Arch Gladness

St. Louis is well known for a few things, at least us native STL’s think so. We have a rich cultural history which began WAY before the French settled here in the late 1600’s. Each group has left their mark in an iconic way, shape or form and I’ll talk about those legacies another time.

Aside from toasted ravioli, perhaps our most well-known symbol, The Gateway Arch celebrated it’s 50th birthday on Wednesday, October 28. That’s the day they inserted the last piece—the topping out in 1965. A few days later The Gateway Arch was dedicated by President Lyndon Johnson and has been the doorway to St. Louis and the west ever since.

“The Arch” as it’s called by most everyone, is a 630 foot catenary inverted curve with a carbon steel structure dressed in lustrous stainless. It is elegance, simplicity and grace from any angle—above or below, from the north or the south. This gorgeous mid-century monument was designed by Eero Saarinen, a Finnish-American architect who happens to hail from a family who’ve left their mark in design history more than once. Eero entered his design for the arch in a competition and it received mixed reviews. Everybody’s a critic, right? In the end his beautiful design towered over the others in the competition.

I get to see The Arch almost everyday. If I’m driving east on interstate 55 in the afternoon on clear blue day, The Arch looks black against the sky. If I’m downtown at a Card’s game, it’s cool gray exterior absorbs the colors of the sun and reflective lights around it. But The Arch never blends in or disappears.

Its curve is unmistakable and remarkable even from 8 miles away. Up close, the stainless steel is well worn after 50 years. The lower portions of the north and south legs bear the marks of people who’ve wanted to etch their names and ideas into history with knives and other instruments. From any distance The Arch is a friendly and welcoming symbol. It’s the type of design that literally goes with everything. It’s comfortably settled with the industrial age architecture of the city, it photographs well and I’m pretty sure it will never go out of style…classics never do.

I’ve had a lot of memorable visits to The Arch with family and friends. The last photos of my dad were taken there on Mother’s Day 2011 just a few days before he died. A classic visiting a classic. I’ve been to the top 2 times in my life. During several VP Fairs, the South Leg has been a rendezvous point for friends. Out of towners always want to “see” The Arch and I’m glad to oblige.

This week, in appropriate homage to the grand curve aside the mighty Mississippi, The Arch was washed in gold lighting. At dusk on Wednesday I drove to the Old Cathedral parking lot to get a close up and take a few photos, but my idea of dusk must be different than the event planners idea of dusk–so I didn’t get to see The Golden Arch. Regardless, she was a sight to behold and as fluid and graceful as ever in her 50th year.



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