A GATEwAY TO GREATNESS Part Symbol and Part
Architectural Masterpiece, the Gateway Arch Defines St. Louis
DIANA MIREL IS
WRITER FOR JPM.
THIS ARTICLE TO
IN ST. LOUIS
IN 1965, THE
IDEA FOR THE
IN THE EARLY
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
“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.
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.
“[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 engi-
neers 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 con-
structed between 1963 and 1965. Sadly, Luther
Ely Smith did not live to see it completed.
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