Happy Birthday, Gateway Arch!

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO.

It’s official name is The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a U. S. National Park, which includes the Old Courthouse (1839), site of the famous Dred Scott cases (1847 and 1850). Architect Eero Saarinen won the 1948 competition for the memorial’s design. A giant parabola, the Arch is the United State’s tallest national monument.

For me, the Gateway Arch is an artistic tour de force. Conceived in the 1930’s, the memorial’s design was chosen in 1948 and came to fruition in 1965.


The Arch memorializes Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark’s expedition that set in motion Westward expansion.

Space Age Elegance

The Arch also suggested skyward expansion, as it soared high above America in the midst of the space program. The Mercury and Gemini capsules were built in St. Louis at McDonnell Douglas. The McDonnell Planetarium (1962), and Missouri Botanical Garden Climatron (1960) reflected the same modern, graceful, futuristic style. The Planetarium’s design (top photo) is a hyperbole (in silhouette); the Climatron is an elegant geodesic dome.




My first professional gig as an artist was at the McDonnell Planetarium. I was 18 and hired as their artist through a college work study program. Though I was a Fine Art student, this opportunity introduced me to the world of commercial illustration and I found that was my true niche. I painted moonscapes, planets, spacecraft, and various astronomical subjects for multi-media planetarium “star shows”. It was quite a lot of fun.

Much of the fun came from roaming the beautiful building. A spiral ramp wound the exterior of the interior theater dome leading to rooftop telescopes. And yes, more than once I climbed a ladder and sat on the uppermost rim on top of the building’s exterior shell. A great view of Forest Park and the Central West End. The lower level offices, when I worked there, were round. They rode the circumference and the office walls retained the curve. Pretty cool workspace. It’s all been remodeled now, and is much better, but it had a quirky charm back then. It’s exterior is still striking, especially at night when it’s gorgeous silhouette is brightly lit. Likewise against a deep blue Summer sky, as shown above.

Back to the Arch and its 50th birthday. If you’ve never been to St. Louis you might want to postpone a visit until 2017, when the park, museum, and riverfront promenade renovations are complete. A depressed section of Interstate 70 had divided the Arch grounds from Downtown, making it accessible by a couple of unattractive crosswalks over the incessant traffic below.

We’ve now put a lid over the highway, turning it into a tunnel, and are covering that lid with a beautiful park, tying together the Old Courthouse grounds with the rest of the National Park. That will make for a pleasant walk from the park, its Arch, to the historic courthouse and on over to Busch Stadium, Ballpark Village, and the rest of downtown, where you can visit the Central Library (1912) I wrote about a couple weeks ago.

It sounds like I’ve been hired by the Chamber of Commerce. Nah, just pointing out some of our great sites, and feeling pretty good about the Arch hitting fifty. It doesn’t age, except for some weathered stains, and looks as cool and sleek as it did when it was first topped out on October 28, 1965.

Happy Birthday, Gateway Arch!

All photos ©2015 Ed Koehler