Brief Overview of the St Louis Arch

Gateway Arch

It is the landmark that everyone associates with St Louis and it’s definitely worth the trip.  Even if you are from St Louis, it is a fun place to visit or take your kids.  When out-of-town visitors come, I always take them and I think I enjoy it as much as them every time!  Check out this Arch photo blog with a lot of cool shots of the Arch.

Some facts about the Gateway Arch:

  • It is also known as the Gateway to the West
  • It is the tallest monument in the U.S. at 630 feet
  • The Arch weighs 17,426 tons
  • Over 25 million visitors have ridden the trams to the top of the Arch
  • It took about 1 ½ years to build, with construction beginning in 1963
  • They are currently holding a contest to completely redesign the grounds around the Arch
The view from the top of the Gateway Arch
The view from the top of the Gateway Arch

Taking a ride to the top is definitely worth it – on a clear day you can see up to 30 miles in either direction! And, while you are at the St. Louis Arch, there are a lot of other things to do besides just riding to the top. The base of each leg of the Arch has something to do, too.  Visit the Museum of Westward Expansion and learn about life on the River in the 1800s, including Lewis and Clark’s expedition and Native American culture.  You can also watch movies about Lewis and Clark’s journey and construction of Saint Louis Arch shown on a giant four-story screen.

Outside of the Arch, you can rent a bicycle and ride around the Riverfront Trail, take a helicopter tour of the city or take a cruise down the Mississippi on a 19th-century steamboat replica.  Dinner, entertainment, and sightseeing tours all available on the steamboat based on the time of year.  Bicycle, helicopter, and riverboat tours are all available through the Arch and more information can be found here on their website.

And, if you are looking for a place to eat, Laclede’s Landing is within walking distance and offers a bunch of different restaurants to choose from.

History of the Gateway Arch

It is impossible to think about the city of St. Louis without conjuring up an image of the St. Louis arch, which is easily one of the most famous and recognizable pieces of architecture in the entire United States. Even if you do not go up in the arch, you have to at least drive or boat past it, and spend a few moments to stand in its shadow. It is impossible to look at the arch and not feel awed. It is the tallest building that has been created by humans in the entire United States.

Very few of us actually understand what its purpose is. The idea of creating some type of monument was first hatched during the Great Depression when city leaders became worried about the state of the riverfront. They hoped to give people a reason to visit the area and revitalize it so that it did not fall into ruins. The idea never got off the ground, it was interrupted by the start of the Second World War and eventually, the United States became more concerned with defeating the Germans than building monuments.

It was after the war and St. Louis wanted something that the country could unite over, something that would always make them think about the victory they had just experienced. The city held a contest and asked architects to submit their ideas. The criteria that the architects where give were that the design had to be original, the city wanted something that was totally unique, that people were going to have to come to St. Louis to see. The other requirement was that it had to be amazing. When the dust cleared and all of the entries were considered, the reward went to a native of Michigan, Ero Saarinen, who is currently recognized as one of the greatest architects of the 20th century.

It is very easy to get distracted by the height, but perhaps the most amazing feature is the foundation. Without a good foundation, the whole thing would either topple over or sink into the earth’s crust. To keep it erect, the arch was built on a layer of bedrock that is twenty feet deep.  The legs of the arch are made out of concrete and each one has been sunk 60 feet into the ground and they are an impressive 44 feet thick. One of the concerns that everyone had during construction was what would happen in strong winds or an earthquake. The arch was designed in such a way that if there is an earthquake it will sway 9 inches and it can handle winds that blow as hard a 150 miles per hour.

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