In 1968, the domed, 10,070 seat HemisFair arena was constructed as part of San Antonio’s World Fair- a six month international exposition celebrating the 250th anniversary of the city’s founding. In 1973, a group of local San Antonio businessmen came together and purchased the Dallas ABA team, the Chaparrals. The team was renamed the San Antonio Spurs and played their first game at the HemisFair Arena on October 10, 1973 losing to the San Diego Conquistadors in front of 5,879 fans. As Spurs games began regularly selling out, the city was faced with a challenge of how to accommodate the ever growing base of loyal fans. By 1976, the Spurs franchise was such a success that it officially became a part of the NBA. One of the conditions of this merger was that there needed to be additional seating for spectators. As a result, in 1977 the San Antonio City Council approved over $4 million in funds to raise the roof of the HemisFair Arena with plans to allow the building to accommodate over 6,000 more seats. G.W. Mitchell Construction, with the design of Noonan, Krocker & Dockery, was commissioned for the challenging task and began construction in April of ’77.
This unique project involved cutting loose the roof structure entirely and raising it to provide a new seating deck. With more than 38 jacks, Mitchell lifted the 2,260 ton roof the 33 feet needed to accommodate the additional seats. The lifting of the arena roof occurred over a four day period at a rate of 2.5 feet per hour. During the course of construction, the City of San Antonio required numerous shut downs and remobilizations to accommodate various functions- including concerts and the ongoing Spurs ’77-’78 basketball season. All of discontinuous work caused a serious hardship to the sequencing of the project. However, despite these interruptions, the arena was completed on time allowing for an increased capacity of over 16,000 to attend events by the summer of 1978. The unusual nature of the project and Mitchell’s ability to complete it on time earned the Texas Building Branch-AGC Outstanding Construction Award in 1980.
For 22 years, HemisFair Arena would serve as the city’s main venue for big scale entertainment; including serving as home to the Spurs first 20 seasons, often referred to as the “nosiest arena in the NBA”. Demolished in 1995 to expand the Convention Center, the HemisFair Arena played a significant part in the history of the Spurs franchise as well as the city of San Antonio. “I don’t know how to phrase it, but San Antonio wasn’t a city then,” said Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, who played with the Spurs in the ’70s. “It was a town, a big town, and the Arena got to be like a party. It was the thing to do. It was a celebration of San Antonio nightlife at a basketball game.”