Visiting the St. Louis Arch

Known as the St. Louis Arch, Gateway Arch, and Gateway to the West, this famous piece of architecture is at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on the banks of the Mississippi river in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. The arch is part of the park’s celebration of the westward expansion of the country between 1803 and 1890. It was designed by competition winners Eero Saarinen and Hannskarl Bandel in 1947, but construction didn’t begin until 1963. While the structure was completed in October of 1965, it wasn’t opened to the public in 1967, twenty years after the design was submitted.

The arch is made out of hollow triangle-shaped sections, starting with pieces that are fifty-four feet wide per side at the base, tapering off until the top pieces are only seventeen feet wide. These sections are made of concrete surrounded by a layer of steel. The first three hundred feet of the arch also have a second layer made up of nine hundred tons of stainless steel, the most ever used in a construction project. The arch is 630 feet wide and stands 630 feet tall, making it the tallest national monument in America. That’s equivalent to sixty three stories, making it twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty.

Construction on both legs took place simultaneously, requiring the two structures to have no more than 1/64th of an inch of play to be joined at the top. When it was time to place the central observation deck, heat from the sun caused expansion of the south leg. Firetrucks had to be brought in to spray down the leg, cooling it enough to move into place. Now complete, the top of the structure can move as much as an inch in high winds.

At the top of the arch is the observation deck, giving tourists a view of the Mississippi river and the surrounding city. The deck is a very popular tourist attraction, with over twenty five million visitors having taken the tram ride to the top of the arch since its opening. Lines for the tram can be quite long, but some of this wait can be avoided by ordering tickets online. Tourists can reach the observation deck using trams located in each leg: the south entrance features displays about riverboats on the Mississippi, while the north leg has displays about the arch’s construction. A trip to the observation deck takes about forty-five minutes, with about ten minutes of that loading and riding in the tram. There are no bathrooms or other facilities in the observation deck.

The area below the arch houses the underground visitor’s center and the Museum of Westward Expansion, which displays historic artifacts as well as photo murals depicting Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Both the museum and the arch are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.

Creative Commons License Photo credit: Blind Grasshopper