Saturday, July 07, 2018

The St. Louis Arch, August 1965

Somebody on Facebook recently posted that 2018 was the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Aha! I have some old slides showing the arch under construction. To the bat poles! 

The Gateway Arch was designed by legendary Finnish architect Eero Saarinen way back in 1947, and was intended to be a monument to westward expansion in the U.S. It is: the world's tallest arch (at 630 feet, or 192 meters); the tallest man-made monument in the U.S.; and Missouri's tallest inhabitable structure. I'll bet it's haunted too.

There it is! I see it first, which means I get to punch my brother in the shoulder.

Plans for a monument of some kind had been simmering since as far back as 1933 (the year of the Chicago World's Fair). The process of choosing and acquiring a site, getting the necessary funds, and deciding on a design took a surprisingly long time. The public needed convincing, railroad tracks needed rerouting, buildings were condemned and razed. 

Wikipedia says: In 1959 and 1960, ground was broken, and in 1961, the foundation of the structure was laid. Construction of the arch itself began on February 12, 1963, as the first steel triangle on the south leg was eased into place. These steel triangles, which narrowed as they spiraled to the top, were raised into place by a group of cranes and derricks. The arch was assembled of 142 12-foot-long (3.7 m) prefabricated stainless steel sections. Once in place, each section had its double-walled skin filled with concrete, prestressed with 252 tension bars. In order to keep the partially completed legs steady, a scissors truss was placed between them at 530 feet (160 m), later removed as the derricks were taken down.

While the monument opened to the public on June 10, 1967, it was not not officially dedicated until March 25, 1968 by Vice President Hubert Humphrey. I've never seen the Gateway Arch in person, but would love to someday. It's quite a feat of engineering, not to mention a beautiful structure.

Here's a photo of the monument (from Wikipedia). Happy 50th birthday, Gateway Arch!


Nanook said...


What a beauty. Or, put another way: It's really swell-!

Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

I wonder what Hoffman and Marquard thought of the arch going up in their neighborhood? I remember seeing this shown in Disneyland's America The Beautiful and thinking it was just a giant sculpture. It was many years later, when I found out there is an observation deck at the top (you can see the windows in that last photo!) and a "ride" inside the arch that takes visitors to the top. I want to go on that ride!

These are great photos, Major!

Melissa said...

Computer, Arch!

stu29573 said...

Wow! The weird thing is that I had no idea that I am older than the arch! For some reason in my "History of the World and How Stu Fits In It" I had it being built in the 50s. I've gotta talk with those editors....

Chuck said...

I spent some of my formative years living about 20 miles east of St Louis on the Illinois side of the river, and we used to compete to be the first to spot the Arch on the way into St Louis (although punching my little sister would have been frowned upon). Now that I'm back in the same house 40 years later with my own kids, I've restarted the tradition. My wife usually wins.

TM!, there are two trams to the top, one in each leg, and they are half of the attraction of going up in the Arch. Each is a train of five-seat, cylindrical capsules (their term, but very accurate) that individually have a smaller footprint than a full-size bed. Imagine a Skyway bucket with a curved roof, solid sides, and extra seat on one side and you'll get a rough idea. The door closes like a phone booth (although it's smaller), and like a phone booth, has a window in it. There's a giant disk behind the middle seat that shields a light that indirectly illuminates the light-colored interior, and the whole thing is air conditioned in a manner that has always reminded me of Disneyland's Submarine Voyage.

The ride up is a bit of a minor thrill in itself. Unlike the standard elevator shaft, the legs of the Arch aren't vertically straight, so your capsule can't maintain the same attitude the whole way up to the top. Instead, the capsule periodically rights itself with a loud "click" as the whole thing lurches a few degrees, then holds in that position until it needs to move again. It's not violent, but it's a bit odd and can be somewhat unnerving if you aren't expecting it. It scared the snot out of me as an 8-year-old. As an adult, I wish they'd built it free-swinging like a Zipper at a parking lot carnival. Wheeeeeee!!!!

Looking out the door window as your capsule climbs its way to the top, you can see the lighted interior of the Arch's structure, which is pretty interesting. You can also see the emergency staircase as it winds itself up the Arch's interior wall; it's a loooong walk down if you ever have to use them. Since the cross-section of the Arch gets smaller as you near the top, the staircase gets closer and closer to your capsule until it's right next to you as you approach the station at the top. It doesn't bother me, but I understand some folks with claustrophobia have a real issue with it.

Once at the top, on a clear day you can see a long, long way, and although you can't see my house from there (my neighborhood is juuust over the horizon), the Arch is visible from the edge of my town. The angle of the windows in the Arch's triangular structure means you can look straight down and slightly back through the legs. Sometimes people will stop out messages in the snow that you can read from the Arch; I remember seeing an ad for a sandwich shop when I was a kid.

The river traffic is usually interesting to watch, and there's always a steady stream of traffic across the bridges. Looking back into the city, you can see all sorts of details you don't notice at ground level. The Arch itself is perfectly centered on the Old Courthouse, which is where the Federal Dred Scott case was originally heard in 1854, and the view is gorgeous.

Shorter people have to lean on the sides to get a good look out the window, and even though there is a ledge to stand on, some folks still find their legs dangling. I can remember being wedged in the window, trying to look as far back as I could between the Arch's legs, when my dad grabbed me and said "don't fall!" If you do decide to do this to someone, please note that there are no restrooms on the observation deck.

Just this week, a new, underground museum under the Arch was dedicated and opened to the public, replacing a previous one opened in 1976. I am looking forward to seeing it soon.

Thanks again, Major!

K. Martinez said...

I've seen the Gateway Arch live and in person and have always loved what it symbolized. My favorite has to be pic #3. Thanks, Major.

And thanks Chuck for the wonderful detail of the Gateway Arch and the story of your personal experiences with it.

JC Shannon said...

Great photos and great commentary. It is really quite imposing standing at the base. The only thing missing is one of Mellissa's poems. Thanks Major for these cool snaps.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, it might even be the bee’s knees.

TokyoMagic!, each day, I ask myself what Hoffman and Marquard would think. About anything. I’m sure the view from the top of the arch is amazing!

Melissa, um… Star Trek reference?

stu29573, well, you weren’t very wrong… the thing was designed in 1947, after all. It’s surprising how much drama went into the design and building process - now that it’s been with us for 50 years, it seems like it just belongs.

Chuck, I wanted to write about the trams inside the legs, but… I was also trying to write several blog posts in one day, and this one had already taken more time than you might imagine! Not much of an excuse, but it is what it is. Thanks for picking up the slack! Thanks also for your personal account of the experience of riding the trams, and of the view from the top. I hope to visit this amazing U.S. landmark (and many others!) someday.

K Martinez, I have this fuzzy memory of seeing the Gateway Arch from a jet when I was a kid, though I don’t know why we would have been so low. The whole thing almost feels like a false memory, but why would my brain make up such a specific detail?

Jonathan, perhaps Melissa can write a poem, it will be St. Louis’ version of “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus!

Chuck said...

Major, there was an aerial shot from the Illinois side of the river in the 1967 version of America the Beautiful, so that may be what you're remembering. It's at 12:27 on this video, courtesy our very own TokyoMagic!

The other possibility is that you may have actually seen it from the air; the normal routes into/out of STL (depending on the wind) will take you north of downtown. I've seen the Arch from the air many times through the window of an airliner.

Major Pepperidge said...

Chuck, I am reasonably sure that I am not remembering “America the Beautiful”! But I also didn’t remember that they had an aerial shot of the arch in that film, so who knows! My main recollection is that the pilot of our aircraft announced that people on one side of the plane should be able to see the Gateway Arch, and it took me a while to find it because I had always thought that it spanned the Mississippi!

dean finder said...

As a kid, I thought it spanned the Mississippi, too.

Chuck said...

Major, your memory from the airplane is probably correct. It's pretty cool to see from the air, and it's the kind of thing cool pilots like to announce.

Melissa said...

Down in old St. Louis town,
There is a U turned upside-down,
Like two bow legs that never march,
They say it's called the Gateway Arch.
And though it's bigger than your bippy,
It does not span the Mississippi.

JC Shannon said...

Bravo! Bravo! Now my day is complete. Thank you Mellissa!

Major Pepperidge said...

dean finder, I mean, why wouldn’t it span the Mississippi??

Chuck, I used to like it when our airplane had a chatty pilot!

Melissa, how do you do it? 25,000 extra points for the use of the word “bippy”.

Jonathan, you asked, and you received!

Brad Abbott said...

These are great, thanks for posting! My grandfather was actually one of the head electricians on the arch during construction. Somewhere there’s a picture of him standing on the top!