Is there anything more iconic Americana than the Gateway Arch in St. Louis? Along with the Statue of Liberty and Mt. Rushmore, the Gateway Arch is a truly unique destination. Designed by architect Eero Saarinen, the arch at 630 feet tall, is the tallest manmade monument in the US. Formerly designated as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and redesignated as the Gateway Arch National Park in 2018. The park is 91 acres and includes, the Old Courthouse, the Mississippi Riverfront, and green spaces.
Though truly American the arch is a world-renowned masterpiece of modern architecture. A competition is conducted in 1947 to challenge architects to design a memorial that would capture the grand scale of our nations westward expansion. Of the 172 entries, Eero Saarinen Arch is deemed the winner. Construction doesn’t begin until 1963 and finishes in 1965.
The tram system, a modified elevator, takes one million visitors to the top each year and the Arch is designed to sway 18 inches in high winds or earthquakes. So why worry, right? I have been to the Arch a couple of times and each time the tram car seems smaller than the time before. I surmise there is a darn good reason why they have a tram car that you can try on for size before actual boarding. I’m sure they have experienced numerous freak-outs during boarding. I’ve washed comforters in larger drums.
I am no fan of confined spaces. If I have to wait or experience any other inconvenience, I will probably forego the ride to the top. No such luck, the park area is totally redesigned and the visitors center is bright, clean and orderly. Security screening is like that of an airport and all is efficient. I am now rethinking my plan of being the first tram up in the morning, I wonder if they do a test run beforehand.
At least I’m in car number 7 (Lucky 7). The tram doors slide open and there is a blueish white light emitting from the coffin, er, car. It feels like a time travel pod from a sci-fi movie. I and 3 other grown men enter the car, it’s tight but not grossly uncomfortable. The door shuts and I’m pleased that there is a window that allows you to look into the guts of the arch on the way up. The 4-minute ride up goes smoothly.
Over the Top
The top viewing platform provides great views although it requires and a bit of contorting to lean into the window’s ledge. The views of the Mississippi River to the East and the St. Louis skyline of the West are amazing. With the 3 minute ride back down, I probably spend more time in the car than I do on the actual viewing platform.
I am captivated, however, by the ground views of the arch. On the 2 occasions I visit, I love watching the light bounce off the stainless steel and viewing from various angles. I am always here early in the morning but the green spaces add a great bit of tranquility to be in the middle of a major metropolitan city.
A few of my favorite photos.