It has been 52 years since my visit to Hemisfair in 1968. I stil remember the excitement because it was right close to where I live now.
My family and I were in Kaiserslautern, Germany with the 3rd Armored Calvary. One day we got the word that the unit was moving back to the states. There was a task force that was selected to return early to prepare the movement to Ft. Lewis, Washington. I was selected to be part of it.
We packed all of our belonging and shipped it to Ft. Lewis. I had some time before we had to arrive to our post so I decided to visit our parents in San Antonio.
What I didn’t know is that we were fortunate that the Hemisfair had just recently opened. It was in 1966 that the city decided to clear some land close by the family home and we were worried that it would include our house. We found that St. Michael Catholic church had been demolished and a new church was built right next to my house. There had been other incidents where an owner of a house had to be physically evacuated when he refused to walk out on his own.
There were many polish residents attending that church ending up attending in other Polish churches outside the San Antonio area. Some of them stayed loyal to St. Michael and even though they had moved farther away, kept on attending the new St. Michael.
We only had my son, Martin who was almost five and we wanted for him not to miss this historical date in history. Because we lived nearby, we decided to walk from our house down Durango street (now Cesar Chavez street) across the railroad tracks. (that was before the bridge)
Arriving there, the first thing we saw was the tower and the monorail above our heads. Then there was a concrete walkway that took us to the center and from there we were able to traverse the entire complex without causing pedestrian traffic. There were many things to see. We were bombarded with entertainment throughout the day. Marching bands, Mariachis, ski boats in the pond. (yes there was a large pond that we could see skiers performing.) There were also a famous Mexican Indians who would climb a large pole and came down flying with ropes attached to them. Meanwhile there was an Aztec sacrificial ceremony where an Indian girl would bare her breast and lay on the altar and supposedly cut her heart out. (her baring of her breast was later taken out, too late, we saw t already. We shielded Martin’s eyes but he kept one eye open). Then there were exhibit from all over the southern hemisphere meant to expose us to their culture.
The tower itself had a restaurant at the top. Initially it had problems before when visiting dignitaries were stranded for a while when the elevator experience electrical problems. We went up one time while we were there but only to the viewing deck. We heard years later that some fellows parachuted down from that deck.
I remember that Ms Julia Helen Shireman lived in that area and I had seen the house before. Now I saw it used as a curios shop. There were other houses that were saved from demolition and left there to be used as entertaining venues.
When we were hungry, we went to the big mall covered by a large roof and a large open space for performers to entertain us when we sat down. There were all kinds of food (the birth place for future fast food ideas).
Finally, there was a place where we could ride the Ferris wheel and other kinds of rides for adults and children. We partook of everything including the ride on a monorail which we thought would be the ride of the future in San Antonio. (clearly to the end of the Hemisfair, one of the monorail cars derailed and fell down into the pavement below) The incident cause the city to not look into the possible use of the monorail) However, late in the 70s, we had freeways that traverse the city north, south, East and west.
When we left San Antonio to our new post, we didn’t realize that this event would place San Antonio as one of the cities most visited as a tourist attraction. After I retired we visited the site a lot but, gone were the attractions. However, the city continues to upgrade the Hemisfair area for the better use of tourism which now brings tourist from all over the world not only to see the Alamo but visit Hemisfair along with the tower where once stood St. Michael Catholic church.