Manager of Special Events – San Antonio Fair, Inc. 1967 – 1968
In August of 2012 I had the pleasure of corresponding with Mr. Snyder to hear some of his memories of the planning, construction, operation of HemisFair ’68. Below is a transcript of my conversation with Mr. Snyder.
I managed a large convention in San Antonio in 1964, got to know the city and its leadership, the planning for the River Walk development, and hints of the upcoming World’s Fair. My volunteer chairman of the convention was Jimmy Gause, a Chamber staff member who, as it happened, was staffing the river development project. I became very interested in what the city was doing, and stayed in touch with Jimmy, who kept me apprised of progress on both the river and the Fair. One day I received a call from him, asking if I would be interested in becoming manager of the new convention center being built as part of the Fair effort. I had to tell him no, because I did not feel qualified at the time for the position, but said to keep me in mind for service at the Fair itself. I was ultimately interviewed for Special Events, and joined the Fair staff in August 1967.
Money was always a challenge. The Fair was privately funded, except for bond funds for some of its major components which would remain: convention center, tower, river extension for example. Weather also turned out to be a problem, as did personal politics (as a newcomer, I tried to maintain ‘plausible deniability’ on the political front). I still regard it as a miracle that all civic factions got together to pull it off.
Early in the Fair, when it became evident that money was going to be problem, I got the firm impression that all the employees made an unstated personal and collective vow: ‘The Fair WILL succeed!’ Tom Frost said after the Fair closed, having lost money and run short on attendance, ‘What people seem to forget is that HemisFair accomplished everything it set out to do, except make money.’ None of the underwriters complained – they knew what the Fair would do for the City and for business in general. The rest, as they say, is history.
It became a personal goal for all involved, staff and volunteers. As an example, one of my staff members kept a tool chest in his desk drawer, and after the Fair closed each evening he and I and maybe a few others would go out and repair something that needed work, or build something we knew we’d be needing the next day. We realized that the maintenance crews were overworked and short-handed. Another example: With July 4th approaching, we needed red, white and blue decorations. I ordered the materials and the ladies on my staff and the protocol staff in the same building took their leisure time and sewed bunting and other decor that we displayed around the grounds.
We actually had little time to ‘attend’ the Fair, so never saw everything. One of the high spots for me was ‘Argyle,’ a hand-puppet snake which operated from a small stage in the side panel of a bread-truck, and carried on hilarious conversations with the crowds of people he attracted. The truck was parked outside our office door (we were located above the Swiss pavilion), so we saw a lot of him. Otherwise, there were lots of excellent presentations, most of which we had occasion to work with.
We were always so busy we never had the luxury of speculating about what would happen once the Fair closed – we just realized that after October 6th it was all over. Many of us were appalled when we realized there was no plan for the grounds after closing, and an embarrassing factor was that the City began charging a 25 cent admission to the grounds – its only offering being, ‘once there was a World’s Fair here.’ Sad.