Arch Cafe, LLC

Phone Icon (314) 300-8710
Phone Icon (347) 380-7253

The Arch's History

The Gateway Arch is the nation's tallest monument at 630 feet. It is 75 feet taller than the Washington Monument and more than twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty. It was designed by the renowned architect Eero Saarinen and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. This was just 24 years after the Arch was built, and only seven years after the landscape plan was completed.

Gateway Arch Old Courthouse Westward Expansion People
Preservation of the Culture and nd Historic Resources

The Location

The old St. Louis Riverfront was selected in 1935 as the site of the Jefferson National Memorial, which commemorates the westward expansion of the United States in the 19th century, as envisioned by Thomas Jefferson. The Memorial includes the Arch and an underground visitor's center directly beneath it. This center contains the Museum of Westward Expansion, which tells the century-long story of the opening of the West in the 1800s.


Crowd At the Visitor Center Entrance

In 1947 the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association, a group of public-spirited citizens, held a nationwide competition to obtain an appropriate design. The winner of the competition was Eero Saarinen, and he had the perfect idea.

Magnificent in its concept, majestic in its setting, unique in its execution, the Gateway Arch towers above the banks of the Mississippi River. It is the iconic centerpiece of the $30 million Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and it provided many engineering firsts for the US right here in St. Louis.

Historic Eads Bridge, for example, was the first tubular steel arch structure of its kind. Completed in 1874, this bridge forms the northern boundary of the memorial. At the southern boundary stands the steel plate girder bridge designed by Sverdrup and Parcel—the first US bridge of its size to use orthotropic design.

The Arch itself, in neighborly spirit, borrows its concept from Captain Eads to make use of the stress analysis and structural design used by Sverdrup and Parcel. The stainless-steel-faced Arch spans 630 feet between the outer faces of its triangular legs at the ground level, and its top soars 630 feet into the sky. It takes the shape of an inverted catenary curve, a shape such as would be formed by a heavy chain hanging freely between two supports.

Each leg is an equilateral triangle with sides that are 54 feet long at ground level, tapering to 17 feet at the top. The legs have double walls of steel 3 feet apart at ground level and 7-3/4 inches apart above the 400-foot mark. Up to the 300-foot mark, the space between the walls is filled with reinforced concrete. Beyond that point, steel stiffeners are used.

The double-walled, triangular sections were placed one on top of another and then welded inside and out to build the legs of the Arch. Sections ranged in height from 12 feet at the base to 8 feet for the two keystone sections. The complex engineering design and construction is completely hidden from view. All that can be seen is the sparkling stainless steel outside and the inner skin of carbon steel, which combine to carry the gravity and wind loads to the ground. The Arch has no real structural skeleton, as its inner and outer steel skins, joined to form a composite structure, give it its strength and permanence.

Entrance to the Arch is from the underground George B. Hartzog, Jr. Visitor Center. Visitors are carried from the lobby level below to the observation platform at the top of the Arch by a unique conveyance system: a 40-passenger train made up of eight five-passenger capsules in each leg. Operating at the rate of 340 feet per min., the ride takes 10 minutes round trip.

The observation platform is 65 feet by 7 feet, with plate-glass windows providing a view of the east and west. There is also a conventional maintenance elevator in each leg as far as the 372-foot level, and stairways with 1,076 steps in each leg rise from the base to the top of the Arch. These elevators and stairways are for maintenance and emergency use only.

The Significance of the Arch Grounds

The landscape around the Arch reflects the curvilinear nature of the structure. Landscape architect Dan Kiley applied geometrical precepts and classical landscape design elements to create a setting that is both spectacular and subtly appropriate. The scale, impact, and design of the grounds constitute an essential mooring for the world-famous Arch, with one reflecting the other.

The memorial is a comprehensive work that melds landscape with sculpture. The Gateway Arch cannot be separated from the landscape, as together they represent a cohesive artistic endeavor. The physical components that establish the importance of the landscape include:

  • Spatial Organization - This includes the axial relationship between the Arch and the Old Courthouse. It can also be seen in the contrast between the open space beneath the Arch and the enclosed canopy of trees along the north-south walkways, along with the scattering of canopy trees over the open lawn around the ponds.
  • Topography - The land is level under the Arch before it slopes down in undulating waves to the ponds. It then ramps back up to the berm along the edge of Memorial Drive. The design recessed the expressway to minimize the noise and the physical and visual intrusion that would be imposed by an at-grade highway.
  • Surrounding Structures - There are many buildings and structures that Saarinen wanted to complement the Gateway Arch. These include the Old Courthouse, the underground museum, and the overlooks and railroad tunnels to the north and south.
  • Vegetation - The area's vegetation is largely defined by the Rosehill Ash monoculture that dominates the walks leading to the Arch. There are also Bald Cypress circles, plantings around the north and south ponds, and several trees and shrubs planted around service areas.
  • Circulation Networks - The circulation network at the memorial site is centered on a convenient parking garage for visitors. Naturally, there are also plenty of sidewalks and walking space leading to the Arch and connecting the Arch to the city.

The Architect
Eero Saarinen

Born in Finland in 1910, Eero Saarinen was the son of the respected architect, Eliel Saarinen. His mother, Loja Saarinen, was a gifted sculptor, weaver, photographer, and architectural model maker. Eero grew up in a household where drawing and painting were taken very seriously, and a devotion to quality and professionalism were instilled in him at an early age.

Learn More

Construction of the Arch

Life in the US

The Saarinens immigrated to the United States in 1923 and settled in Michigan, where Eliel administered the Cranbrook Institute of Architecture and Design. Between 1930 and 1934, Eero studied at the Yale School of Architecture. After a two-year fellowship in Europe, he returned to Cranbrook in 1936 to become an instructor of design and his father's partner in the architectural firm. It was during this period that Eero began to build a reputation as an architectural designer who refused to be restrained by any preconceived ideas.

Building the Arch

After working with his father on a number of projects, Eero had a chance to express his own philosophy when he entered the 1947 architectural competition for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. This was his first opportunity to establish himself as an independent architect, so he set out to design a monument not only to Thomas Jefferson and the nation but to the modern age. For him, "The major concern...was to create a monument which would have lasting significance and would be a landmark of our time...[n]either an obelisk nor a rectangular box nor a dome seemed right on this site or for this purpose. But here, at the edge of the Mississippi River, a great arch did seem right."

Saarinen carefully studied the site and its surroundings to ensure that the design encompassed the whole environment. He was of the opinion that "...all parts of an architectural composition must be parts of the same form-world." The Arch was to rise majestically from a small forest set on the edge of the Mississippi River. He considered it to be perfect in its form and its symbolism. Mr. Saarinen first conceived the Arch in stainless steel and then asked Fred Severud to study its feasibility from the structural point of view.

Upon completion, the Arch was Saarinen's first great triumph, but there would be many more. Projects such as the General Motors Technical Center near Detroit, the TWA Terminal in New York City, and the Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. brought him further acclaim and established him as one of the most successful and creative architects of his time.

Eero's Legacy

As his past work suggests, Eero Saarinen was a man of vision. Unfortunately, he died of a brain tumor in 1961 at the age of 51. He is buried in Michigan. Though his life was tragically cut short, his vision lives on through the many notable structures he has created. The Gateway Arch marked the beginning of his career just as the "Gateway to the West" marked the beginning of a new life for countless pioneers.