Each week leading up to our 50th Anniversary, we’re bringing you stories from the community about the history of Hemisfair. This week’s memory focuses on “Germantown” the neighborhood that existed before HemisFair ’68. This story comes courtesy of the San Antonio Conservation Society, where you can learn more about Hemisfair and other historic sites around San Antonio.
“Germantown” stood on the site of farmlands formerly attached to the 18th century Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo). The area became known as Germantown because of the sizable population of German immigrants that settled there beginning in the 1850s. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th century, it became very much a multi-ethnic community with residents of German, Polish, Mexican, and African-American descent. Located within walking distance of downtown, the streets angled off of the main grid to provide access to the water that had once been carried through town by the Acequia Madre ditch on its way south to the missions.
Overall, “it was a good place to live, like a small town surrounded by an expressway…It was a neighborhood in need of some repair, but not an urban slum.” Planners chose the Germantown area for urban renewal because of its decreased property values (a condition known as blight) and its advantageous location close to downtown and to the river. Thus began the area’s dramatic, and often painful, transformation from a small community with deep historical roots into a powerful economic catalyst that drew visitors to San Antonio from all over the world.
Many Germantown residents felt devastated by the city’s 1963 decision to construct an international fairgrounds and civic center on the very spot where they had lived, shopped, and worshiped – some for generations. In Urban Renewal Area 5, originally a 1,130-acre segment of downtown, the 92.6 acre HemisFair site encompassed the area bounded by S. Alamo on the West, Commerce Street on the North, the right of way for the new expressway (IH-37) on the East, and the soon-to-be extended Durango Boulevard (now Cesar E. Chavez) on the South.
“…For the hundreds of families and small businesses uprooted in the mid-sixties for the benefit of tourism and improved traffic flow, it brought heartache and helplessness. Gone would be nightly card games with long-time neighbors, the corner grocery, the barber shop and ice cream shop, and the Polish church and school.”
- Excerpt from, “Memories of Peach Street,” by Lee Grant, grandson of a neighborhood resident.
We hope you’ll join us for ¡Viva Hemisfair! on Friday, Saturday and Sunday April 6-8 as we celebrate the people of San Antonio through the 50th anniversary of the opening of the World’s Fair and remembrance of the neighborhood that existed before. If you’ve got a memory of Hemisfair from the last 50 years – or before! – we’d love to hear about at hemisfair.org/memories.