The Tower of the Americas seems simply to have always “been there.” But it really hasn’t. Linda Perez recalls the impact of the Tower of the Americas on the San Antonio landscape.
I can remember, just like it was yesterday, while driving to work downtown, I pulled over on South Presa Street and watched the most fantastic sight I had ever seen. The tophouse, which had been constructed on the ground around the concrete shaft, was being hoisted into place atop its 605-foot high pedestal. When it was completed, the Tower of the Americas became the anchor for the six-month-long HemisFair ’68, which took place in San Antonio. But it was not an easy road for the Tower.
It was the brainchild of a small group of San Antonio businessmen who, in 1958, had a vision to bring together shared cultural heritages of San Antonio and its Latin American neighbors to celebrate in 1968 the 250th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio. Jerome Harris, vice president of Frank Brothers; U.S. Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez; William R. Sinkin, co-founder of Goodwill in San Antonio; and H.B. Zachry were on the ground floor, so to speak, of this endeavor.
HemisFair ‘68 was funded by 450 San Antonio business firms and individuals, voter-approved city bonds, funds from the Texas Legislature and U.S. Congress appropriations. Construction on the Tower of the Americas began on Aug. 9, 1966, and was completed just in time for the opening day of HemisFair on April 11, 1968.
The event had a broad impact on San Antonio, from urban renewal in the downtown area to development and expansion along the San Antonio RiverWalk. More than 6.4 million guests visited HemisFair during its six-month run -- and we were two of those visitors.
The Tower has become synonymous with San Antonio. Not only does it dominate the city’s skyline; it has figured in the landscape of many people’s lives.
One of the most memorable sights through the years is New Year’s Eve, when fireworks shot off from the top of the Tower of the Americas can be seen from miles away.
The Chart House Restaurant, operated by Landry’s Restaurants, is a favorite spot for that special date, birthday, or anniversary dinner. Guests can watch the city slowly turning below them with unobstructed views. One level up from the Chart House is Bar 601, and above that is the Observation Deck.
Bar 601 occupies the level between the rotating restaurant and the Observation Deck. It has been described as swanky yet casual, but not overly sophisticated. Truffle fries, hummus trio, chicken pitas, and prime rib sliders are a few items on the happy hour menu. Hint: Instead of spending $10.95 per person to ride the elevator to the Observation Deck, go to the Bar 601 happy hour, 4:30-7:30 p.m. weekdays; no charge for the elevator ride and enjoy happy hour specials at the bar and the view.
Observation Deck: Aside from the obvious of the incredible views one can enjoy from both the interior and exterior decks, it is also a place to learn about the history of the six flags that once flew over Texas. Captivating murals line the walls with facts about Mexico’s attack at the Alamo, French explorer Louis St. Denis’ mapping of the Camino Real trail, Spain’s domination of Texas for more than 300 years, and much more.
Hemisfair Park grew up around the Tower and is beautifully landscaped with shade trees, flowers, and cascading waterfalls. Children can safely play in the water fountains. Party on the Tower Plaza offers free concerts every Friday evening from June through October; hear the best local sounds of San Antonio. This is a place for great free family fun.
The Skies over Texas 4D Theater Ride, included in the price of a Tower Ticket, is a sophisticated ride that takes visitors on a high-flying trip across the Lone Star State. The 4D theater ride zooms in on such scenes as a Friday-night high school football game, and working up-close-and-personal with a space shuttle at NASA.
Today, the Tower still stands guard over this beautiful city. The next time you drive through San Antonio and see the Tower of the Americas, you will know how it came to be.
Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.
•The Tower of the Americas is the tallest building in San Antonio and 27th tallest in Texas.
•Number of steps to the top is 952 (We know; we climbed it -- twice!)
•The concrete shaft is 45 feet in diameter.
•The external observation deck can accommodate a maximum of 340 people. The internal deck can accommodate 500 people.
•At 800 feet per minute, it takes only 43 seconds for the elevators to climb to the top.
•The three Tower elevators can carry 1,950 passengers per hour.
Tower of the Americas, 210-223-3101
Admission: Adults, $10.95; seniors & military, $9.95; children, ages 4-12, $8.95; free for children 3 years and under