Each week leading up to our 50th Anniversary, we’re bringing you stories from the community about the history of Hemisfair. Need a diversion this week? You’re in luck, as we delve into some of the fun activities that guests could experience at the 1968 World’s Fair!
From the moment you walked through the gates of the fairgrounds in 1968, there was something to do or see. Sure there were cultural pavilions, performances and theaters, but the first thing most people saw once they arrived was the monorail. Floating above the fairground were the bright multi-colored train cars that zipped visitors to and fro. In a 1998 interview, local Dan Judson recalled the ride. “You could see everything and everybody,” he said. “You could spot the rides that didn’t have all the lines in it so you could get off at the next stop and double back.”
To get a bird’s eye view of the Fair, you couldn’t beat the sky gondolas. Whisked away from a loading station near the main entrance, your ride would take you up and over the fairgrounds where you could take in all 92 acres of the World’s Fair in a single panorama. If that wasn’t enough, there was only one place to get a better view – the Tower of the Americas. A precisely 43-second elevator ride would bring you to the open-air observation deck where you could experience the best and broadest views of the entire city.
If travel in the sky wasn’t your bag, the Lagoon Cruise plied the canals of Hemisfair to get you around. From the shady skiffs you could watch activities on the shore, spot your next destination and take in public art. The ferries were the best way to get to Fiesta Island, a theme park nestled on east side of Hemisfair, where guests were greeted with Ferris Wheels and other carnival rides. Dizzy from all the rides, fair-goers could take a seat on the nearby green space and watch a waterski show. Though the “lake” was little more than a pond, speedboats expertly whipped through the water towing lines of dancers in colorful outfits, clowns that would tumble and splash and human pyramids stacked three people high.
A wait in line could net you a seat at one of the premiere performances. Headlining acts at Hemisfair included Louis Armstrong, Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, Pat Boone, Jack Benny, and Vikki Carr (who you may have met at our ¡Viva Hemisfair! announcement event!). Lingering in the South Texas heat, the Hemisfair Potpourri Players might pop by to read poems, recite Shakespeare or put on short comedy shows. The travelling theatre group made sure guests were entertained while they waited, along with the official Hemisfair Marching Band playing everything from classical tunes to the pops. They even learned and played the national anthem of every single visiting delegation to the Fair!
We hope you’ll join us for more fun at the fair on Friday, Saturday and Sunday April 6-8 as we celebrate our 50th Anniversary with ¡Viva Hemisfair! If you’ve got a fun memory at Hemisfair from the last 50 years, we’d love to hear about at hemisfair.org/memories.