Rules for Living in Early San Antonio - Journal of San Antonio

Rules for Living in Early San Antonio

In 2002, a part of San Antonio culture disappeared. No more could spectators travel over the Japanese Tea Gardens. No more could people find a place in Brackenridge Park where they felt secluded 100 feet in the air. And no more could visitors board the Brackenridge Sky Ride.

The Sky Ride in San Antonio came to life in August of 1963 when Randall Clay, president of the Aerial Transportation Co., along with auto dealers B.J. “Red” McCombs and Austin Hemphill, presented their idea to City Council (City). Clay proposed that the city build an aerial ride that would stretch 1200 feet, cost 50 cents for a round trip ticket, and belong to the Aerial Transportation Co., which would pay a percentage of profits to the city (Council). City Council approved the idea and contracted with the Aerial Transportation Co. in April of 1964 on the terms that the city would receive 25% of the gross annual profits in excess of $300,000 (“Park’s”).

Construction of the Sky Ride began in the summer of 1964. Planned to draw large crowds, the ride stood adjacent to the main entrance of the San Antonio Zoo. Built by Von Roll Tramways of Watertown N.Y., the Sky Ride stood 100 feet tall and stretched from its entrance near the zoo across the Japanese Tea Gardens (Then and Now 2B). Builders painted the four foot wide gondolas bright red, yellow, blue, and green to make the ride even more appealing (A Few Buyers 1B). The Sky Ride operated from 10 A.M. to 8 P.M. on weekends and from noon to 8 P.M. on weekdays.

At a cost of $300,000, construction took mere months, and on the weekend of November 7th and 8th, 1964, the Sky Ride officially opened. Tourists and San Antonians alike now had a brand new opportunity to see the San Antonio skyline and the Japanese Tea Gardens like never before. The new ride attracted many people that first weekend, foretelling the Sky Ride’s success for the following 30 years. The Sky Ride received 4400 visitors on the 7th and 8th, each paying the 50 cents fare (Express 4A). Opening day put the Sky Ride on the list of San Antonio’s top attractions, where it remained until its closing day.

By 1996, the Sky Ride, along with the miniature train in Brackenridge, belonged to Phil Sheridan, owner of several “city concessions for the better part of four decades. He had a lock on Fiesta Carnival and all six concessions at San Antonio’s most visited park, Brackenridge” (New Sheridan 1B). In 1997, City Council proposed to make a deal with Sheridan, transferring his Sky Ride contract to the San Antonio Zoological Association. However, the terms of the deal with Sheridan grew vague, and City Council had no choice but to cancel it. Further, over these years, the Sky Ride started to lose its luster, and in time, the ride deteriorated beyond repair.

In 1999, the Sky Ride’s life came to an end after 35 years. It would cost millions of dollars to restore the ride and the city declined the expenditure, based on the view that the Sky Ride did not benefit the San Antonio Zoo’s educational purposes (Pieces 1B). Three years later, in 2002, the zoo spent $30,000 to remove the Sky Ride. When dealing with the ride’s gondolas, managers decided to put them up for sale for $1000 each (A Few Buyers 1B). Buyers stood in line for hours in order to get their hands on a part of San Antonio’s culture and when the zoo brought out the gondolas to sell, every gondola found a new home within an hour.

- Tony Irizarry

Works Cited

“City ‘Sky Ride’ plan proposed.” Express (22 August 1963). San Antonio, Texas.

“Council gets Brackenridge skyride bid.” Express (23 October 196). San Antonio, Texas.

Gonzales, Emmanuel. “A few buyers take gondolas home; but others who wanted souvenir of sky ride are disappointed.” San Antonio Express-News (24 February 2002): 1B. Web.

Guerra, Carlos. “New Sheridan deal déjà vu all over again.” San Antonio Express-News (28 November 2000): 1B. Web.

Huddleston, Scott. “Pieces of the sky.” San Antonio Express-News (22 February 2002): 1B. Web.

Huddleston, Scott. “Then and now; goodbye skyride; thousands viewed Alamo City skyline

from gondolas above tea gardens.” San Antonio Express-News (17 February 2002): 2B. Web.

“Park’s skyride contract signed.” Express (4 April 1964). San Antonio, Texas.

San Antonio Express (11 November 1964): 4A.

San Antonio News (12 November 1964): 8A.

“Park’s skyride contract signed.” Express (4 April 1964). San Antonio, Texas.

San Antonio Express (11 November 1964): 4A.

San Antonio News (12 November 1964): 8A.