William R “Bill” Sinkin

First President of San Antonio Fair, Inc. 1963 – 1964
Co-Chairman of the HemisFair Executive Committee 1964 – 1968

In August of 2011 I had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. Sinkin to hear firsthand the history of the origins of what would evolve into the 1968 World’s Fair. Below is a transcript of my conversation with Mr. Sinkin.

How did HemisFair ’68 get started?

It all began with the election of my good friend Henry B Gonzalez to the U.S. House of Representatives in the fall of 1960. He was interested in creating a 20th century plan for the 20th congressional district to revitalize San Antonio and make it into a popular tourism destination. He felt a great way to get started was to have some type of fair; not knowing then that the end result would be a World’s Fair. When I asked him what he had in mind he said that it would be my job to come up with the ideas and support and he would work to find federal funds to help pay for it.

What was the next step?

Shortly after meeting with Congressman Gonzalez, I called a meeting of forty or so of the top business leaders in San Antonio. After some discussion our first unanimous vote was to spend a year going into the community of every sector and culture and see what we could develop. Not long after, word began to spread and people started calling in with ideas.

One year later in the fall of 1963 we had a meeting at the Menger Hotel with over 250 local leaders and business people and presented our ideas and findings. With a positive vote we proceeded to raise funds for a formal study on the feasibility of hosting a Fair type event. When the study came back with a great outlook, the committee again voted unanimously for the idea of a World’s Fair to celebrate the city’s 250th birthday in 1968.

While the study was underway, another big step we took was the creation of a 20 member Executive Committee which met every Tuesday from 1963 thru the closing of the Fair in October of 1968. The committee consisted of a diverse group of people from various businesses and cultures from around San Antonio whom came together and always had a majority in attendance.

What can you tell us about the initial fundraising effort?

Shortly after the vote Congressman Gonzalez said that if we could raise five million dollars he could probably acquire federal funds to match it. So we set out to do just that and Marshal Steeves who at that time was chairman of our Finance Committee managed in six months to raise the five million. One thing we did to generate interest was to present an award to people and/or businesses for contributing to the Fair. With in a short time these awards became very popular and everybody wanted one, at one point a local dairy company wanted to contribute but under the name of their mascot which was a cow they kept at the facility. So they did and we had a photo op at the dairy, presented an award to the cow and added its name to the donor list.

How was the final 92 acre site selected?

We formed a Site Committee early on which had spent a great deal of time looking for a suitable location and narrowed it down to a few locations. At one point we had one gentleman who offered 200 acres south of the city, however, the majority of those involved pressed for the site to be located near the city center. In the end the board voted to purchase the 92 acres of value property one block south of the Alamo and was able to acquire Urban Renewal funds from the federal government to purchase it.  I myself had a one property on the site and wanted to keep it, but as the President of the Executive Committee could not say no and to sacrifice it to keep the project moving forward.

What do you recall about the promoting of HemisFair ‘68?

Early on several members of the Executive Committee myself included made many trips to the nations of Latin America to promote the Fair. On one trip we were able to get letters of participation from five Central American countries. However, shortly after the group returned to San Antonio we learned four out the five countries had their leaders deposed or fired and we were left with one, Costa Rica. So later on we had to make more trips to visit the new governments and get them to sign-up for HemisFair all over again.

We also had a publicity department full of competent, energetic artist and designers from around the country and from Mexico. They were instrumental in creating many of the promotional material we presented to the foreign nations and corporations whom were interested in participating in HemisFair.

Many of the travel brochures in my collection advertise both HemisFair ’68 in San Antonio as well as the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City six days after the closing of HemisFair. What was involved in coordinating both events?

Over the years Mexico had spent more money in San Antonio in the areas of culture and even built a University (UNAM) than any other state in the U.S. As a result we had a great relationship with the Mexican government and folks in charge of the 1968 Olympics and therefore found it easy to coordinate both events in a way that would be beneficial to both nations.

What are your memories of the fairgrounds after the closing of HemisFair in October of 1968?

At the time I felt letdown as the site quickly fell into little use after we closed. Even though the Fair was a great success and everyone had nothing but great feelings and memories of HemisFair the atmosphere on the grounds changed and the energy was gone. For a while there were some cultural events on the grounds and even Mexico remained and opened a small University, overall the unified interest we had during the planning, construction and operation site was gone. The day after HemisFair closed Marshal Steeves and I went to report to the San Antonio City Manager that we were closed and transfer ownership of the 92 acres back to the city. I asked him what his initial plans were for the site and he said he was planning on putting up a fence around the site as the city had little use for it.

Overall the entire experience was a wonderful experience which brought the residents of San Antonio together to pursue the common dream of HemisFair ’68 and helped to put San Antonio on the map as a popular tourism destination. 🙂