Saturday, September 15, 2012

St. Louis - The Arch

On a still gray, cloudy and rainy Sunday morning I left the guesthouse for my trip to the iconic landmark the St. Louis Arch, an almost mandatory visit on a trip to the city. The bus service on Sundays is somewhat sporadic so I chose my departure time carefully and got to the stop with plenty of time to spare. A misstep here could mean on hour long wait until the next bus came along.

I settled in and observed the Sunday morning goings on. An elderly couple carefully picked their way across the rain slick street heading towards the church next to the stop. Bicyclists in their skin tight lycra outfits, their aerodynamic helmets making them resemble some odd form of insect, pedaled hard in an effort to successfully navigate the hilly terrain in the area. Bells rang in the distance announcing the start of Sunday services elsewhere in the area.

After a short ride that I was beginning to become familiar with, I transferred to a train and was soon at the park surrounding the St. Louis Arch. A nationwide design competition was held in 1947 for a new National Monument. Eero Saarinen's design of the Arch was chosen and construction began in 1963. Unfortunately, Saarinen died prior to the completion of the structure in 1965. Weighing 43,000 tons, at 630 feet it is the nation's tallest National Monument. Although from photos one might assume that the base of each side of the Arch is square, they are actually trapezoids, which gives the massive structure a surprisingly graceful silhouette. Small signs lead you through the pleasant park to the underground entrance and visitor's center.

Times being what they are, and this being a National Monument, security at the entrance is tight. All bags are x rayed, jackets must be removed and all visitors must pass through a metal detector. They let you keep your shoes on! Due to the limited number of elevators and somewhat small observation area at the top of the Arch, to maintain crowd control tickets to the top are sold for a particular time. Arriving relatively early in the day the line was short and I only had to wait 20 minutes before my reservation. I browsed in the gift shop, I noticed two women in colorful African dress. One was about to take a photo of the other. I offered to photograph the two of them together as I crossed the lobby to my place in line for the elevator. These women plus the mix of languages and accents around me let me know that this monument is truly internationally known.

Prior to my visit friends asked me how the elevators worked. Did they turn sideways at the top requiring you to climb out of them like a space capsule? To a certain degree I wondered how they would work myself. In fact the elevators, 8 on each side of the Arch, are small, pod like affairs which seat 5 people each, in theory. If one member of the party is particularly large or tall this could make the space rather tight. Fortunately there were well behaved children in my orb going both up and down so the 4 minute ride was as comfortable as it could be, considering. As the pod elevators resemble eggs I began to relate to the feelings that an unhatched chicken might have. Glass doors keep at bay any claustrophobia and give a fascinating view of the inner construction of the Arch. Short steps lead you to the observation deck from the elevator area. Small windows from the observation area look out on the Mississippi river on one side and the St. Louis cityscape on the other. This vantage point provided me with a clear view of the layout of the downtown area allowing me to better plan my walk through it after I left the Arch. After peering out the windows and snapping a few photos I was done and returned to the elevator banks for the ride down.

I was to share the pod with a couple and their two young daughters, who were in town for the birthday of the girl's cousin. The wife was sweet and related her memories of visiting the Arch when she was young. The husband was silent and almost unbearably hot with his shaved head and wide receiver's physique. I had heard that the Arch was designed to withstand winds by having been built with a certain ability to sway, up to 18" if winds were to ever reach 150 mph, 2" on 20 mph winds. Although I did not perceive this movement in the observation area, I did waiting for the elevator. The sway that day was not enough to be nausea inducing, just ever so slightly disconcerting. Once back outside I lingered for a few moments in the park admiring the simple beauty of the monument. I marveled at the technical skill involved in it's construction, particularly in a era prior to computerized measurements and construction techniques. Standing on the banks of the legendary Mississippi it elegantly symbolizes the "Gateway to the West".

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea the process was so long; between the design competition and construction. Interesting