One of the most famous landmarks of Missouri is the Gateway Arch. It was originally designed as a testament of the pioneer spirit of the men and women who won the west. St. Louis was considered the main starting point of many who chose to go west and settle those lands.
The Gateway Arch, aka, Gateway to the West, is a relatively new monument, completed in October of 1965. The dreams of such a monument, honoring the vision of President Jefferson and his aides that made possible the western territorial expansion of the United States, began thirty-two years earlier. It was the brainchild of an attorney, Luther Ely White, who pitched the idea of a memorial to mayor, Bernard Dickmann, who then spoke with city leaders and the non-profit Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association was created. This was in December of 1933. It wasn’t without opposition.
This was project was proposed during The Great Depression and the $30 million price tag was staggering. Many felt this money would be better spent on people who needed things rather than a monument. Luther Ely Smith, however, felt that the spiritual was as important as the physical. The memorial would focus on the bravery and the intrepid spirit of Americans who expanded and built the country from the east to the west and at great cost to themselves. A focal point reminding all that one must look to the future and not just the present. It was felt that very spirit would be what pulled Americans out of the depression and back to prosperity.
President Roosevelt’s approved the building of the memorial by Executive Order 7253. It would be an 82 acre National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service. During the 30’s there were many such national building projects and many funded, in part, by Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies with the purpose of creating jobs for Americans. The Gateway Arch fell into that category by commemorating westward expansion (spirit of Americans) and created jobs (economic and the physical of Americans) proposing about 5,000 jobs lasting several years.
The design of the memorial was actually an architectural competition. Luther Ely Smith felt that the memorial should focus on the spiritual and aesthetic values and be represented by one central feature. Something that would symbolize American culture and civilization. The contest was under the jurisdiction of architect George Howe with seven judges and they set the parameters of the contest and design as follows:
"(a) an architectural memorial or memorials to Jefferson; dealing (b) with preservation of the site of Old St. Louis—landscaping, provision of an open-air campfire theater, reerection or reproduction of a few typical old buildings, provision of a Museum interpreting the Westward movement; (c) a living memorial to Jefferson's 'vision of greater opportunities for men of all races and creeds;' (d) recreational facilities, both sides of the river; and (e) parking facilities, access, relocation of railroads, placement of an interstate highway."
The contest began May 30, 1947 and the finalist and winner chosen was Eero Saarinen and his architectural team on February 18, 1948. The bidding for the construction of The Gateway Arch and the visitor center was awarded to MacDonald Construction Co. of St. Louis and on June 23, 1959 the groundbreaking ceremony was held. Only twenty-six years after the memorial was first proposed. I can’t say that a lot of jobs were created during the depression as a result of this memorial because such huge project takes a great deal of time to implement, especially when federal fund allocations (and politics) are involved. But the Gateway Arch construction began February 12, 1963 and was completed October 28, 1965.
Sadly, the founder of this Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Luther Ely Smith, didn’t live to see his dream a reality. He died April 1951. But he did get to see the winning design. He would have been 91 in 1963.
The memorial is huge. Standing at the foot of The Gateway Arch is amazing and as with many memorials, humbling. It's taller than the Washington Monument and the Statute of Liberty. I've stood beside all three.
I’d say it does honor the spirit of Americans to see potential of something and tackle it. To look beyond narrow boundaries to expand and grow. I can only hope that lesson is carried forth into the future.
Photos courtesy of Wiki Commons