Golden years

Then and now: Hemisfair circles back through 50 years of history

Photo by Billy Hustace
Hilton Palacio del Rio 1968 SA
Photos courtesy of Hilton Palacio del Rio
Hilton Palacio del Rio 1968 SA construction
Photos courtesy of Hilton Palacio del Rio
Hilton Palacio del Rio 2018
Photo courtesy of Hilton Palacio del Rio
San Antonio River Walk 1968
Courtesy photo
River Walk SA Museum Reach
Photo courtesy of Visit San Antonio
Tower of the Americas SA 1968
Photo courtesy of Hemisfair
Tower of the Americas SA
Photo courtesy of Hemisfair
Tower of the Americas SA Chart House restaurant
Photo courtesy of Visit San Antonio
Institute of Texan Cultures 1968 Architectural model
Photo courtesy of UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures
LBJ and Connally Institute of Texan Cultures
Photo courtesy of the Institute of Texan Cultures
Institute of Texan Cultures facade
Photo courtesy of the Institute of Texan Cultures
Institute of Texan Cultures interior
Photo courtesy of the Institute of Texan Cultures

The big San Antonio party this year may be the Tricentennial, but it’s not the only birthday the city is celebrating. 2018 also marks the 50th anniversary of the 1968 World’s Fair, which brought Alamo City its beloved Hemisfair Park.

To celebrate, the park is planning two days of events from April 6-8, highlighting the diversity of the city. The original fair hosted delegations from Mexico, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. In tribute, ¡Viva Hemisfair! will set up activations hosted by locals with heritages rooted in each of the same regions, including art, musical performances, cooking demos, a special fashion show featuring ‘60s style, and children’s activities.

The events will be scattered across several venues, including The Institute of Texan Cultures, Hilton Palacio del Rio, the Tower of Americas, Magik Children’s Theatre, the Mexican Cultural Institute, and Universidad Nacional Autonama de Mexico.

Over the past 50 years, these institutions have changed alongside the rest of the city. To honor San Antonio’s legendary past and its compelling future, here is a look back at some of Hemisfair’s most famous landmarks.

Then: Although the architects of the Hilton Palacio del Rio drew design inspiration from downtown's Spanish Governor’s Palace, the finished hotel was a modernist showpiece. The 22 stories used new technology that allowed the building to be built in seven months.

ThenConstruction workers sign the last modular room before it was installed at the top of the Hilton Palacio del Rio. First guests and hotel owner H.B. Zachry "rode" the room to the top with his wife, Molly Zachry, in a nationally televised event.

Now: The Hilton Palacio del Rio remains a popular destination for travelers with its close proximity to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. As part of the anniversary celebration, the hotel is asking customers to share memories of the hotel using the hashtag #HPDR50.

Then: The River Walk began a major expansion in 1966 to connect to a host of new restaurants, attractions, and shops that had recently opened along the San Antonio River, as well as to provide a convenient pathway to the brand new convention center.

Now: The River Walk is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world. In 2009, an eight-mile extension debuted connecting to four UNESCO-designated Spanish colonial missions and attractions like the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Witte Museum, the San Antonio Zoo, and the Historic Pearl Brewery.

Then: Designed by local architect O'Neil Ford, the Tower of the Americas was one of the most popular attractions at the San Antonio World's Fair. The top house was built on the ground and lifted to the top using 24 steel rods.

Now: Although the Tower of the Americas is still one of the most distinctive buildings in the San Antonio skyline, new large-scale monuments have popped up like Mexican sculptor Sebastián's 2002 work, La Antorcha de la Amistad, (The Torch of Friendship).

Now: The revolving Chart House restaurant occupies the top room of the Tower of Americas, offering breathtaking views of the city. A new 4D theater on the ground floor offers those afraid of heights a tour of Texas history.


Then: The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures was originally built to host the Texas Pavilion at the World’s Fair. An architectural model shows the original conception.


Then: President Lyndon B. Johnson and Texas Governor John Connally check out a state of the art projection system at the Texas Pavilion at the World's Fair. The showpiece installation showed films about Texas history hourly.

Now: The Institute of Texan Cultures still tells the story of Texas and provides a community hub by hosting festivals like Texas Folklife Festival and Asian Festival. During ¡Viva Hemisfair!, the museum will offer free admission.

Now: Screens are still a big part of the Institute of Texan Cultures' storytelling, although the technology has since been updated.