Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

Added by Julia Palmer, last update: August 17, 2012, 1:24 pm

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
11 North Fourth Street
St. Louis, MO 63102
United States
38° 37' 29.6436" N, 90° 11' 10.7412" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Monuments (MON)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):
History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association was created in 1933 to revitalize the riverfront of St. Louis with a monument honoring both Thomas Jefferson and the City as "a gateway to western expansion." According to the official language of the National Park Service, "The Gateway Arch reflects St. Louis’ role in the Westward Expansion of the United States during the nineteenth century. The park is a memorial to Thomas Jefferson’s role in opening the West, to the pioneers who helped shape its history, and to Dred Scott who sued for his freedom in the Old Courthouse." The riverfront contained over fifty blocks of historic cast iron buildings, dating from the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s. The local government believed these buildings reflected the decline of the city, and sold the property to the National Park Service to demolish and make space for the new memorial. Three historic buildings, the Old Courthouse, Old Saint Louis Cathedral and Manuel Lisa, were saved and are now included in the site of the Jefferson Expansion Memorial. In 1934 Congress formed the US Territorial Expansion Memorial Commission to work with the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association, and in 1935 the Historic Sites and Bridges Act was passed. The National Park Service developed the Historic Saint Louis site shortly thereafter. The site was an urban development of major proportion. The government allocated $6.7 million in federal funds under the Emergency Relief Act, which was matched by $2.25 million in city funds. As costs rose, this ratio remained. The citizens of St. Louis approved a $7.5 million bond. The National Park put demolition of the site on hold in 1936 to focus on the War efforts. The Jefferson Memorial Competition finally occurred in 1948, and it was open to both architects and amateurs. The committee specifically did not want a living memorial, such as an airport. The brief called for "a striking element, not only to be seen from a distance in the landscape but also as a notable structure to be remembered and commented on as one of the conspicuous monuments of the country." The competition had 172 entrants, including Eliel Saarinen, Charles Eames, Walter Gropius, Louis I. Kahn, Ralph Rapson, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Harry & John Weese, Minoru Yamasaki, Edward Durell Stone, and Isamu Noguchi. A mistake was made when the telegram announcing the winner was sent to Eero's father, Eliel Saarinen. A few days later the error was corrected; Eero Saarinen was identified as the true winner and more celebratory champagne was opened. Eero Saarinen’s winning proposal was noted for its beautiful presentation, including numerous beaux-arts watercolors and sculpted models. Due to the political state of the country, specifically the Korean War and its budgetary aftermath, project financing was delayed for 14 years. In 1962, a year after Eero Saarinen died, funding finally became available and construction of the arch began. The only major design alteration from the original was the extension of the 590 foot arch to 630 feet, making it the tallest monument in the US. The arch was completed on October 28, 1965 and the opening ceremony took place in 1966. Two trams on tracks tracing the inside of the triangular legs of the arch carry passengers up and over the monument for a panoramic view of St. Louis. The north tram opened to the public in 1967, followed by the south tram in 1968. The formal dedication of the Arch by Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall took place on May 25, 1968, after the landscaping was complete. Paving of walkways and overlooks and construction of the grand staircase from the Arch down to Wharf Street on the Mississippi River was completed by 1976, the same year that the Museum of Westward Expansion opened. The total cost of the project, including the $24 million from the 1930s period, was approximately $40 million.

Dates: Commission / Completion:Eero Saarinen won the project commission in 1948. Following years of financial and political delays, construction finally began in 1962. The last section of the arch was placed in October 1965 and the opening dedication ceremony occurred in 1966. The official dedication of the entire Jefferson National Expansion Memorial took place in 1968, when the landscaping was completed.
Architectural and other Designer(s): The original team included architect Lily Swann Saarinen(Eero Saarinen's wife), illustrator J. Henderson Barr, designer Alexander Girard, landscape architect Dan Kiley, engineer Severud-Elstad Kreuger.
Others associated with Building/Site: Luther Ely Smith, a prominent St. Louis lawyer, formed the committee to create the monument to Thomas Jefferson and westward expansion in 1933. MacDonald Construction Company of St. Louis was awarded the contract for constructing the Arch and shell of the subterranean visitor center in 1962. Daniel Urban Kiley(1912-2004) designed the park site under the arch. Kiley was a noted American landscape architect in the modernist style, with particular interest in the geometry of spaces.
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): Many slight design alterations occurred due to the extended period between Saarinen's original winning proposal (1948) and start of construction (1962). Colleagues maintain that Saarinen never stopped working on the arch. The most significant alteration, prior to construction, was the arch's height extension from 590 ft to 630ft. Since its construction, alterations to both the site and the Arch itself have been minor. The grand double staircase has been replaced with full width stairs similar to those in other Saarinen designs. Carpeting was laid in the observation room to decrease noise levels. Minimal alterations were done to the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system at the north end of the Arch. The ramps at the north and south entrances are scheduled for replacement with a less slippery stone in the near future as a public safety measure.
Current Use: Millions of visitors annually travel to the St. Louis Gateway Arch. Many tourists make the journey in the tram to the top. The Arch has come to represent the spirit of the City of St. Louis, the Gateway to the West.Millions of visitors annually travel to the St. Louis Gateway Arch. Many tourists make the journey in the tram to the top. Each train is made up of eight capsule-type cars that are round in cross-section. The ride takes 10 minutes for the round trip and operates at the rate of 340 feet per min. Each car seats five people and carries them up to the small observation room at the top of the Arch. The cars are equipped with leveling devices that adjust the angle of the capsule as it climbs up the leg of the arch. The observation room (7'x65') has rectangular windows that afford long distance views to the east and west--the Illinois and Missouri sides. The windows are cut in at an angle so that the viewer can look 630 feet directly below him to the base of the Arch. The Arch has come to represent the spirit of the City of St. Louis, the Gateway to the West.
Current Condition: A pool at the foot of the arch and entrance to the Museum of Westward Expansion was added to the landscape in recent years. Temporary jersey barriers on the northern perimeter of the Arch grounds have been replaced with heavy concrete bollards. A severe windstorm in 2006, damaged 204 of the 100 trees on the property. Many trees were completely destroyed and at least 100 had to be replaced. The monoculture of Rosehill Ash trees has resulted in the potential threat of infestation by emerald ash borer bugs. Efforts to quarantine the insects have failed. Future projects include a lid or connector between the Arch grounds and the Old Courthouse, and extensive development of the St. Louis Riverfront. A study of corrosion on the metal surfaces of the Arch was also conducted. Vandals have scratched graffiti (names, obscenities, dates, towns) in the lowest stainless steel panels. Methods of treatment for returning the surface to the original polished condition are under study. There have been minor changes in interior partitions in the administrative office spaces.
General Description:

The tallest monument in the U.S. at 630 feet in height, the stainless steel St. Louis Arch dominates the landscape of its surroundings. The design is based on an inverted, weighted catenary curve. The catenary is not geometrically correct, as Saarinen was more interested in its sculptural, artistic quality than its mathematical equations. The design is unique in architecture and its structural system was an unprecedented use of technology.

Construction Period:

The Arch was built in triangular sections and has larger sections at the base and progressively smaller sections at the apex. Each section is a double-walled equilateral triangle of carbon steel on the interior and stainless steel on the exterior held together by welded high strength steel rods. The small spaces between the double walls of the triangular sections are filled with concrete up to the 300-foot level. In turn, each triangular section is welded to the one above it. Thus the structural framework frame is the steel and concrete skin itself.

Original Physical Context:

The Jefferson National Expansion Museum is comprised of the Gateway Arch, Museum of Westward Expansion and The Old Courthouse. The site is located on the bank of the Mississippi River, between Washington and Poplar Streets, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Technical Evaluation:

The complex engineering design and construction of the Arch is completely hidden from view. The innovative construction technique used for the Arch included the use of 100-ton creeper cranes mounted on steel tracks on each leg of the Arch. The cranes lifted and placed each of the triangular steel sections until the final section was put in place, topping off the arch. The cranes then went back down each of the respective legs polishing the finished surface, while the tracks were removed simultaneously. The legs have double walls of steel 3 feet apart at ground level and 7-3/4" above the 400-foot level. Up to the 300-foot mark the space between the walls is filled with reinforced concrete. Beyond that point steel stiffeners are used. The dimension of the Arch at the base is 54'(16.46m), while the top measures 17'. (5.18m). The exterior of the Arch is comprised of 142 sections of 1/4” (6.3mm) thick plates of stainless steel #3, Finish Type 304. The deflection of the Arch is 18" in 150 MPH wind (0.46 m in 240 km/h wind). The total weight of the steel is 5,199 tons (4,644 metric tons). The total concrete weight is 38,107 Tons (34,570 metric tons). At the apex of the Arch is an enclosed observation platform measuring 7' 2" x 65' x 6' 9" high (2.18m x 19.8m x 2.06m), with a capacity of 140 persons. The hinged and locked windows are constructed of 3/4" (19mm) plate glass and are approximately 7" x 27" (180 mm x 690 mm). 1,076 steps with 105 landings comprise the interior emergency stairs. Two elevators are also inside the arch for emergency and maintenance use.


The Gateway Arch was part of a larger urban renewal plan for St. Louis. The city, state and federal government worked together to create a successful, modern image for St. Louis through their joint funding of the project. The architectural competition requirement that the monument be a non-functioning, aesthetically noteworthy structure projected the image that the city was offering its citizens and visitors something beyond just another building. The millions of visitors that visit the Arch today continue to support the St. Louis economy. In 2007, Senator John Danforth proposed a development plan to draw more new business to the riverfront area by developing property near the Arch. The development is proposed take place on land currently owned by the US and managed by the National Park Service; the public reaction is not favorable.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
The Gateway Arch is a massive yet graceful stainless steel structure that towers 630 feet above the surrounding landscape. It is shaped in an inverted catenary curve, with each leg an equilateral triangle. Its sides are 54 feet long at ground level, tapering to 17 feet at the top. The Arch has no real structural skeleton. Its inner and outer steel skins, joined to form a composite structure, give it its strength and permanence. Curvilinear concrete staircases provide access to the Arch grounds from the riverfront at the north and south ends. The 80-acre grounds are landscaped with ponds, trees, and walkways that again reflect the gentle curve of the Arch. Similar curves are repeated in the tunnel entrances for the railroad tracks that cut through the property. To the west of the Arch is the historic Old Courthouse, whose dome lines up in an east-west axis with the Arch. Entrance ramps at the north and south bases of the Arch lead down into the visitor center and Museum of Westward Expansion, finished in 1976. Inside, a large pool is centered at the core directly below the apex of the Arch. Most of the square footage below ground is taken up by the museum. Some area is used for administrative offices and for mechanical systems.

The Gateway Arch received considerable press when it opened in its 1965 and 1968 dedication ceremonies. Particularly in the wake of Saarinen's death in 1961, this project was recognized as his first important, commissioned design. It was recognized for its modern use of new technologies and its subtle design. The American Institute of Architects awarded the building its 25 Year Award in 1990. Today the Arch is recognized as a major contribution to modernity.

General Assessment:
The Gateway Arch is an important structure of modernist American architecture. The Arch was the first major design by renowned architect Eero Saarinen. Its highly complex and subtle design, and its structural system and use of materials was progressive at the time of its construction, and remains remarkable and relevant today. The Gateway Arch is the largest monument in the United States and has become the unofficial symbol for the city of St. Louis, Missouri, where it continues to draw millions of annual visitors.
Text references:

MERKEL, Jayne, Eero Saarinen, New York; Phaidon Press; 2005; ISBN 071484277X.
HARRISON, Laura, Architecture in the Parks A National Historic Landmark Theme Study,US; Department of the Interior;1986.
National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior, Jefferson National Expansion Museum website. .

Recorder/Date: Julia Hunter Palmer / March 2008
Additional Images
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
P.O. Box 230977
New York, NY 10023
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