Day Trips

The Tower of the Americas shoots 750 feet into the air and has helped to establish San Antone as a desired tourist destination

Monument to the Sixties
Monument to the Sixties (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

The Tower of the Americas reopened this summer with lots of changes after being closed for 18 months. Built as the centerpiece of the HemisFair '68, the San Antonio landmark is the second-tallest free-standing structure in the U.S.

Landry's Restaurants Inc. of Houston took over management of the tower concessions after a $13 million renovation to the 750-foot structure. Besides upgrades to the 38-year-old building, guests are treated to new dining options and menus. The old gal never looked better.

At the base of the tower is a new cafe similar to a Starbucks with coffee, sandwiches, beer, and wine. The outdoor tables surrounded by a water garden of fountains and trees are a pleasant place to escape the city.

Behind the cafe is the Skies Over Texas 4-D theatre with moving seats that gives the sensation of flying across the state. There also is an expanded gift shop with a wide range of trinkets and souvenirs.

The real reason to visit the tower is to go to the observation deck 605 feet above the city. Through the elevator window the ground moves away like you're riding on a rocket ship. On a clear day you can see for miles across the flat suburban prairie of San Antonio. There is small snack bar at this level for those who forgot to eat lunch or lost it on the way up.

The Landry's restaurant and lounge, Eyes Over Texas and Bar 601, occupy the lower level of the cap on the top of the tower. The revolving floor is worth the high price of the food. Entrées range from $25 to $34, helping the chain of eateries maintain their reputation of mediocre food at exorbitant prices. We visited before the supper rush, and our service was friendly and fast. This is still a great place for special occasions.

The first time I visited the Tower of the Americas was in the summer of 1968 during the height of the Southwest's first World's Fair. I had come with my family and a pocket full of Kennedy half-dollars saved from my paper route. As the elevator shot to the top, I remember the young lady operating the buttons for the 42-second ride saying that the center of the concrete tower was not yet completely dry. I imagined a kind of marshmallow center. From the observation deck I looked out over the city, but my favorite sight was a round building with a concave roof painted like a daisy. The building is still there but smaller than I remember.

Along with the Alamo, the Tower of the Americas has become one of San Antonio's most recognizable icons. It is 87 feet taller than Seattle's Space Needle and 67 feet higher than the Washington Monument. The tower is eclipsed by the Eiffel Tower in Paris at 990 feet tall and Las Vegas' Stratosphere Tower at 1,149 feet.

Not much is left of the six-month, theme-park salute to the "Confluence of Cultures in the Americas." The most visible remains of the event are a few buildings around the perimeter of HemisFair Park. The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Texas Institute of Cultures were built specifically for the fair as was the Mexican Cultural Institute, although it has been remodeled. Twenty-two of the original neighborhood buildings, such as Beethoven Hall, were preserved for the fair and survive today.

Although the fair attracted more than 6 million visitors, it still lost money. What it did do was turn San Antonio into a tourist destination. Most notably, the River Walk was cleaned up and expanded. Hotels, restaurants, and clubs built for fairgoers continue to welcome visitors.

Some of the strangest relics of the fair are the lifelike figures housed in the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum (318 E. Houston St.). The Hall of Texas History Wax Museum that was in the fair's Lone Star Beer Pavilion continues to entertain visitors.

The Tower of the Americas Observation Deck opens daily from 10am to 10pm and until 11pm on Friday and Saturday for a $5 ride. The restaurant and bar are open 11am to 10pm and an hour later on Friday and Saturday. For reservations, call 210/223-3101.

796th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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The Tower of Americas, Skies Over Texas, San Antonio, HemisFair Park

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