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Dissection of the Tower, 1966 (Folder 2:7), UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures Library Collection of HemisFair ‘68 Materials, 1965-1994, MS 292, Special Collections, UTSA Library. Postcard (Folder 504:5), San Antonio Fair, Inc., Records, 1962-1995, MS 31, Special Collections, University of Texas at San Antonio Library.
S.A. Tower Wins 25-Year Award
Postcard from HemisFair ’68 features the Tower of the Americas, the exposition’s theme structure. This section of the tower’s tophouse shows the interior program. The Level 6 observation deck was permanently closed after HemisFair.
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During the 1960s, as several cities planned to build high-profile vertical symbols of their ambitions toward global prominence, San Antonio erected the Tower of the Americas as the theme structure for HemisFair ’68. Today, the 622-foot-tall tower (750 feet including its antenna) is one of the few enduring landmarks from the international exposition that helped redefine San Antonio as a welcoming multicultural metropolis. In acknowledgement of the project’s architectural significance, the Texas Society of Architects has selected the Tower of the Americas to receive the 2010 TSA 25-Year Award. The annual award recognizes one building completed 25 to 50 years earlier that has retained its central form, character, and architectural integrity. From its completion on Jan. 23, 1968, the Tower of the Americas became an instantly recognizable symbol, surpassing even the hallowed Alamo in some estimations as the preeminent emblem of San Antonio. The tower, its tophouse containing two observation decks and a restaurant level that rotates 360 degrees every hour, was designed by the local firm Ford Powell & Carson and built in less than 13 months under an expedited construction schedule. The $5.5 million project was born of the demand for an iconic capstone of the city’s progressive efforts to host HemisFair, which commemorated the 250th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio. Equipped with three elevators, the tower remained the tallest observation structure in the U.S. until 1996. The Tower of the Americas was chosen for this year’s award by a panel of five judges who reviewed a total of four projects nominated by TSA members. Jurors were TSA President Heather McKinney, FAIA; TSA Design Awards Committee Chair Michael Malone, AIA; Carolyn Peterson, FAIA, recipient of the 2009 TSA Lifetime Achievement Medal; Donald Gatzke, AIA, dean of the University of Texas at Arlington’s School of Architecture; and Texas Architect Editor Stephen Sharpe, Hon. TSA. Peterson, because she is a principal of Ford Powell & Carson (as well as the wife of Jack Peterson, one of the members of the project’s design team), did not vote. After the jury reached its decision on July 19, Gatzke eloquently summarized the rationale behind the choice: “It is a kind of physical embodiment of the power of good architecture
to catalyze action and the history of San Antonio breaking out of its slumber and to galvanize a community’s aspirations around a single symbolic element. It’s a very strong statement about the power of architecture.” Interviewed after the jury’s vote, Boone Powell, FAIA, the principal in charge of the project, who actively continues as one of the founding principals of Ford Powell & Carson, recalled the events that culminated with the completion of the Tower of the Americas about 11 weeks before the official opening of HemisFair on April 6, 1968. Thinking back to the challenges of the project, Powell said the fast-track schedule left little time for anyone to stop and consider the importance of the tower as a symbol of the city. The sleepless nights began immediately after FP&C was hired by the city, which happened 17 days after construction had commenced. Initial design work was been done by the firm, he said, but critical decisions, such as the size of the steel for the vertical shaft, were yet to be made. Three schematic concepts (one envisioning a 750-foot-tall shaft) preceded the final design, he said, with the fourth iteration including the 12 buttresses that rise 25 feet from grade to support an equal number of articulated fins. Employing slip-form construction with formwork inched up using hydraulic jacks, the project was essentially one, long uninterrupted pour. “We poured 16 hours a day and tied steel on for 8 hours,” he said. “So they went up in less than 60 days in one continuous operation.” The firm’s project team also included O’Neil Ford, Mike Lance, Milton Babbitt, Jesse Juarez, Jack Peterson, and ceramicist Tom Stell, whose murals adorned the interior spaces. Juror Carolyn Peterson recalled how the project helped the city reinvent itself. “In a way, HemisFair and some of the things that went along with it, began to pull San Antonio out of its coma,” she said. “Because San Antonio had been quite the leading city in Texas and then was overshadowed by Houston and Dallas during and after the war. I think the whole effort that the tower symbolizes was also something about coming into a more modern frame of the mind for the city.” She also remembered that the construction foreman would not allow her on the job site despite being accompanied by her husband, Jack Peterson, who was working on the design team. “It took years before I would set foot in the tower,” she said, due to her anger at being denied access because she was a woman. S t e p h e n
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