Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Gateway to what?

The entrance to the new visitor center from above. Courtesy Gateway Arch Park Foundation.

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Gateway Arch, a 630-foot-tall catenary curve—designed by Eero Saarinen and clad in stainless steel—stands on the west bank of the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri. But really, it stands everywhere in St. Louis.

As you walk downtown, the Arch appears at the end of every broad street, framing rooflines, slipping outside vertical walls, larger and more delicate than any other structure in town. You snap a picture, walk a few blocks, snap another and another. They are all good. There’s no bad side to the Arch. The Arch is perfect.

Should it fall out of sight, some sign or souvenir will remind you where you are, suggesting that you haven’t been anywhere in St. Louis if you haven’t been to the Arch yet. Earrings, keychains, sidewalk stencils, neon beer signs, temporary tattoos, T-shirts. A family of arches for the families that have always flocked to the Arch—albeit, in recent years, in declining numbers. Where once the soaring symbol was a potent enough attraction, now, the city realized, it had become a drive-in, drive-out phenomenon. If St. Louis could get visitors to stay, even for an extra half-day, it could produce the economic equivalent of a second Cardinals baseball season. The answer lay underfoot.