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August 6, 2012 ·  It was the dawn of a new era in San Antonio. Tourists from all over the world poured into the Alamo City after First Lady Lady Bird Johnson officially opened the world’s fair in April 1968.

“It is my great pleasure to declare that HemisFair 1968 is officially open.  May millions find in this lovely spot knowledge, inspiration and enjoyment.  Thank you.”

The greater good

San Antonio Conservation Society President Nancy Avellar says her group mourned the destruction of the neighborhood that made way for the fair, but can’t deny the impact of HemisFair.

“HemisFair really was a watershed moment,” said Avellar. ”It created international interest in our city.  The tourism and convention industry became very important and continue to be to this day.”

Excitement and optimism prevail in audio recordings from UTSA Library’s special collections.

“Much  of HemisFair ’68 will be permanent – the civic center complex, the pavilions, the gardens, and, most important, its cultural and economic impact will remain. This will be the legacy of HemisFair ’68.”

“This is not bringing HemisFair back,” said Andres Andujar, who heads up San Antonio’s HemisFair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation. ”HemisFair was a definitely a one-time event.”

Resurrecting the neighborhood

Actually, it’s just the opposite – and even ironic.  HemisFair, coupled with urban renewal in the 60?s, demolished a downtown neighborhood to make way for the fair.  The plan recently approved by city council would return a neighborhood of residences and businesses, along with a massive increase in park land.

“The convention center has plans to demolish the west wing of the convention center, which then will be transformed into open space and civic park,” said Andujar.

That would turn all the land at Alamo and Market, west of the river and across from the Hilton Palacio del Rio into a park. Andujar calls it “the front porch of San Antonio”.

“So you’ll still be able to come and celebrate New Year’s and other large events, but at the same time, we want to program the park be very community based, something that families can enjoy,” he said.

Workers are finishing restoration of the Eager House next to the Magik Theatre on South Alamo.  Restoring this Civil War-era house and the mix of historic outbuildings around it is the first step in the renovation.