Gateway Arch | St. Louis Public Radio

Gateway Arch

National Park Service

Like all great art, the Gateway Arch commands attention for more than its striking beauty. It also beckons us to see ourselves and our place in the world with new perspective.

Most St. Louisans have looked at the Arch thousands of times, yet each moment reveals a different face. Nature works its magic on the shiny steel with the changing seasons, the time of day, the glint of sun and the blur of clouds. The thoughts and feelings the Arch inspires change, too -- from day to day and era to era, following human cycles of aspiration and insight.

Mary Delach Leonard|St. Louis Public Radio

Hundreds of St. Louis residents, civic leaders and Jefferson National Park officials watched Wednesday as firefighters struck a large golden bell five times, once for each decade of the Gateway Arch's lifespan. The ceremony marked the day in 1965 that the final piece of the Arch was put in place.

Randy Mersch watched from the east steps of the Old Courthouse – the exact same spot he stood with his father 50 years ago as construction workers struggled to place the Arch’s centerpiece.

Mary Delach Leonard|St. Louis Public Radio

As part of the 50th anniversary festivities for the Gateway Arch, the National Park Service invited media to the top of the monument Wednesday morning to peek out the hatch.

It's really windy 630 feet above the city.

And awesome.

Used with permission from Yale University Press. From Eero Saarinen Papers Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, Photograph by Richard Knight

Susan Saarinen remembers an unusually cluttered basement.

She and her brother Eric would weave their way through cardboard mock-ups of tram capsules, landscape designs, and chains, which hung from the ceiling to determine relationships between height and width in models of a single graceful curve.

“It’s a wonderful reminder of our past, and our ideals as we go forward,” she said of the Arch her father designed. “And it’s a perfect expression of what we can achieve if we are thoughtful, and consider making something beautiful.”

July 14, 1964: CORE demonstrators Percy Green (top) and Richard Daly on the Arch.
Paul Ockrassa | St. Louis Globe-Democrat | courtesy St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri St. Louis.

Updated 1:13 p.m., Oct. 28 with "St. Louis on the Air" audio - The Gateway Arch was just halfway to the sky on July 14, 1964, when two St. Louis civil rights activists climbed 125 feet up a construction ladder on the unfinished north leg to protest the project’s lack of African-American workers.

It would become an iconic moment in city history.


Vito Comporato, right, and another worker during the construction of the Gateway Arch.
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Archives

The story of the engineers and ironworkers who built Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch never gets old, and Wednesday — the 50th anniversary of "topping out" day — might be one of the last opportunities for St. Louisans to meet the men and shake their hands.

Because a standard monumental shape — an obelisk, rectangle or dome — wouldn’t do for Saarinen, the Arch remains a one-of-a-kind monument built of 630 feet of Wow! His design was modern and bold:  a sleek and outsized arch of gleaming stainless steel on the St. Louis riverfront that would celebrate America’s pioneer spirit.

Illustration by Brent Jones | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Public Radio newsroom’s coverage of the Arch’s 50th anniversary is now in one easy spot for you to explore: The Arch at 50

Join us as we look back at how the Arch became the symbol for our region, ahead at a revamped park — and to the next 50 years.

The Gateway Foundation had to negotiate for some time with the U.S. Parks Service before it could illuminate the Gateway Arch.
Jan-Erik Finnberg | Flickr

St. Louis, the Gateway City, is also known worldwide as the "Gateway to the West." But before the federal government erected the Gateway Arch 50 years ago this week, some historians say that Kansas City had a strong claim to the title.  

Used with permission from Yale University Press. From Eero Saarinen Papers Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, Photograph by Richard Knight

Originally published July 1, 2013 — Author and historian Tracy Campbell views the Gateway Arch as an architectural wonder which draws millions of tourists to St. Louis, though he also argues the landmark is “an example of failed urban planning.”

To make way for the monument, nearly forty square blocks of riverfront property were demolished.  The demolition began during a public ceremony on October 9, 1939.

City leaders only gained traction for the project once it was framed as a monument to President Thomas Jefferson.

Cloudy skies didn't keep away the crowds or stop the music at the Arch 50 Fest in Kiener Plaza marking the monument's golden anniversary.
Stephanie Lecci | St. Louis Public Radio

Bubbles and music floated through the air in Kiener Plaza Saturday as crowds attended a festival to mark the Arch's 50th birthday.

Carl Imo, son of the local pizza staple's founders Ed and Margie, stands in front of the company's new headquarters downtown wearing a shirt with the logo: a chef holding a steaming hot pizza against the Arch and downtown skyline.
Nassim Benchaabane | St. Louis Public Radio

Hundreds of different shops, restaurants, schools and charities in the region have named themselves after the Gateway Arch or used an image of the monument in their logos since it was completed fifty years ago. Some organizations have even done both. 

The Baby Arch project

It’s headed for St. Louis, an arch to the sky;

A Gateway to the West, 630 feet high.

A hundred generations will see what you’ve made

Risin’ on the Mississippi with glory and grace.

— “An American Dream” by Ike Erdman and David Bush

Retired welder Ike Erdmann is proud of the work that he and nearly 300 Pennsylvania boilermakers did on the Gateway Arch 50 years ago, so he wrote and recorded a song about them.

Originally published in St. Louis Globe-Democrat / Courtesy St. Louis Mercantile Library

For 50 years, the Gateway Arch has drawn visitors from around the world to downtown St. Louis. From presidents and pop stars, to school kids and church groups, millions of people each year have come to marvel at the monument.  But exactly how many people have visited in five decades? That depends on how they’re counted.

The city is preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the final construction of the Gateway Arch, shown here from Luther Ely Smith Square in downtown.
Courtesy CityArchRiver Foundation

St. Louisans will have three opportunities to celebrate the Gateway Arch's 50th anniversary, which is one week from Wednesday.

Several design elements from the original Arch grounds are being incorporated in interesting ways in the renovation plans.
Courtesy CityArchRiver Foundation

When the Arch grounds renovations are complete in spring 2017, the site will boast a new museum, new walking paths and new access points from downtown.

It will also include several fascinating design elements from the Arch's past that visitors might walk by without noticing - or not be able to see in the first place.

 2013 arch photo
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Beacon

The Gateway Arch reaches the big 5-0 this year, and is thus deserving of citywide celebration — not only for its beautiful, imposing design, but because the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is one of St. Louis’ top tourist sites, attracting more than 2 million visitors every year.

While many duck into the Old Courthouse or explore the Mississippi River on the Becky Thatcher or the Tom Sawyer, the big draw is the Arch itself — all 630 feet of it.

Bryan Werner | Metro East Park and Recreation District

Five, four, three, two, one ... Look up!

The three 800-horsepower engines that power the Gateway Geyser are reaching warp speed, sounding strong enough to launch a rocket.

At full power, the geyser shoots 7,500 gallons of water per minute into the sky above the East St. Louis riverfront. If it’s not windy, the watery blast can reach 600 feet, nearly the height of the Gateway Arch, which is directly across the Mississippi River.

Courtesy Missouri History Museum

If you visit the new “Arch Perspectives” exhibit at the Missouri History Museum, take the time to read the story cards written by St. Louisans about the iconic riverfront monument. The personal thoughts range from joyful to angry:

Enough of Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard is open to host a concert.
Donna Korando | St. Louis Public Radio

In looking around for new, free music events last week, I came across a series I hadn’t seen before: Walk to the Wharf. But before I pointed people to it, I wanted to check out the venue so I could make an honest recommendation.

Now, it’s not that I had never been to a concert on the Arch grounds (Waylon Jennings in 1991 counts, right?). But I had been told that the Arch grounds were torn up. What's more, Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard was not open the last time I drove that way from Laclede’s Landing.

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial could change to the Gateway Arch National Park by July 2018.
(photo by Tim Tolle via Flickr Creative Commons)

Two days of celebrations are planned for the Gateway Arch’s 50th anniversary this October.

According to organizers with the CityArchRiver Foundation and Great Rivers Greenway, citizens and dignitaries will gather on Wednesday, Oct. 28, near the Old Courthouse to commemorate the moment when builders set in place the landmark’s crucial keystone. The Missouri History Museum is also hosting an exhibit and panel discussion that day.

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