Each week leading up to our 50th Anniversary, we’re bringing you stories from the community about the history of Hemisfair. This week, we cross the street and visit the Hilton Palacio del Rio.
Take a ride on a river barge, and your tour guide will tell you that the Hilton Palacio del Rio was built by Zachry Construction Corporation in a world-record setting 202 days, due in part to the pre-cast, modular design of the rooms . With furniture and fixtures bolted in, the nearly-completed rooms were hoisted into place with a modified helicopter rotator designed to accurately place each room. The joke among the contractors was that the only work to do once the rooms were in place was to plug in the lights.
Dick Minner worked for Hilton at the time, and his job was to build out the staffing plan for the hotel. Wherever Hilton opened a Hotel, they would send Mr. Minner (and a few others) to hire all the housekeepers, waiters and others to staff the building. Originally from Chicago, and based in Houston in 1967, Mr. Minner had a unique perspective on San Antonio: in one sense, he was right in the middle of the Hemisfair action, but saw things from an outsiders point of view.
“The downtown, the Riverwalk … were very unique and very attractive,” he recalls. “San Antonio was relying on publicity from the Alamo before that,” he points out, but the Riverwalk soon became the star of the show. The Palacio del Rio was prime riverfront property, and Conrad Hilton himself flew to San Antonio for the grand opening.
Mr. Minner laughs today as he recalls that during the ribbon cutting ceremony in the lobby, a pipe burst sending water cascading down into a room where Mr. Hilton, Governor Connally, and a bevy of celebrities and locals stood. “We were jammed into the lobby,” Mr. Minner says. “When that pipe burst, chaos reigned.” The situation was soon under control, and celebrations could continue, including black tie dinners, cocktail parties and more.
For fifty years the Hilton Palacio del Rio has operated with a sterling reputation for excellence and service. David Zachry, grandson of H.B. Zachry who oversaw construction of the project, now leads the family business, and continues the connection that his forebears shared with Hemisfair. Later this year, Zachry Hospitality will begin construction of a multi-purposedevelopment near the second phase of the Hemisfair redevelopment. The majority of this development will include a multi-family residential component, an office building, retail for park visitors to enjoy as well as a single 200-room hotel.
We hope you will join us on April 6-8 to celebrate our 50th Anniversary at ¡Viva Hemisfair! Do you have fond memories of Hemisfair during the last 50 years? Please share your story with us at hemisfair.org/memories.