A Gateway to Greatness: Part Symbol and Part Architectural Masterpiece, the Gateway Arch Defines St. Louis

By Mirel, Diana | Journal of Property Management, May-June 2010 | Go to article overview

A Gateway to Greatness: Part Symbol and Part Architectural Masterpiece, the Gateway Arch Defines St. Louis


Mirel, Diana, Journal of Property Management


Few cities are lucky enough to have a landmark that has become a national icon. Enter the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The 630-feet stainless steel monument has been a defining symbol of the city for the more than 40 years. As the nation's tallest monument, the Gateway Arch was built as part of a memorial to westward expansion.

"People tend to either appreciate the Arch as a symbol of St. Louis or they appreciate it as a work of modern architecture and engineering," said Bob Moore, historian for the Gateway Arch and the National Park Service.

VISION QUEST

The idea for the memorial came about in the early 1930s, when a St. Louis lawyer named Luther Ely Smith came up with the idea to create a memorial on the St. Louis riverfront, which was the oldest part of the city and had fallen on hard times.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"[Smith] thought that if all the buildings were torn down, a memorial to westward expansion and St. Louis' role in the trans-Mississippi west would benefit the city and put people back to work during the Great Depression," Moore said.

Smith presented his idea to the city fathers, who embraced the idea and eventually took it to Washington and secured federal support and funding. Before World War II, all of the buildings in a 37-block span along the riverfront were torn down to prepare for the memorial. However, when the war started, the funding disappeared and the riverfront remained empty.

After the war, Smith resumed his quest to realize his vision. He obtained enough private donations to launch an architectural competition to decide what the memorial would look like. From the 172 anonymous entries, the expert jury chose a design by Eero Saarinen, a first generation American from Finland.

"[Saarinen's] entry was for a gigantic stainless steel arch standing on the riverfront," Moore said. "It was a magnificent idea, but no engineers or architects knew how to build it."

The project then stalled once again due to a lack of federal funding. However, in the late 1950s the federal government found the funds to proceed with the project. Saarinen's firm solved the engineering problems for building the arch and designed a complementary landscape for the surrounding riverfront park. The Arch was constructed between 1963 and 1965. Sadly, Luther Ely Smith did not live to see it completed.

ARCH ATTRACTION

Today, the Gateway Arch Riverfront is comprised of the stainless steel arch, a 90-acre park and an underground complex that houses the Museum of Westward Expansion and a visitor center. The Old Courthouse, located just three blocks away from the Arch, was brought into the park in 1940. This historic courthouse was built in 1839 and served as the site of the infamous Dred Scott slavery case. The entire Gateway Arch Riverfront has been a National Park Service area since 1935.

"The Arch, because of its sheer size and visual beauty, has really overtaken what the original purpose of the memorial was supposed to be," Moore said. "It is this magnificent piece of international architecture. …

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