The Gateway Arch
At 630 feet, the Gateway Arch stands tall on the St. Louis riverfront as a defining symbol of the city. America’s tallest manmade monument, commonly known as the Gateway to the West, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and as we look back on its history, we also look forward to its next 50 years – and beyond.
The Gateway Arch – which, along with the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, comprises Jefferson National Expansion Memorial – was completed on October 28, 1965, after three decades of planning and construction. The idea for the monument was first conceived by Luther Ely Smith, a prominent St. Louis lawyer, who, in the midst of the Great Depression, set out to determine a way to revitalize St. Louis and honor the city’s roots in the westward expansion of the United States. After a bond proposal passed in a controversial election, in December 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order creating Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. The next step in constructing this memorial was determining what form it would take. An architectural competition was held in 1947 that invited architects from around the world to submit their plans. Ultimately, a catenary curve design by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen was selected as the winner. Ground was broken for the memorial in 1959, and excavations for the foundations began in 1961. The ﬁnal piece of the Gateway Arch was put into place four years later.
In 1967, the monument’s trams and its visitor center opened to the public. Less than a decade later, the Museum of Westward Expansion opened beneath the Arch and featured exhibits highlighting St. Louis’ role as the Gateway to the West. Improvements have continued over the years: ﬂoodlights were added to illuminate the Arch’s exterior, and a Grand Staircase – spanning from the levee at the Mississippi River banks to the base of the Arch – was built. Today, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is undergoing its largest renovation to date. The $380 million City Arch River project was made possible through a public-private partnership that includes the National Park Service, Missouri Department of Transportation, Bi-State Development Agency, City of St. Louis, Great Rivers Greenway, the CityArchRiver Foundation, and others. CityArchRiver seeks to transform the Arch, Old Courthouse and the riverfront by creating 11 new acres of parkland, improved and extended pedestrian pathways and bike trails, a new museum beneath the Arch, and more. After renovations, which are scheduled to be completed in mid-2017, visitors will enjoy a plethora of new amenities and impressive upgrades, as well as greater accessibility throughout the park grounds.
The new park over the highway, which extends over Interstate-44 between Chestnut and Market streets, was completed in late 2015 and allows visitors to easily walk from Luther Ely Smith Square to the Arch grounds and the riverfront, physically connecting the monument to the City of St. Louis for the ﬁrst time.
Also completed in 2015 was the elevation of a 1.5-mile stretch of Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard, which will reduce the chances of ﬂooding on the central riverfront. Groups traveling by bus will have more convenient access to drop-off and parking areas surrounding the Arch as well. Work on the park grounds, which includes planting new trees and replacing existing trees (bringing the total tree count to 4,100), is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2016.
Renovations to Kiener Plaza, located just west of the Old Courthouse, and to the new Gateway Arch museum and Visitor Center, located beneath the Arch, are underway too. Once completed, the Arch Visitor Center will have a new, westward-facing grand entrance and six new interactive, interpretive spaces, each with a unique historical theme, such as Jefferson’s Vision, colonial St. Louis, and the design and construction of the Gateway Arch.
Visitor activities inside the Gateway Arch—include tram rides, showings of the award-winning documentary Monument to the Dream, shopping and more.
The monument remains grounded in its roots and 50-year heritage as a symbol of innovation, determination and pride. As this architectural marvel enters its next 50 years, it will bring westward-expansion storytelling into the modern age for millions of visitors to enjoy for decades to come.