polish neighborhood off the map.

   HemisFair ’68 was built on a 92 acre site that was home to one of San Antonio’s oldest neighborhoods. The demolition over 100 buildings including St. Michaels Church, the United State’s third oldest Polish Catholic church, was not without controversy. The San Antonio Conservation Society submitted a proposal to save 129 historic structures, some dating back to the 1800s, and have them incorporated into the fair. In the end, only 24 structures were saved, many which are still in the park.


    Today, there is a proposal to once again redevelop the HemisFair site to include apartments and town homes, recreating the downtown neighborhood. 





Enjoy My Blog?  Check out my book,

The Travis Club

Intrigue + Mystery + Romance + San Antonio





"What a surprise! . . .a page-turner . . . extremely well-written and well researched. . . I highly recommend this book to all mystery lovers . . . a great read. . . couldn't wait to find out what would happen next . . . I love a book you can't put down, and this certainly fit the bill . . . very engaging . . .  I really couldn't stop reading it . . . a fantastic and completely believable story"

                                                       Reviews From Amazon.com Readers




Friday, March 23, 2018

Yes, Santa Anna Did Invent Chewing Gum


   Yes, that Santa Anna. Battle of the Alamo Santa Anna.  His time in San Antonio is well documented. What is lesser known is his role in the invention of chewing gum. 
After his surrender in San Jacinto, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna lived in a variety of place including Cuba and Staten Island, New York.
According to the well-researched book, Chicle, The Chewing Gum of the Americas, From the Ancient Maya to William Wrigley by Jennifer P. Mathews, Santa Anna was trying to find a way to fund a return to the presidency of Mexico while living in New York.  Santa Anna had a supply of chicle from Vera Cruz that he chewed for pleasure.  Chicle is produced by the sapodilla tree and used for decades by indians as a chewable snack. With the assistance of amateur inventor Thomas Adams, Santa Anna tried to create a valuable substitute for rubber using chicle. 

   When their attempt at fortune failed, Santa Anna returned to Mexico, penniless. Adams, left with a large supply of chicle, cut it into bight size pieces and sold it as candy. Adams called his treat, Chicklets and eventually made his fortune. The rest is history.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The First Movie to Win the Oscar is . . . from San Antonio




The first movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture has its roots in the Alamo City. The silent World War I epic Wings was filmed in San Antonio, using its many military facilities as backdrops. Kelly and Brooks Fields were used as cadet training sites. The Ft. Sam Houston gate near the Quadrangle was used in the opening shot, and Camp Stanley acted as St. Mihiel, France, where the 2nd Infantry fought.
The film premiered in San Antonio on May 19, 1927, at the Texas Theatre. Proceeds from the event ($5,500) were given to a memorial fund for the 2nd Infantry Division, which lost 25,000 troops in World War I. Actors Buddy Rogers, Clara Bow, Richard Arlen, and Jobyna Ralston attended the premier of their film, as did many actors from the movie Rough Riders, which was filming in San Antonio at the time.

The Texas Theatre, in it's former glory before it was partially torn down. Only the facade exists today on Houston Street. 

The movie also features the screen debut of Gary Cooper who was on screen for a total of 102 seconds. Cooper received such a reaction from fans who wrote the studio asking about the tall actor that his fate as a star was born.


Gary Cooper (right) making his acting debut

The premiere ended on a spectacular note, when moviegoers left the theatre and were greeted by newsboys who were selling papers announcing that former Brooks Field Cadet Charles Lindbergh was preparing to leave for Paris on his solo transatlantic flight.


View The Trailer

         

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Teddy Roosevelt and the Roughriders in San Antonio






  Teddy Roosevelt was the assistant secretary of the navy when he first thought to form a cavalry regiment of Wild West types to fight the Spaniards in Cuba. The "Rough Riders" ended up being a mix of westerners and East Coast Ivy Leaguers. Some of the frontiersman included "Rocky Mountain Bill," "Rattlesnake Pete," "Lariat Ned," and "Bronco George," a man who had already downed five men. The westerners drew less attention than the nattily dressed, refined East Coast college educated men, who stood out in roughshod San Antonio.


Contrary to popular belief, Roosevelt was not the commanding officer of the Rough Riders. Feeling that he lacked enough military experience, the assistant secretary chose Colonel Leonard Wood, who had seen action in the Indian campaigns, as the head man. Roosevelt became a lieutenant colonel under Wood. Roosevelt arrived on May 15, 1898, and recruited members for his crew from the lobby of the Menger Hotel. The bar at the hotel was the site of many impassioned speeches by the future president. The Menger Bar is still intact and has been renamed the Roosevelt Bar.

Plaque outside the Mender Hotel Bar where Teddy Roosevelt recruited Rough Riders.  The Bar was later renamed the Roosevelt Bar and looks the same today as it did when Roosevelt visited. 



The First United States Volunteer Cavalry trained on the site of Riverside Golf Course, near the water hazard on the sixteenth hole. On May 30, 1898, the volunteer cavalry left by train for Florida, then they went on to Cuba. The Rough Riders suffered many casualties, due to both war and disease. After three months, the Rough Riders were disbanded. Lt. Colonel Roosevelt went on to bigger and better endeavors.





Enjoy My Blog? You might also enjoy my books, 



The Book that Inspired the Blog, now in its 3rd Edition

I LOVE this book . . . Has a lot of great stories from the best city in the world!! . . . Wonderful and surprising facts . . . Thought you knew this city? Better read this . .  . 
Great for natives and transplants like me.



The Travis Club


Intrigue + Mystery + Romance + San Antonio

"What a surprise! . . .a page-turner . . . extremely well-written and well researched. . . I highly recommend this book to all mystery lovers . . . a great read. . . couldn't wait to find out what would happen next . . . I love a book you can't put down, and this certainly fit the bill . . . very engaging . . .  I really couldn't stop reading it . . . a fantastic and completely believable story"

                                                       Reviews From Amazon.com Readers




Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How San Antonio Got The Spurs



In 1967, the Dallas Chaparrals where one of the founding teams on the upstart American Basketball Association. The team had never drawn well, averaging less than 3,000 fans a night. By 1973, the owners were desperately looking for a buyer.
Without a single offer, the Chaparrals turned to San Antonians Red McCombs and Angelo Drossos. They offered them one of the most unique deals in all of sports. The leased the team to San Antonio for two years. At the end on two years, they could own the team outright for two payments of $800,000.
   The team, renamed the Spurs, had its own attendance woes. It didn’t improve in San Antonio until the Spurs bought the contract of a skinny young player named George Gervin. With Gervin, the team quickly improved and attendance rocketed by the middle of the first season. 



   Drossos then contacted the Dallas owners with a bit of a bluff. He told them he had run out of capital and they could have the team back. The last thing they want was the team back because they’d have to find a new buyer. They struck a new deal. San Antonio could have the entire team immediately for one payment of $800,000.
        In 1976, the Spurs along with 3 other ABA teams were absorbed by the NBA. 


   In 2014 the Spurs won their 5th Championship. The average value of a NBA franchise is now at $630 Million. 



The original inside of Hemisfair Arena, before the roof was literally raised to add an upper deck

The roof being raised on Hemisfair Arena to add an upper deck


The NBA's Spurs 'Bruise Brother's' Poster from 1980


Enjoy My Blog?  Check out my books,

San Antonio Uncovered - The Book






Click on Cover to Order


"This detailed book is at once a tourist's friend and a native's reference. Rybczyk says it was written for the curious native (whatever that is) and secondly for the newly arrived who may wonder "What's so special about San Antonio?" Notice who it was written for first.
Every landmark, legend and myth of San Antonio is here - from the ugliest statue to the histories of the railroad stations. It's a smorgasbord of overlooked and under-appreciated jewels from all over the city. The obligatory shrines and sites are here too - every one of them. Throughout the book's pages Mark employs the rarest type of humor - humor with genuine affection.
Mark corrects the old saw that said San Antonio is "a small town wanting to be a big city." It is, as he says, "A big town that desperately wants to be a small town." With this book as your guide, it's almost as though San Antonio gets its wish."

John  Troessler   Texas Escape






The Travis Club

Intrigue + Mystery + Romance + San Antonio


"What a surprise! . . .a page-turner . . . extremely well-written and well researched. . . I highly recommend this book to all mystery lovers . . . a great read. . . couldn't wait to find out what would happen next . . . I love a book you can't put down, and this certainly fit the bill . . . very engaging . . .  I really couldn't stop reading it . . . a fantastic and completely believable story"


                                                       Reviews From Amazon Reader    



Click on Cover to Order

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sam, the Space Monkey - From Outer Space to the San Antonio Zoo.



It took me a while, but I finally found a photo of Sam the Space Monkey. Sam went from a trip to outer space to a n extended stint at the San Antonio Zoo



   Sam was the first Texan to travel into space. Born in 1957 at the University of Texas, Sam, a rhesus monkey, was designated for the U.S. space program because he was a stand-out at the U.T. Balcones Research Center. On December 4, 1959, Sam was launched into space from Wallops Island, Virginia. After a seventeen-hour countdown, Sam was launched fifty-five miles into space and spent a total of twelve minutes there.
   After his famous flight, Sam was brought to the School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base, where he was put under medical scrutiny. The space chimp made the cover of Parade magazine in 1960, but his fame was short-lived when John Glenn became more popular.
   Sam was kept at Brooks AFB for a mere eleven years when the air force figured they had gathered enough evidence on the effects of twelve minutes of space flight on monkeys. Sam then moved to a cage at the San Antonio Zoo where he was given a companion, though he was now too fat to mate. A plaque on his cage told zoo goers of the accomplishments of Sam.


   The space pioneer passed away on September 19, 1978. The chimp's body was taken back to Brooks for an autopsy, where more was learned of the effects of weightlessness.

As Featured in the book San Antonio Uncovered

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Construction on The Tower of the Americas

  A recent discussion of the Tower of the Americas drew disbelief when I mentioned that the observation deck was built on the ground and later raised up the elevator shaft when completed.

  I found this photo (courtesy of the San Antonio Express News) that shows the day the Roundhouse was raised to the top of the tower, shortly before the start of the 1968 World's Fair



On our recent Travel With Hawkeye Podcast I shared my observations and comparisons of the Tower of the Americas and Seattle's Space Needle


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Neon Sign That Predicted the Weather


   One of the most iconic signs in San Antonio's skyline was the neon Alamo National Bank sign. Not only did it tower over most of downtown. The sign also predicted the weather.


The Original Sign atop San Antonio's Alamo National Bank Building

From the Express News   December 28, 1968




A key to the flashing neon,  found on back of Alamo National Bank Matchbooks

The sign today, atop the redeveloped Alamo National Back Building, as see from the Drury Suites Rooftop pool







Alamo National Bank Building's New Life as a Hotel


Originally built in 1929, the the 24 story Alamo National Bank Building was one of the San Antonio's tallest office buildings for many years. In 1961,  a parking garage and drive thru banking lanes were added. Ironically, the garage faced the riverwalk, which illustrates what people thought of riverfront access before Hemisfair. 

In 2005, the building was readapted to use as a hotel. The Drury Plaza Hotel lovingly restored the lobby to it's original grandeur. The neon tower above the sign was partially restored, but no longer forecasts the weather. (If the lights on the tower lit in an upward direction, the temp was rising, etc)

                           

The Drury Suites as seen from the Riverwalk



The building today with the new San Fernando Tower atop the parking garage. The San Fernando Tower has a rooftop patio that overlooks the riverwalk, Main Plaza and the Cathedral.




The exquisite stone work. Taken atop the new rooftop pool



The hotel lobby,  restored to it's original grandeur. Notice the stained glass above the entry. 


The Alamo depicted in stained glass on the Commerce Street exit. Notice the side panels. 

These panels originally hung in the lobby. They appear to be metal, but they are actually painted fabric. 

When the parking garage was built in 1961, it backed up to the Riverwalk, but offered no access to the river.  (in all fairness there was no sidewalk outside the parking garage until years later)
The bridge from he hotel connects the hotel to Main Plaza, which originally had limited access to the Riverwalk. 



Enjoy My Blog?  Check out my books,

San Antonio Uncovered - The Book



Available on Amazon.comBarnesAndNoble.com, Apple iBooks


"This detailed book is at once a tourist's friend and a native's reference. Rybczyk says it was written for the curious native (whatever that is) and secondly for the newly arrived who may wonder "What's so special about San Antonio?" Notice who it was written for first.
Every landmark, legend and myth of San Antonio is here - from the ugliest statue to the histories of the railroad stations. It's a smorgasbord of overlooked and under-appreciated jewels from all over the city. The obligatory shrines and sites are here too - every one of them. Throughout the book's pages Mark employs the rarest type of humor - humor with genuine affection.
Mark corrects the old saw that said San Antonio is "a small town wanting to be a big city." It is, as he says, "A big town that desperately wants to be a small town." With this book as your guide, it's almost as though San Antonio gets its wish."

John  Troessler   Texas Escape






The Travis Club

Intrigue + Mystery + Romance + San Antonio


"What a surprise! . . .a page-turner . . . extremely well-written and well researched. . . I highly recommend this book to all mystery lovers . . . a great read. . . couldn't wait to find out what would happen next . . . I love a book you can't put down, and this certainly fit the bill . . . very engaging . . .  I really couldn't stop reading it . . . a fantastic and completely believable story"


                                                       Reviews From Amazon.com Readers