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The Gateway Arch

The Gateway Arch: A Biography

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    The Gateway Arch
    Book Description:

    Rising to a triumphant height of 630 feet, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a revered monument to America's western expansion. Envisioned in 1947 but not completed until the mid-1960s, the arch today attracts millions of tourists annually and is one of the world's most widely recognized structures. By weaving together social, political, and cultural history, historian Tracy Campbell uncovers the complicated and troubling history of the beloved structure. This compelling book explores how a medley of players with widely divergent motivations (civic pride, ambition, greed, among others) brought the Gateway Arch to fruition, but at a price the city continues to pay.Campbell dispels long-held myths and casts a provocative new light on the true origins and meaning of the Gateway Arch. He shows that the monument was the scheme of shrewd city leaders who sought to renew downtown St. Louis and were willing to steal an election, destroy historic buildings, and drive out local people and businesses to achieve their goal. Campbell also tells the human story of the architect Eero Saarinen, whose prize-winning design brought him acclaim but also charges of plagiarism, and who never lived to see the completion of his vision. As a national symbol, the Gateway Arch has a singular place in American culture, Campbell concludes, yet it also stands as an instructive example of failed urban planning.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16988-1
    Subjects: History, Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Saarinen’s Cathedral
    (pp. 1-7)

    Early each morning, the buses and cars arrive at the St. Louis river-front as they have done for nearly five decades. The tourists—some three million a year—stream out to see a gleaming stainless steel arch that towers above the Mississippi River. They explore the underground museum, watch a short film about the Arch’s construction, and climb aboard claustrophobic space-age capsules for a four-minute ride to the crest. They peer out of thick, narrow windows perched more than sixty stories high, nowhere near as tall as the tops of many modern skyscrapers but somehow more magical and terrifying because...

  5. ONE The New York of the West
    (pp. 8-24)

    The nickname “Gateway to the West” invites one to think of early St. Louis as a remote frontier outpost, just as European explorers saw it. The term suggests a passage from the civilized world to a rugged, unexplored wilderness. One would think that before the settlers embarked on their western excursions the area was nothing but virgin forests and uninhabited lands. But considering it from an older perspective, or as the historian Daniel K. Richter terms it, “facing east,” reveals a different view.

    Around 1000 A.D., the continent’s largest settlement north of Mexico rose in the fertile lands near modern-day...

  6. TWO Getting Things Done
    (pp. 25-43)

    Decay came to many cities in the 1930s. The phrase coined to denote this affliction was “urban blight,” but its definition remained elusive. A Philadelphia official probably best captured the general view: “a district which is not what it should be.” Despite the vagueness of the concept, it was widely agreed that the blight destroyed property values, depressed local markets, and created havens of crime and violence. The solution embraced by many city planners and civic leaders emphasized clearing out the physical structures in the affected downtowns. It would be another generation before the costs of this approach became clear:...

  7. THREE The St. Louis Municipal Parking Lot
    (pp. 44-60)

    After the dust settled around the memorial site, three historic buildings were left standing. In the process, each became known as “old”: the Old Courthouse; the Old Cathedral; and the Old Rock House built by Manuel Lisa in 1818. Eventually, the Lisa building came down to make room for a railroad tunnel, and remnants were placed in the Old Courthouse. By 1941, when the area had finally been cleared, all that remained of the rest was a huge field of gravel.

    This type of destruction was not uncommon during the Depression. Most American cities experienced a sharp decline in the...

  8. FOUR A Peculiarly Happy Form
    (pp. 61-86)

    News of the St. Louis competition attracted wide attention. By the end of May 1947, officials with the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association had received more than 1,100 application requests. Yet the decision to enter the competition carried risks. The prospect of hundreds of entries made the likelihood of winning remote. An architect or even an entire firm would have to devote hundreds of hours to planning, reviewing, and drawing a memorial design—time and energy that might be better spent on paying projects. Moreover, this process was not a simple undertaking, but a project involving several layers of design...

  9. FIVE The Architect
    (pp. 87-108)

    Winning the St. Louis competition brought Eero Saarinen a level of fame that few architects achieve. In the mid-1950s, he was featured inVogueand on the cover ofTime. Describing him as emblematic of “The Maturing Modern,”Timenoted that no American architect “has a better proportioned combination of imagination, versatility, and good sense.”¹ It was a heady moment to be at the forefront of American architecture, when modern technology promised to transport middle-class suburbanites into a futuristic world of streamlined cars on thousands of miles of fast-moving expressways. Modern homes boasted gleaming new appliances, and the booming postwar...

  10. SIX The Laughingstock of the World
    (pp. 109-124)

    Nothing about the Arch was inevitable. Less than a week after Saarinen was announced as the winner of the competition, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Superintendent Julian Spotts addressed a meeting of civil engineers in St. Louis. On the same day that Gilmore Clarke first brought attention to Adalberto Libera’s arch, Spotts did not mention that he, himself, had conceived of an arch on the St. Louis riverfront two years before Saarinen. He merely endorsed Saarinen’s design, calling it “a stunt” that could attain the stature of the Washington Monument or Mount Rushmore.

    Spotts then turned to two major issues in...

  11. SEVEN “Got It Made”
    (pp. 125-145)

    After Saarinen’s death, associates Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo bore the burden of finishing the Arch project. In fact, they were responsible for finishing several of Saarinen’s best-known works, such as the CBS Building in New York and the Dulles terminal, before starting their own firm. Ever since Saarinen and Charles Eames had first discussed the St. Louis competition in 1947, nearly a dozen architects, engineers, and designers played roles in developing the Arch and were indispensable to its final design and construction. But Saarinen is given exclusive credit as its architect, which is precisely how he wanted it. Saarinen...

  12. EIGHT Expendable Culture
    (pp. 146-160)

    The Gateway Arch’s unique design made it a dangerous place to work. In the years before the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, workers on the Arch braved extraordinarily hazardous conditions without federal oversight. Men dangled from the ends of its legs without so much as a safety harness, worked within cramped and tilted environments, and sometimes found themselves upside down. Insurance underwriters calculated there would be thirteen deaths before completion. Remarkably, not a single worker died during the Arch’s construction.¹

    Official records of monumental construction projects usually designate architects, engineers, and politicians as their “builders.” Those who actually...

  13. NINE Symbol and Symptom
    (pp. 161-174)

    In a relatively short time, the Gateway Arch has become as revered as the Statue of Liberty or the Lincoln Memorial as a symbol of American democracy. The Arch is also synonymous with St. Louis, and in order to understand its legacy, must be seen as part of a larger effort to reverse the city’s steady decline. As politicians and planners justified condemning forty square blocks out of a patriotic desire to honor westward expansion and provide jobs, their efforts were actually aimed at restoring real estate values by pushing businesses and people away from the city’s eastern edge. In...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 175-198)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-210)
  16. Index
    (pp. 211-217)
  17. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)