Outside of financing what other involvement did you have with HemisFair ’68?
My involvement with the Fair got to be on the executive committee as Vice President of International Relations. Having just started the Methodist Hospital and worked on it’s financing I wanted to be in an entity where I would not be the one to oversee the finances. So they put Bill Flanery from the Alamo Bank as treasurer and Forest Smith from the National Bank of Commerce as Finance Vice Chairman and I chose International Relations mostly because at that point I had handled all of Frost Bank’s international business in Mexico for about the last twenty-five years.The person who worked under me was a man by the name of Carlos Freyman who was in charge of the international efforts of getting the foreign nations to participate, I believe in the end we had over thirty nations exhibit at the Fair.
What was the atmosphere like on the grounds during the six month run of HemisFair ’68?
Absolutely marvelous. I had several family members who visited the Fair frequently, my mother for example took her youngest grandson Patrick just about every other day. I was there every week to attend executive committee meetings and went into the grounds at least four days a week for international events. Sometimes I would have twenty to thirty minutes between meetings and would find a bench and just enjoyed watching people go by and visited with several.
The Fair was of marvelous quality; it was a small fair from the stand point of square footage but there was something to see or do at every turn. We had the Tower, the Convention Center that we were very proud of and would stay afterwards. I got to know everyone of the managers from all the pavilions, my wife had a young lady stay with us who worked for the French Pavilion. The attitude of all those who worked the Fair, the participants and visitors was one of conviviality and enjoyment.
What do you remember most about the visitors to HemisFair ’68?
Well, there were two stories which stand out most. First was about a couple who came to visit one day during the summer. The man was pushing a woman in a wheel chair around the grounds, so naturally they were permitted to bypass the lines at any pavilion they visited. However, in the afternoon they were spotted again, but this time the man was in the wheel chair and the woman was pushing. Management did not do anything about it but they said: “Here is an innovative couple who with a wheel chair was able to enjoy the fair without ever waiting in line”.
The second was when the King of Norway came to visit the Fair and someone thought it would be a great idea to introduce him to our King of Fiesta. The funny thing was that King Orlov thought our King Antonio was a real monarch and interacted with him as a fellow head of state. So here the two of them were conversing on an even level.
What were some of the challenges created by the events of the time, such as the assination of Dr. King two days prior to the opening of HemisFair?
The assassignation was a huge event, especially for the Fair corporation with HemisFair scheduled to open less that two days later. I was in Florida at the time attending a banking conference and immediately got on the phone to folks here in San Antonio, we were petrified! After several meetings including one with Texas Governor John Connally who was the Commissioner General of the Fair, the decision was to open as scheduled. Opening day came and it turned out fine, fortunately we had no immediate repercussions at the Fair or in the city in the form of protests or demonstrations.The Fair was opened, we had a big turnout for the grand opening and it all worked out.
How do you thing the city changed as a result of HemisFair ’68?
One great example would be the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk we know today did not exist back in 1968, back then there were only two entities on the river; Casa Rio and Jim Cullum’s Landing. One of the main reasons was because at that time the side facing the street was viewed as prime real estate not the basement side facing the river. At one point during the Fair, I took a Dallas promoter by the name of John Stemmons on a barge down the river passing several of the new hotels including the Hilton Palacio Del Rio. He kept squirming in his seat looking around and said: ” You do not know what you have here!”, he went on for quite a while about the value in the river bend and it’s potential. So a handful of businessmen including: David Strouse, Gilbert Denham, Flo Capman and Marshal Steeves began to purchase buildings along the river and redirected the important side to face the river. There was nowhere in the original feasibility study about the river bend area, it was all about the hotels, yet HemisFair was the direct cause of the evolution of the riverwalk from what it was back then into the prime tourist attraction it is today. San Antonio would not be the hospitality city it is today for tourism and conventions without HemisFair ’68, which brought the convention center, the airport expansion and all the hotels built since the Fair. It was the first time we brought the entire community together, to accomplish a major event for the city of San Antonio.
I feel 1968 was the most important year in the history of San Antonio, more important than 1691 when Father Maisonette came and did the first mass at San Pedro Springs, more important than 1836 when the Alamo fell. Mainly because in April we opened the Fair which brought the real renaissance of San Antonio as a hospitality city and in September the first student of the medical center entered and we became a healthcare city. We are living today on those two major elements brought around in 1968, before the Fair when we were working on building the San Antonio Medical Center there was a real political conflict on wether to locate it in the downtown area or north or downtown near Interstate 10 (where it was eventually located). When we got to the Fair we became a city that finally learned to come together, because the Fair corporation had on it’s board members from both political parties, all the various labor unions, and every level of business. We elected the members of board based on the size of underwriting and from that like I said earlier we learned on how to work together as a unified city to get things done.