By Pat McGonigle
St. Louis (KSDK) -- After Walt Disney passed on St. Louis as a location for his next great theme park in 1965, city leaders were still determined to build something awe-inspiring downtown.
Disney's Riverfront Square theme park would have gone on land just north of Busch Stadium at Market Street and Broadway.
With that prime real estate still available after Disney passed, St. Louis Mayor Alfonso Cervantes had what he thought was a stroke of genius.
After attending the 1964 World's Fair in Queens, New York, Cervantes was mesmerized by the Spanish government's two-story Pavilion exhibit. It featured Spanish-themed restaurants and gift shops. The architecture and furniture inside earned it the nickname the "jewel" of the 1964 World's Fair.
Cervantes was convinced he could buy the Pavilion from the Spanish government and relocate it to St. Louis to create buzz downtown and honor the city's brief time as a territory of Spain.
So, he did.
St. Louis spent $6 million to take the Pavilion apart and rebuild it at Market and Broadway.
Parades and celebrations marked the opening of the Spanish Pavilion in 1969.
Even then, some protesters failed to see Cervantes' vision.
In a film clip stored in the KSDK film vault, the mayor responded to his critics: "They have one method of how to bring a better life here and I have another method," Cervantes said defiantly.
Sadly, the critics were right. The Pavilion was a flop.
Years later, Donald Breckenridge bought the Pavilion, added a tower and opened The Breckenridge Pavilion Hotel. It was later bought by Marriott and a second tower of hotel rooms was added.
St. Louisans know it as the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark.
Every year, thousands of hotel guests and night life patrons at the Three Sixty Rooftop club pass through the two-story lobby without realizing the strange history of the building that sits there.
This is a prime example of the type of story we're featuring in a new segment called "Wait, they did what?!?" Do you know a story that fits that category - maybe it is a chapter in local history that seems too strange to be true, but it is!
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