The last time I went to St. Louis, I was maybe 5 or 6, and I remember not getting to go up to the top of the Gateway Arch because I was either too little or my parents wouldn’t let me. They probably thought it would freak me out. They were probably right. This past weekend my husband and I were in St. Louis, and I still didn’t get to go up to the top of the thing. Only one of the two trams was in operation, and it was sold out both Friday and Saturday. But we did at least spend plenty of time hanging out beneath Eero Saarinen’s architectural wonder of shiny stainless steel.
At 630 feet, the Gateway Arch is the tallest monument in the United States, and is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. It is located near the start of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and celebrates the westward expansion of the United States, including the Louisiana Purchase and the first civil government west of the Mississippi River.
The Arch’s design is known as a catenary curve, which makes it the most structurally sound arch shape. Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel completed the design in 1947, but construction didn’t begin until 1963. Saarinen unfortunately did not live to see his work completed, as he died four years before construction was finished.
The observation deck is accessed via a unique tram system, and features 16 windows on each side for unparalleled views (from what I hear) of St. Louis, the Mississippi River and a bit of Illinois. Check out the Wikipedia entry for the interesting story about the tram, as well as some great aerial shots from the deck.
Inside the museum below the Arch, there is a Mount Rushmore-like installation about the construction and builders, with Saarinen prominently featured in the center. Frankly it was a bit odd, but at the same time I was delighted to see their work and dedication honored in such a way.
The Gateway Arch was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. More than 1 million people visit the monument each year.