Commentary: The Gateway Arch National Park featuring St. Louis' universal icon deserves a visit | St. Louis Public Radio

Commentary: The Gateway Arch National Park featuring St. Louis' universal icon deserves a visit

Nov 1, 2018

Nancy Kranzberg

I finally made it to the newly renovated Gateway Arch National Park, formerly named the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in memory and honor of Thomas Jefferson who lead the way to the movement of our country to the West. Frankly, I wasn't all that thrilled to be going, but as a native and very loyal citizen of St. Louis, I felt the need to go and see what all the fuss was about. Boy was I thrilled that I went.

When I saw what had been accomplished, there was no end to the pride that I felt and no end to the tears that streamed down my face for various reasons. 

Eero Saarinen's masterpiece still stands, in all its glory, at 630 feet tall (63 stories)  and on clear days has views 30 miles east and 30 miles west and is still the tallest man made monument in the world. It's found within one of the few urban national parks west of the Mississippi River. The diverse plant life includes a number of native species.

The landscape around the Gateway Arch reflects the monument's curvilinear nature. Landscape architect Dan Kiley applied geometrical precepts and classical landscape design elements to create a setting that is both spectacularly and subtly appropriate.

For the City Arch River project Van Valkenburgh Associates created a seamless transition between the Luther Ely Smith Square in front of the Old Court House and the entrance to the Arch and its museum. The court house and the monument were not really connected physically and were not accessible on foot. The City Arch River project incorporated new features into Kiley's mid-century modern landscape design along with a circulation loop that offers pedestrian and bike paths around the park. The explorers Lewis and Clark are even memorialized in a garden where children can play. 

Eric Moraczewski, the head of the Gateway Arch Foundation, talks of the accessibility and connectivity between the Old Court House and the arch. This mission has been accomplished with the fantastic renovation of the site. Of course the court house and the arch both represent the people and should have always been connected. Let's not forget the Dred Scott case and Virginia Minor's 1874 lawsuit about a woman's right to vote.  

And oh, the renovated museum has finally addressed the people who were here at the settling of our city that have never really been given the credit for all of their accomplishments and success stories. The Haley Sharpe Design team did a brilliant job with this new museum.

The Museum at the Gateway Arch covers 201 years of history about the westward expansion of the United States with an emphasis on St. Louis' paramount role in that era. Interactive story galleries guide visitors through time from the founding of St. Louis in 1764 to the building of the Gateway Arch, completed in 1965. The new museum describes the westward expansion period of the United States with more perspectives from the cultures involved, e.g. African-Americans, Native Americans, even religious groups such as the Mormons. Story galleries include Colonial St. Louis--indigenous and Creole culture before the Louisiana Purchase; Jefferson's Vision--how St. Louis shaped the west; Manifest Destiny--trails and conflicts; The Riverfront Era--steamboats create an American metropolis and its lasting identity; New Frontiers--railroads, industry and the myth of the West in culture; Building the Gateway Arch--the monument, its story and symbolism.

One can take a narrated boat ride from the arch, can walk, hike or bike in the 91 acre park, ride to the top of the arch in a tram or partake of guided tours or the many educational programs.

The arch is truly St. Louis' universal icon comparable to the pyramids of Egypt and the Eifel Tower of France. 

I urge you to take yourself and your loved ones to enjoy our Gateway Arch National Park.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than thirty years on numerous arts related boards.