Have you been to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis? Do you know that the iconic stainless steel structure is the world’s tallest arch, the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere, and the tallest publicly accessible building in the State of Missouri? I recently visited the Arch which is the centerpiece of the Gateway Arch National Park, previously known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and came away impressed by both the monument and its newly renovated surroundings.
I was there just before the dedication of the park on July 3, 2018, following a $380 million revitalization and improvement effort. The five-year project was the first major renovation since the Arch opened in 1965. It included a $176 million remaking of the underground museum that lies beneath the Arch, upgrades to the areas around the monument, and development of a grassy cap park built over a freeway (Interstate 44) to physically connect the area around the Arch with the rest of downtown, thereby improving access to the Arch and the waterfront for both pedestrians and bicyclists. The project was the result of a successful public-private partnership, with the renovations funded by private donors, a tax increase approved by St. Louis city and county voters, and state and federal grants.
Maintained by the National Park Service (NPS), the Gateway Arch and its immediate surroundings were initially designated as a national memorial by executive order 7523 on December 21, 1935, and redesignated as a national park in 2018. The park is historically significant and was created to commemorate: the Louisiana Purchase, and the subsequent westward movement of American explorers and pioneers; the first civil government west of the Mississippi River; and the debate over slavery raised by the Dred Scott case.
The memorial consists of: a 91-acre park along the Mississippi River on the site of the earliest buildings of St. Louis; the Gateway Arch which is the world famous symbol of the city; the 140,000 sq. ft. museum at the Gateway Arch, and the Old Courthouse, a former state and federal courthouse that saw the origins of the Dred Scott case.
The three major components of the National Park are as follows:
The Gateway Arch: Known as the “Gateway to the West,” the Arch was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel in 1947 and constructed between 1963 and October 1965. It stands 630 feet tall and 630 feet wide at its base. The legs are 54 feet wide at the base, narrowing to 17 feet at the arch. There is a unique tram system which carries passengers to the observation room at the top of the Arch. I did ride the tram to the top, but would not recommend it for those who have claustrophobia.
Museum at the Gateway Arch: Underneath the Arch is the visitor center which can be accessed via a circular entryway facing the Old Courthouse. The museum re-opened earlier this month following major renovations and features exhibits on various interesting topics, including the westward expansion and the process of constructing the Arch. Completed in 1968 and renovated 30 years later, Tucker Theater offers about 285 seats and shows a documentary (Monument to the Dream) on the Arch’s construction. A gift shop and café can also be found in the visitor center.
The Old Courthouse: The courthouse is built on land originally deeded by St. Louis founder Auguste Chouteau. Its dome was built during the American Civil War and is similar to the one on the U.S. Capitol which was also built during the Civil War. The Old Courthouse was where local trials in the Dred Scott case took place. If you visit, I highly recommend stepping inside one of the court rooms that is open to the public. The courthouse is the only portion of the memorial west of Interstate 44. To the west of the Old Courthouse is a greenway between Market and Chestnut Streets which is only interrupted by the Civil Courts Building.
Provided below are some photos of the National Park during my visit. Enjoy! (Click on images for larger view)
Note: All photos by author.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.