HemisFair 1968: A Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas

HemisFair ’68 –
HemisFair ’68 – "The world helps America celebrate itself." | Courtesy of The HemisFair Conservancy

The Space Needle in downtown Seattle,1 the Unisphere in the heart of New York City,2 the Eiffel Tower in bustling Paris, France3 — these are but a couple examples of the monuments left behind by the presence of a world’s fair. By the same token, it was the 1968 World’s Fair, held in San Antonio, Texas, that prompted the creation of the famed Tower of the Americas. Since its inception, the city of San Antonio has always represented a junction of many different cultures. Within the city limits, the people of San Antonio have experienced a plethora of struggles, victories, and losses. Determined to share the city’s unique trials and tribulations with the world, a man named Jerome K. Harris proposed that a world’s fair be held to celebrate the 250th anniversary of San Antonio’s establishment.4

Harris was no stranger to the idea of money and power, but he could not push forward such a large-scale event without the help of some other notable businessmen and policymakers from San Antonio. Accordingly, he searched long and far for a group of distinguished members of the San Antonio community who he believed could help him achieve his end goal. After only a few months, Harris had put together a group of well known individuals, including William R. Sinkin, H. B. “Pat” Zachry, James Gaines, and Henry B. Gonzales, to name a few. Thanks to a combination of San Antonio underwriters, voter-approved city bonds, Urban Renewal agency funds, and the Texas State Legislature, the group was eventually able to raise $11,375,000 towards the project. Although the group had done a great job raising funding for the event, it was actually the international community that allowed Hemisfair to reach a grand total of $156,000,000. This grand-scale event would ultimately spawn many different buildings, including the Convention Center and Arena, the Institute of Texan Cultures, the John H. Wood Federal Courthouse and, of course, the aforementioned Tower of the Americas.5

With the funding secured, the group turned its attention to planning the event that would, unbeknownst to them, eventually cement San Antonio as the top tourist destination in Texas. In order to plan such a large-scale event like this one, the group found itself catering to many different international interests. Finally, after months of hard work and intensive planning, the Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions awarded the city of San Antonio with official fair status in November 1965, thus recognizing the first world’s fair not only in the state of Texas but in the whole southern half of the United States.6

HemisFair ’68 Poster | Courtesy of The HemisFair Conservancy

On April 6, 1968, San Antonio locals and visitors alike awoke to a perfect 65-degree morning. The weather made for a perfect day to make history. As the many visitors stepped onto the 96.2-acre fairground on the southeastern edge of downtown San Antonio, the first thing they noticed was the almost endless amount of colorful tents set up for vendors of food, games, and education. Approximately twenty government agencies and ten private corporations from around the world participated and sponsored their own entertainment and education pavilions in order to convey the theme of “A Confluence of Cultures.” HemisFair would continue for six months, finally coming to an end on October 6, 1968. Within these six months, more than six million people of varying nationality and culture would attend the fair. In total, the fair boasted representation for a total of thirty different nations.7 In this regard, HemisFair was truly a confluence of cultures, a bastion of the idea of diversity that still resides in San Antonio today.

  1. American Decades Primary Sources, 2004, s.v. “Space Needle at World’s Fair.”
  2. Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, 2004, s.v. “New York World’s Fair (1939–1940),” by Isadora Anderson Helfgott.
  3. Dorling Kindersley, 2012, s.v. “DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Paris.”
  4. Cities of the United States, 2012, s.v. “San Antonio.”
  5. Cities of the United States, 2012, s.v. “San Antonio.”
  6. Dictionary of American History, 2003, s.v. “World’s Fairs,” by Robert Rydell.
  7. American Decades, 2001, s.v. “World’s Fairs.”

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This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Mariah Garcia

    I remember when I was five years old, my kindergarten class went on a field trip to the Tower of the Americas, and I remember we had lunch there, I was so amazed by the pageantry of it all. This article was very well written and I really enjoyed the attention to the details that I as a native of San Antonio was not privy to. The author did a fantastic job of laying the groundwork for the background without over saturating the entire piece.

  2. Avatar
    Joshua Garza

    Having a major structural landmark in my city gives me pride for being from San Antonio. Its something anyone can look at and say “wow what a beautiful thing” and represents the graceful and triumphant ways for the people of San Antonio. And out of all years it was constructed at a time where numerous important world events were happening. Today with the tower being 51 years old it is now historic, symbolic, and in my opinion a great thing to represent my home.

  3. Avatar
    Averie Mendez

    I’m from the Rio Grande Valley – definitely not a San Antonio local – but I made plenty of trips here with my family all throughout my childhood/teenage years and for as long as I can remember, I’ve always referred to the Tower of Americas as, simply, “the cupcake.” So this article was a very interesting read to me in that I finally know the history behind that monument that shaped so much of my childhood.

  4. Avatar
    Engelbert Madrid

    I enjoyed reading this article. I’m glad to read something that I haven’t known before, especially of something that is special and historical in my home city. The Tower of the Americas is one of San Antonio’s most visited places by tourists. This is truly a beautiful building and I’m glad the HemisFair of 1968 was held in this particular place.

  5. Christopher Hohman
    Christopher Hohman

    Nice article. I am San Antonio native, and it is nice to know some of the history behind hemisphere park. It is so cool to read that San Antonio was such a must see town back in 1968 and that millions of people visited the town in those allotted six months for the fair. I have never thought of San Antonio as much of a tourist destination but I guess to others it must seem like quite an extraordinary city. Especially if the world fair is being held.

  6. Avatar
    Fatima Navarro

    Loved the article! The Tower of the Americas is the symbol of unity and diversity with its 6 million people in those 6 months alone. Today, it might not mean a lot to many people and maybe some Texans do not hold a lot of pride every time they go dine, drive or walk by the tower, but it should always be a symbol of inclusion of all nationalities, languages and cultures. It is not only a Texas pride but a San Antonio pride.

  7. Avatar
    Antonio Coffee

    Ever since moving here, San Antonio has held a special place in my heart. I would have loved to visit this point in time if that were possible. It seems like it was San Antonio at its peak. Until last year I was unaware that San Antonio had hosted a World Fair so its great to see this article that will help inform people and let them know of the effort involved to make it a reality.

  8. Avatar
    Chelsea Alvarez

    Prior to reading this article, I didn’t know that San Antonio had hosted a World’s Fair in 1968. The Tower of the Americas adds to San Antonio’s culture and skyline. I think it is amazing how the people got together to raise money to have this project added to the diversity of the city and how this event also brought various other projects to the city.

  9. Avatar
    Ryan Estes

    I love the Tower of the Americas, and I have lived in San Antonio my whole life. San Antonio has been my home for almost 16 or 17 years, and I think even more than the buildings that make our skyline unique, it’s the people I have met throughout my life that have made San Antonio special. No matter where I go or what I do in life, San Antonio will always be my hometown! I have been in the Tower of the Americas I think twice, and the views of the city are amazing. It takes a while to get to the top, but the wait is well worth it. It was nice to read about how the Fair changed the world’s view on San Antonio, because I never really thought of it that way.

  10. Avatar
    Gabriel Dossey

    I had no idea of the monuments of the world fair. It is even more surprising to see something as sad as the tower of the Americas being the monument to mark the 68 world fair. It is inspiring to see that the public was unified in the funding and the creation of the monument and that they were able to raise so much money in a time where a million dollars was a lot.

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