The Gateway Arch, perched on the banks of the Missippi River, was designed by architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel. At 630 feet, this stainless steel structure is the world’s largest catenary arch and the tallest monument in the U.S. During the Great Depression, the “Jefferson National Expansion Memorial” was conceived as a monument to Thomas Jefferson and his vision of westward expansion. City leaders saw it as a way of tapping into New Deal money in the hopes of stimulating the economy and creating jobs. Amid lawsuits and court cases, thirty-seven city blocks were cleared by condemning and demolishing almost all of the structures within the area, forcing out local people and businesses. It wasn’t until 1963 that building actually began. It once again became the focus of controversy when civil rights activists protested that there were no skilled African American laborers being hired to work on the arch. The iconic arch was finally completed in 1965 and was opened to the public two years later. The arch itself is a soaring, gleaming marvel. There are broad expanses of lush green grass all around it, where I saw families sprawling and little girls turning cartwheels. To get there, I walked under a bridge where I could see homeless people curled up asleep on the concrete, their modest belongings stuffed into the makeshift lockers created by the structure.
I hadn’t realized that you can actually go into the arch. You have to crouch to fit into the creaky egg shaped tram capsules that take you to the top of the arch. There is a walkway at the top and tiny windows (larger ones would not withstand the pressure) from which you can observe the city for 30 miles around. Taken from the top of the arch: