Throwback Thursday: Why Tower of the Americas almost didn't stand beyond HemisFair '68

Throwback Thursday segments air on KSAT's News at 9

By RJ Marquez - Digital Content Curator

SAN ANTONIO - For more than five decades, the Tower of the Americas has been a symbol of the San Antonio skyline and the city.

Construction at the tower began in 1966. It was completed a year and half later, in time for the San Antonio World's Fair, known as Hemisfair ’68. 

“Fifty years ago, world fairs were huge,” said Jennifer Boland, sales manager at the Tower. “Chicago had a world's fair. London had a world's fair and San Antonio had theirs in 1968. The tower was the focal point of that.”

The Tower of the Americas was designed by San Antonio architect O’Neil Ford and made an immediate impression on residents and tourists alike.

The tower stands 750 feet high above the ground. It would take someone nearly a 1,000 steps to walk from the bottom to the top.

An elevator ride to the observation deck takes a minute in a half where there are six historical panels that tell the story and history of Texas.

The story of the tower is one of durability. Even though it’s been part of the city skyline for years, that almost was not the case.

“There was a monorail for the world's fair. That was taken apart,” Boland said. “There were all sorts of things that were built for that taken down, but San Antonio saw the value of this focal point.”

The Tower of the Americas was the tallest observation tower in the United States from 1968 to 1996. It remains the tallest building in San Antonio and 27th-tallest in the state.

Visitors can see 25 miles out to the city from the observation deck on a clear day. Inside, the Chart House Restaurant gives diners a rotating overview of the city.

“You can come in spend the whole day, have dinner,” Boland said. “We have lots of events, car shows, free movies for the kids, so it’s very not just tourists, we are trying to make it a San Antonio experience.”

In the future, Boland said plans call for the tower to become more interactive for guests, social media savvy and continue to serve the community.

Boland said the tower hosts nonprofit events and fundraisers for breast cancer awareness, cystic fibrosis and the 9-11 Tower Climb.

Boland said it’s about reaching out to the community as a beacon of San Antonio. 

“Most locals don’t come here. They’ll say, 'I’ve never been to the tower,' and I’m like you’ve lived here your whole life so we want to make sure that does not happen,” Boland said. “It’s San Antonio’s building. This is for San Antonio. It’s the focal point along with the Alamo and the River Walk, but people know the tower.” 

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