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San Antonio changes after HemisFair '68, speaker says

Published: Thursday, October 18, 2007

Updated: Wednesday, September 2, 2009 14:09

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Rosemary Gonzalez-Ramos speaks about her father, Henry B. Gonzalez, as a determined man with a vision at "Anatomy of Legislation Making HemisFair '68 a World's Fair" at the Institute of Texan Cultures Monday.

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Dr. Robert Rydell, history professor and director of the Humanities Institute at Montana State University, speaks Monday about all world's fairs and the importance of them during the "Anatomy of Legislation Making HemisFair '68 a World's Fair" at the Institute of Texan Cultures.

The impact of HemisFair '68, the world's fair hosted by San Antonio from April to October 1968, is still noticeable today, and San Antonio is not the same city as before it happened, said speakers Monday at an event at the Institute of Texan Cultures.

The event, "Anatomy of Legislation Making HemisFair '68 a World's Fair," sponsored by the Henry B. Gonzalez Foundation for Inspiring Public Service, honored the work of former Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez, who represented the 20th District of San Antonio in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1961-1998, in fighting to bring HemisFair to San Antonio and his broader contribution to the city.

Speaker Kelsay Meek, House Banking Committee chief of staff during Gonzalez's chairmanship of that committee, said HemisFair's impact can be seen in the restaurants downtown, the number of hotels and even the shape of the River Walk.

He said to accommodate HemisFair, a bend was added to the river, which is located next to Lila Cockrell Theatre.

Gonzalez's efforts to bring HemisFair to San Antonio began in 1962 and resulted in HB 9247, with Sen. Ralph Yarborough's corresponding Senate version SB 2167, for participation in HemisFair and a stamp, coin and medal commemorating San Antonio's 250th anniversary and HemisFair, which were to coincide in 1968.

The bill was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Oct. 15, 1965. (The date of the event was, according to Gail Beagle, president of the foundation and Gonzalez's chief of staff, a coincidence.)

Richard Kaufman, Gonzalez's legislative director, said that immediately after that signing, Johnson was whisked away on a helicopter from his ranch, where the bill was signed, to a conference with Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara on his recommendation to the president to increase troop levels in Vietnam, which Kaufman said, underscores the climate surrounding the drive to bring HemisFair to San Antonio.

Gonzalez's eldest daughter Rosemary Gonzalez-Ramos said her father approached everything in his life with as much determination and passion as HemisFair.

"I think they said it very well tonight, he was a visionary," she said. "I mean, he had the creative ideas of what he wanted to do and he pursued them."

Henry B. Gonzalez is well known for many accomplishments throughout his career, including HemisFair.

Special guest at the 6 p.m. event, Dr. Robert Auerbach, professor of public affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, recounted Gonzalez's fight in 1992 to make the Federal Reserve reveal transcripts of their meetings, which they said did not exist.

Auerbach, in his forthcoming book "Deception and Abuse at the Fed: Henry B. Gonzalez Battles Alan Greenspan's Bank," said because of Gonzalez, the Federal Reserve had to admit that, in fact, they did keep transcripts, which were around the corner from Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenpsan's office.

Dr. Robert Rydell, head of the Humanities Institute at Montana State University and world's fair expert, said the American public lost interest in world's fairs in the 1990s after some disappointing world's fairs in the 1980s.

Indeed, world's fairs were seen as a joke by many; the 1982 world's fair in Knoxville, Tenn., for instance, was the subject of ridicule in the 1996 episode of The Simpsons "Bart on the Road." Rydell said the 1982 fair was not as bad as many people make it out to be.

This bad impression, a drive to save taxpayer money and increasing nationalism in America resulted in then-Secretary of State Colin Powell withdrawing the United States from the body governing World's Fairs, the Bureau of International Expositions, in 2001.

The membership dues, Rydell said, are $25,000 a year, which is a small price to pay for all of the economic benefits world's fairs bring.

He said many great things have come about as a result of world's fairs that have become icons.

Who could think of Paris without the Eiffel Tower? The people of Paris were against what they saw as a metal monstrosity when it was being planned for the 1889 World's Fair, Rydell said.

Gonzalez's work resulted in one of the most recognizable features of San Antonio, the Tower of the Americas.

His legacy is apparent whenever one looks at the city's skyline.

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