“I was only eight years old when HemisFair opened in April 1968," said Debbie Ray,” but I still remember the excitement. The crowds, the music, balloons, popcorn, snow cones, candy apples…it was noisy and colorful. My family attended the fair several times that summer. I still remember the straw hat my mother insisted that I wear because it was so terribly hot. That is literally burned into my memory!”
“The mini-monorail was a big feature of the fair. It was a high-tech contraption that soared high above all the activity below. It was tested over and over again and on opening day, everything went off pretty well except for a couple of minor glitches.” However, a few months into the fair they had a problem. “A rear-end collision due to brake failure brought everything to a halt,” said Jerry Williamson. “Luckily, no one was seriously injured but a lady was thrown to the ground and pinned under part of the wreckage. As they were trying to get to her, she said, ‘No, I'm not hurt, check on the others first.’”
Jerry remembers that his family’s home was one of about 200 or so that were demolished under the Urban R e n e w a l program to make way for Hemi sFa i r. “We lived at 101 Labor Street -- the first house on the north end of the street,” he said. “That location eventually became a parking lot for what is now the Federal Building. My family didn't want to leave but we had no choice. When we got the notice to sell, my mother wanted to hold out for more money but my father, being a modest country guy, talked her into accepting their offer. ‘It’s more than we paid for it,’ he said. He wasn’t thinking about all the improvements my mother had made. When we were forced to move, our family built a new house on a vacant lot in the 900 block of Steves Avenue. Back then, it was called Hicks Street.”
Just around the corner from Jerry’s childhood home on Goliad Street (now the pedestrian walkway beginning at the arch on S. Alamo and extending along the southern boundary of the park in front of the Schultze house and gardens) were more casualties of Eminent Domain -- Waitz Model Market and also Hines Drug Store. “That drug store is where Ernest Tubb, ‘The Texas Troubadour,’ worked as a soda jerk and delivery boy back in the 1930’s when he was about nineteen years old,” said Jerry.
Ernest Tubb's bio sketch mentions that he also worked with the Works Progress Administration while in San Antonio in the late 1930’s. That’s when the WPA was building our Riverwalk. Wouldn't it be interesting to know if he worked on that project?
Jerry attended school at St. Michael’s. The church had its beginning in 1866 in a stone building that had once been a bakery at the corner of Matagorda and Goliad Streets. It was to become the third Polish Catholic Church in Texas and also the U. S. (after Panna Maria and St. Hedwig).
They soon outgrew their make-shift chapel and in 1867 bought four lots at the corner of South Street and Indianola and construction soon began. Each church family was assessed $100 and if they couldn’t pledge money, they gave time and labor. In less than a year, they were able to move into their new combined church, school and rectory built of stone at a cost of $5,125. In 1965, the church and property were sold to the San Antonio Renewal Project for $370,000 to make way for the construction of HemisFair ‘68.
“I have many happy c h i l d h o o d memories,”said D e b b i e . “ Re me mb e r Playland Park? You could ride all day for fifty-cents. Our father would take us to The Trail Drive-In Theatre on SW Military at Roosevelt where the abandoned Wal-Mart is now. The Trail showed only Westerns. One of the most memorable things about it was that huge neon sign depicting a cowboy riding a bucking bronco. He would wave his blue hat in the air as he rocked back and forth on that horse.” “The Tower of the Americas at HemisFair was an engineering marvel,” says Debbie. “They spent weeks slowly and painstakingly raising the observation deck and rotating restaurant to the top.”
Debbie’s family lived in Highland Hills back in ‘68, and then moved around to other places in San Antonio. It's interesting and also fitting that she has ended up living practically in the shadow of the tower. She has a nice view of it from her balcony in Victoria Plaza.
by Debbie Ray and Jerry Williamson
as told to Bill Cogburn