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The Father Emil Wesselsky Collection - LBJ and Lady Bird Visit the San Antonio World’s Fair (1968)

Emil Wesselsky

Silent | 1968

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  •  The Hilton Palacio del Rio, constructed specifically for the HemisFair, and notable for its modular building construction 
  •  St. Joseph Catholic Church 
  •  Various stages of the construction of the Tower of the Americas 
  •  The tower completed and a ride to the top 
  •  The international pavilions 
  •  A mariachi band plays 
  •  Los Voladores de Papantla 
  •  Father Emil Wesselsky outside of St. Joseph’s 
  •  A water skiing performance 
  •  President Johnson, the First Lady, and Governor Connally arrive at the HemisFair 
  •  The President exits his limousine to a large crowd 
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  • About the video
  • HemisFair '68 HemisFair '68
  • Hilton Palacio del Rio Hilton Palacio del Rio
  • Lady Bird Johnson Lady Bird Johnson
  • John Connally John Connally
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This home movie captures scenes of the preparations for the San Antonio World’s Fair, the HemisFair, in 1968; the celebrations in full swing; and President Lyndon B. Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, and Governor John Connally visiting the HemisFair on July 4, 1968. In addition to the President and First Lady’s visit, other notable scenes include the construction of the Tower of the Americas, views of the Hilton Palacio del Rio--an achievement in modular construction techniques--and scenes of Los Voladores de Papantla Flying Indians Spectacular.
The 1968 Hemisfair was a World’s Fair held in San Antonio to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the city’s founding. It was the first World’s Fair to be held in the southwest, and its theme was “Confluence of Civilizations in the Americas.” From April 6th to October 6th, 1968, the Hemisfair welcomed over 6 million visitors. Famous attendees included Bob Hope, Louis Armstrong, Princess Grace of Monaco, President Johnson and his family, and Texas Governor John Connally. There were many attractions including exhibits, a monorail, a lagoon, and a variety of performances. Perhaps the most controversial was a show called "Los Voladores de Papantla," during which four men tied to ropes revolved down a 114-foot pole. The complaints stemmed from a mock sacrifice at the beginning of the show, which involved a chicken and a topless woman. This was swiftly edited out of the show. 
The popular River Walk was extended in order to meet the site of the fair, and many new buildings were constructed in the downtown area to accommodate exhibitions from over thirty countries and fifteen organizations. Some of these buildings remain, most notably the Tower of the Americas, which was the main symbol of the fair. The area is now known as HemisFair Park.
Located on San Antonio's famous Riverwalk and easily recognized by its unusual geometric look, the Hilton Palacio del Rio is a city landmark with a construction story as interesting as its cubist facade.
In an effort to accommodate the influx of visitors to the 1968 World's Fair, the HemisFair, Cerna & Garza Architects announced the design of a 21-story, 500-room luxury hotel in the summer of 1967. However, they explained that traditional construction methods wouldn't have the hotel completed in time for the fair's opening on April 6th. Consequently, the engineers at the building's construction outfit, H.B. Zachry Company, devised a more efficient method. Not only did they develop an impressive alternative modular construction plan, but they then went on to execute it in a record 202 days. 
The hotel's first four floors were built traditionally, then the remaining floors were comprised of modules, stacked together, and connected by welded steel embedments. These remarkable, 35-ton room modules were manufactured at a plant eight miles from the construction site and were delivered fully furnished, down to the bottle openers and ash trays. Amazingly, while a crane was used to lift and stack them, each room was also fitted with a stabilizing helicopter tail and controls so that it could be flown directly into place without dangling or turning around. It was originally projected that the construction crews would be able to stack 10 units per day, but as the project progressed they reached an extraordinary record high of 35 rooms stacked in a single work day. For a bit of televised promotional fun, H.B. Zachry and his wife "checked in" to a hotel room and rode it, waving from the balcony, as it flew into place in the building! 
The Palacio del Rio construction saw other feats of efficiency and scale as well: for example, construction was in motion 24 hours a day, performed by three rotating crews of 400 men. The elevator tower, built in conjunction with the first four floors, was constucted at a rate of over a foot an hour, which means it reached completion in just over thirteen days.  Over at the room fabrication site, work was conducted on a large-scale assembly line, taking up over seventeen acres, as sixteen sets of casting forms and two cranes were used to help move through the stages of room construction at a rapid pace. These and other innovations were still novel when the H.B. Zachry Company employed them back in 1967.
On April 1, 1968, the Palacio Del Rio received its first guests, opening 5 days ahead of schedule. Still situated on the Riverwalk today, the hotel stands as a monument not only to hospitality, but also to human ingenuity.
Thirty-sixth president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, was born on a hill country farm near Stonewall, Texas on August 27, 1908 to Samuel Ealy Johnson, a former Texas legislator, and Rebekah Baines Johnson.  He attended Southwest Teachers College, now Texas-State University, graduating with a degree in history and social science in 1930. LBJ spent one year as principal and teacher in Cotulla, educating impoverished Hispanic elementary school students. LBJ became the secretary to Texas Congressman Richard M. Kleberg in 1931; the four year position helped him gain influential contacts in Washington. Johnson married Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor on November 17, 1934.
LBJ acted as Director of the National Youth Administration in Texas from 1935 to 1937. Johnson won his first legislative election in 1937 for the Tenth Congressional District, a position he held for eleven years. He was a firm supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal and in 1940 acted as Chairman of the Democratic Campaign Committee. In 1948, following his service as a Lieutenant Naval Commander during World War II, LBJ ran as the Democratic nominee for Senate. In a cloud of controversy, he narrowly defeated former Texas Governor Coke Stevens and easily beat his Republican opponent in the general election.  Before winning his second senate term, LBJ was elected Majority Whip in 1951, became the youngest ever Minority Senate Leader in 1953, and was voted Majority Leader in 1954. Johnson unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960 but was selected to be Vice-President under John F. Kennedy. 
Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as Commander and Chief aboard Air Force One following President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963 and won reelection in 1964. President Johnson passed landmark legislation with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Debate over military efforts in Vietnam intensified in late 1963 when the President stated that the United States would not withdraw from Southeast Asia. Escalation of the war against North Vietnam brought disapproval from Democrats, claiming the efforts were misguided, and from Republicans who criticized the administration for not executing sufficient military vigor. Antiwar protests, urban riots, and racial tension eroded Johnson’s political base by 1967, which further dissolved following the Tet Offensive in January 1968. On March 31, 1968, President Johnson announced that we would not seek a second Presidential term.
After returning to Texas, Johnson oversaw the construction of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum on the University of Texas campus in Austin. Throughout his political career, LBJ was an influential figure in Texas affairs; his policies brought military bases, crop subsidies, government facilities, and federal jobs to the state. After suffering a massive heart attack, former President Johnson died at his ranch on January 22, 1973. In February of the same year, NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston was renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, in honor of one of the country’s most influential Texans. 
Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor was born in Karnack, Texas on December 22, 1912. Lady Bird, the nickname given by nursemaid Alice Tittle, attended high school in Marshall and junior college at Dallas’ St. Mary’s Episcopal College for Women. In 1933 through 1934, she received a Bachelor of Arts in history and a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. 
Mutual friends introduced Lady Bird to congressional aide and rising political star, Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ proposed on the couple’s first date and the two were married a month later on November 17, 1934. Lady Bird financed her husband’s first congressional campaign for Austin’s Tenth District using a portion of her maternal inheritance. During World War II, Lady Bird ran the congressional office while LBJ served in the US Navy.  In 1943, Lady Bird purchased Austin Radio station KTBC. The station proved an integral part of the LBJ Holding Company and became the main source of the Johnson family’s fortune. 
LBJ’s political career gained momentum in the post war years, and in 1960, he became Vice President to John F. Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as Commander and Chief aboard Air Force One following President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. As first lady, Lady Bird initiated the Society for a More Beautiful National Capitol and worked with the American Association of Nurserymen to promote the planting of wildflowers along highways. In 1964, the first lady traveled through eight southern states aboard her train, “The Lady Bird Special,” to foster support for LBJ’s presidential re-election and the Civil Rights Act. She was influential in promoting the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, referred to as “Lady Bird’s Bill,” and the Head Start program .
Following the death of LBJ in 1973, Lady Bird turned her attention to Austin. The Town Lake Beautification Project transformed Austin’s downtown lake, renamed Lady Bird Lake in 2007, into a useable recreation area. On December 22, 1982, Lady Bird and Helen Hays founded the National Wildflower Research Center outside of Austin. The Wildflower Center was established to increase awareness and research for North American flora.  During her lifetime, the former first lady received the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1988. Lady Bird died of natural causes on July 11, 2007, survived by two daughters, seven grandchildren, and  ten great-grandchildren. 
The thirty-eighth Texas State Governor, John Bowden Connally Jr., was born on a farm near Floresville, Texas, on February 27, 1917. Connally graduated from the University of Texas in 1941 with a law degree and was subsequently admitted to the State Bar of Texas. He began his political career as a legislative assistant to Representative Lyndon B. Johnson in 1939. The two retained a close but often torrid friendship until LBJ’s death. After returning from U.S. Naval combat in the Pacific Theater, Connally joined an influential Austin law firm, served as LBJ’s campaign manager and aide, and became oil tycoon Sid W. Richardson’s legal counsel. Connally’s reputation as a political mastermind was solidified after managing five of LBJ’s major political campaigns, including the 1964 presidential election. In 1961, Connally served as Secretary of the Navy under President John F. Kennedy.
Wealthy financiers like Sid Richardson and a strong grass-roots network of supporters helped Connally win his first gubernatorial election in 1962. The three-term governor fought to expand higher education by increasing teachers’ salaries, creating new doctoral programs, and establishing the Texas Commission on the Arts and the Texas Historical Commission. In 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed Connally to the foreign-intelligence advisory board. He was named the sixty-first Secretary of Treasury in 1971. Connally became one of the President’s principal advisors and headed the Democrats for Nixon organization, finally switching to the Republican Party in 1973. Connally is also remembered nationally for being in the car with President Kennedy during his assasination in Dallas in 1963, when Connally received wounds in his chest, wrist, and thigh. 
The former Texas governor announced in January 1979 that he would seek the Republican presidential nomination. His campaign was abandoned after media attacks over a controversial public speech and bank partnership. Financial troubles befell Connally by the mid 1980s after a real estate development partnership with former Texas Representative Ben Barnes collapsed. John Connally died on June 15, 1993 and is interred at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.