Bubbles and music floated through the air in Kiener Plaza Saturday as crowds attended a festival to mark the Arch's 50th birthday.
Though the official anniversary of the final steel section being put in place atop the Arch isn't until Wednesday, CityArchRiver Foundation and other partners hosted the free event for the public to celebrate. More than a hundred people were gathered after only an hour of the day-long event, and organizers expected crowds to grow ahead of a culminating fireworks show.
"This event is celebrating all the Arch has meant to the region and more importantly what it’s going to mean moving forward, because we’ve made a huge investment as a community in the Arch with the CityArchRiver improvements that are going on right now," said CityArchRiver communications director Ryan McClure. "It doesn’t matter what part of St. Louis you’re from, what you’re background is - (the Arch) represents all of us. It’s our undeniable symbol to the world."
For Warren Davis of Florissant, St. Louis' Arch is like Seattle's Space Needle; it's what people want to see when they come visit. But it also draws people from nearby - like Davis himself. He and wife Diana are relative newcomers to the area who have never been up the Arch, and the festival brought them downtown.
"It's a great way for us to see what the city is like," Diana Davis said. "Events like this give us a chance to see the people and see things that are going on."
Jeff Smith of Ballwin brought his daughters Madeline and Alexis to enjoy the free outing, where the girls were treated to balloon animals. He said it was nice to "get to know a little bit of the city we live in and have a good time." But the Arch also holds other significance for the transplant from the South.
"From my first visit here, I took a picture down by the Arch with my then-fiancée, now wife, and I’ve just fallen in love with the city so much," he said. "I just love the atmosphere of a family-friendly environment that the city provides, so many wonderful activities for the kids to do - again free activities are always great."
The festival also attracted tourists. Like the Arch, Jessica and Greg Kahler of Utah were celebrating an anniversary: one year of marriage. It was Greg's first time visiting the Arch and he was awed by its size. Memphis residents L.B. and Brenda Brooks also took in the Arch, where a docent told them about its history and other sites to see in the city.
Others came to the fest to enjoy the line-up of live music. The North County Big Band, made up of high school musicians from north St. Louis County schools, kicked off the day with jazzy tunes. Later, the Grand Center Arts Academy's Camerata Choir took the stage with soulful renditions of songs including "Wade in the Water."
Choir member JeAnna Peterson, an eleventh-grader, said she felt honored to sing at the Arch's birthday celebration, particularly when they sang a song about Harriet Tubman.
"I think that’s a song that we feel it the most and we have a lot of emotion in that song," she said.
Her mother Gwen of St. Louis, who watched the performance along with her other daughters and nephew, said it was a great opportunity for the young people.
"The whole group is really good kids, really talented," she said. "It's fun to be a part and involved in the city, all the positive things."
Other festival goers praised the food. Alie and Joe Aboy, of Fort Leonard Wood, said they loved the Filipino food (adobo toppings with rice) they got from the Guerilla Street Food truck - and so did their relatives visiting from the Philippines. Joe said it was perfect for a family outing.
"It's perfect for tourists - we see new people, see new culture, especially us from the Philippines, and enjoy the view," Alie Aboy said. "It's good bonding time."
But one of the biggest attractions at the festival - at least for the kids - was the Bubble Truck. As a machine made hundreds of little bubbles, kids chased them, squealing, laughing and reaching out to pop them. One of the Bubble Truck workers also used a tool to create giant bubbles, sending children running every which way.
That included Gary Dorsey's four-year-old grandson Gregory. Dorsey said he wanted to celebrate the Arch's birthday, but was "kind of shocked to find out I'm older than the Arch." The East St. Louis resident said he remembers watching on television when the last piece of the monument was put in place.
"You see the many people out here, the different cultures just come out and having fun," he said. "I think that’s what the Arch represents: it brings people together, a variety of people, just to come out. It’s a symbol of fun, a symbol of relaxation, everybody coming together and having a good time."
A more formal ceremony on the Arch's actual anniversary date will be held Wed., Oct. 28 downtown. That same day, people also will have a chance to meet the builders of the monument at the Missouri History Museum.