Journal Of The Life And Culture Of San Antonio

Review: Hemisfair '68 and the Transformation of San Antonio

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by Sterlin Holmesly (San Antonio: Maverick Publishing Company, 2003. Pp. X+181. Preface, photographs, appendices, index. ISBN 1-893271-28-5.)

Memoirs and contemporary first person accounts offer valuable evidence about the history of San Antonio particularly when they offer commentary on events that affected the city, its population, and its development. Or, in this case its transformation. In the mid-1990s, Sterlin Holmesly undertook the job of gathering an impressive set of such personal accounts, that document the motivation, planning, building, presentation, context, and aftermath of HemisFair ’68. While the book offers glimpses into the way the Fair had the trappings and political intrigue of any big-budget infrastructure project, it also sets out a complex picture of the socio-economic environment that confronted the organizers. This was the 1960s after all, and just as battles about poverty, peace, and liberalism gripped the nation, those challenges faced the people of San Antonio, too. In a time of drop-outs and drug use, draftees and draft dodgers, race riots and voting rights, confrontation and assassination, a group of civic leaders decided to advance the town’s participation on the international stage.

With such a historical event offering much fertile soil for producing significant documentation and analysis, Holmesly set an elegantly simple route to presenting the story. In lengthy tape recorded interviews, he applied his polished inquiry method, to get the principles involved in the HemisFair project to discuss their aspirations, methodology, setbacks, and victories.

The finest picture of the value of the book comes from a glimpse at the table of contents, because even novice students of San Antonio history will see the breadth of the offerings.

William R. Sinkin: Organizing HemisFair

Boone Powell: Building the Tower of the Americas

B. J. "Red" McCombs: HemisFair, Lyndon Johnson and Henry Ford II

Robert F. McDermott: Development and COPS

Tom C. Frost Jr.: Development and Consensus

Charles E. Cheever Jr.: Sharing Power

William E. (Bill) Greehey: Development and Energy

H. Bartell Zachry Jr.: A Different Community

David J. Straus Jr.: Making the River Walk Successful

Bill Lyons: Preserving the Spirit

James L. Hayne: Happy Jazz

Walter N. Mathis: Reviving a Neighborhood

Charles Becker: Smiting the Old Guard

Lila Cockrell: Political Transition

Henry Cisneros: Democracy Achieved

Nelson Wolff: The Bureaucracy Evolves

William E. Thornton: The Rise of Neighborhoods

Claude W. Black Jr.: Blacks Join the Political Mainstream

Ethel Minor: The East Side Comes Alive

Joe Scott: The Boss System Breaks Down

Ernesto Cortes Jr.: The Rise of cOPS

Helen Ayala: New Communication

Joe Cosniac: A HemisFair Immigrant

James R. Dublin: Old Families to New Money

Thomas Berg: The Energy Crisis

Clifford Morton: Water and Politics

Henry and Mary Ann Guerra: A Mixture of Cultures

Henry E. Catto Jr.: A Changed City

Appendix: The Medical School

Blair Reeves: The Crucial Vote

John Howe: A Far-Reaching Impact

Duncan Wimpress: A Raising of Sights

Appendix: The Newspaper War

Charles O. Kilpatrick: Comics Shift the Tide of Battle

Jesse H. Oppenheimer: A VIew from the Inside Index

The contribution Holmesly makes to the understanding of this event, and this corner of twentieth century San Antonio will bring value to historians for years. But more important, Holsmley offers readers a great book that offers a story like any good Western, with conflict, heroes, failures and victories.

--Tim Draves