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The Gateway Arch: A Biography

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The surprising history of the spectacular Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the competing agendas of its supporters, and the mixed results of their ambitious plan Rising to a triumphant height of 630 feet, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a revered monument to America’s western expansion. Envisioned in 1947 but not completed until the mid-1960s, the arch today attracts millions of The surprising history of the spectacular Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the competing agendas of its supporters, and the mixed results of their ambitious plan Rising to a triumphant height of 630 feet, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a revered monument to America’s western expansion. Envisioned in 1947 but not completed until the mid-1960s, the arch today attracts millions of tourists annually and is one of the world’s most widely recognized structures. By weaving together social, political, and cultural history, historian Tracy Campbell uncovers the complicated and troubling history of the beloved structure. This compelling book explores how a medley of players with widely divergent motivations (civic pride, ambition, greed, among others) brought the Gateway Arch to fruition, but at a price the city continues to pay. Campbell dispels long-held myths and casts a provocative new light on the true origins and meaning of the Gateway Arch. He shows that the monument was the scheme of shrewd city leaders who sought to renew downtown St. Louis and were willing to steal an election, destroy historic buildings, and drive out local people and businesses to achieve their goal. Campbell also tells the human story of the architect Eero Saarinen, whose prize-winning design brought him acclaim but also charges of plagiarism, and who never lived to see the completion of his vision. As a national symbol, the Gateway Arch has a singular place in American culture, Campbell concludes, yet it also stands as an instructive example of failed urban planning.


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The surprising history of the spectacular Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the competing agendas of its supporters, and the mixed results of their ambitious plan Rising to a triumphant height of 630 feet, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a revered monument to America’s western expansion. Envisioned in 1947 but not completed until the mid-1960s, the arch today attracts millions of The surprising history of the spectacular Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the competing agendas of its supporters, and the mixed results of their ambitious plan Rising to a triumphant height of 630 feet, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a revered monument to America’s western expansion. Envisioned in 1947 but not completed until the mid-1960s, the arch today attracts millions of tourists annually and is one of the world’s most widely recognized structures. By weaving together social, political, and cultural history, historian Tracy Campbell uncovers the complicated and troubling history of the beloved structure. This compelling book explores how a medley of players with widely divergent motivations (civic pride, ambition, greed, among others) brought the Gateway Arch to fruition, but at a price the city continues to pay. Campbell dispels long-held myths and casts a provocative new light on the true origins and meaning of the Gateway Arch. He shows that the monument was the scheme of shrewd city leaders who sought to renew downtown St. Louis and were willing to steal an election, destroy historic buildings, and drive out local people and businesses to achieve their goal. Campbell also tells the human story of the architect Eero Saarinen, whose prize-winning design brought him acclaim but also charges of plagiarism, and who never lived to see the completion of his vision. As a national symbol, the Gateway Arch has a singular place in American culture, Campbell concludes, yet it also stands as an instructive example of failed urban planning.

30 review for The Gateway Arch: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ren

    "We should not assume the permanency of either governments or buildings." This was kind of weird and dull at points. The parts about the architect's life were interesting because the author talked about all his psychological problems (made especially interesting in the context of the 1930's-1950's). However, a lot of details were dull and obscure and I'm not really sure what the thesis of the whole book was. For some reason, the end made me strangely emotional, especially this, "[Our ancestors] m "We should not assume the permanency of either governments or buildings." This was kind of weird and dull at points. The parts about the architect's life were interesting because the author talked about all his psychological problems (made especially interesting in the context of the 1930's-1950's). However, a lot of details were dull and obscure and I'm not really sure what the thesis of the whole book was. For some reason, the end made me strangely emotional, especially this, "[Our ancestors] may discover that the actual origins and legacies of great structures are often less beautiful than the structures themselves." Maybe I was just relieved to have finished this, but something about that last chapter got to me.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bob Mustin

    Having a structural engineering background, I understand – as the title of this book implies – the urge to think of mega structures as more than imposing artifices. Yes, we often see them as living, breathing entities. After all, they're as susceptible to wind as are trees. They, like most any plant or animal, are prone to disease. And they invariably grow old and go away. This Gateway Arch had a difficult birth, and that birth was accompanied with both great pride and massive responsibilities. T Having a structural engineering background, I understand – as the title of this book implies – the urge to think of mega structures as more than imposing artifices. Yes, we often see them as living, breathing entities. After all, they're as susceptible to wind as are trees. They, like most any plant or animal, are prone to disease. And they invariably grow old and go away. This Gateway Arch had a difficult birth, and that birth was accompanied with both great pride and massive responsibilities. Tracy Campbell has done a great service to the Arch, as well as to its brother and sister structures of this magnitude. His research clearly shows in the book's compelling tale of the structure's conception, birth, and eventual recognition as a symbol of our human urge to conquer challenges. And so, rather than critique Campbell's excellent prose and insights into the Arch's raison d'être, I thought I'd give you a few jaw-dropping facts about its coming into being. The Arch is built near one edge of an ancient Native American settlement called Cahokia, a settlement believed to have been home to some 20,000 persons in its heyday. The first urge to build the arch occurred in the early 1900s, when engineering expertise and a revolution in building materials made possible the Eiffel Tower, dirigibles,  and the famous Eads Bridge that carried railroad trains and roadway vehicles over the Mississippi River at St. Louis. However, it didn't come to being until 1965. Concept competitions were held several times, and the most attractive one was invariably some form of arch. The Arch's shape is that of a parabola, one of the simplest geometric forms. The shape was inspired by the similar shape of dirigible hangars at Orly Field near Paris, France. It's covered with stainless steel; the original order  was for nearly nine hundred million tons of polished stainless steel, the largest order ever for this type of steel. The Arch's winning construction bid was $12,139,918 (in 1960s dollars–almost 97 million dollars today) and was some $8 million over the engineer's estimate. Later costs increased by some $600,000. To carry tourists up in the arch, a special elevator had to be designed that has never been used before or since. A "normal" elevator would have delivered passengers horizontally. The arch stands 630 feet high and is an equal 630 feet wide at its base. The architect: Eero Saarinen. The structural engineer: Hannskarl Bandel. My rating: 16 of 20 stars

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael Lewyn

    The most interesting part of this book is the first third or so, which discusses what was on the St. Louis riverfront before the Arch, and why it was destroyed. In 1935, the riverfront was a industrial working-class neighborhood with thousands of jobs, full of cast-iron buildings that would be considered historical landmarks today. During the Great Depression, the real estate industry and the mayor wanted to level the neighborhood and build some sort of public memorial in its place. Why? Because The most interesting part of this book is the first third or so, which discusses what was on the St. Louis riverfront before the Arch, and why it was destroyed. In 1935, the riverfront was a industrial working-class neighborhood with thousands of jobs, full of cast-iron buildings that would be considered historical landmarks today. During the Great Depression, the real estate industry and the mayor wanted to level the neighborhood and build some sort of public memorial in its place. Why? Because the city was suffering from plunging real estate prices and high vacancy rates, and Big Real Estate thought that wiping out one of the city's weaker neighborhoods would make the rest of the city more viable. The city passed a bond issue to do exactly that, in an election marked by considerable fraud. For a dozen or so years, the land stayed vacant, as St. Louisians argued what to do with the land. In 1947, the city began a design competition to decide what sort of monument to build on the land, and ultimately approved the arch design that was ultimately build. However, the Gateway Arch was not completed until 1965, after which St. Louis continued to decline. The second two-thirds of the book discusses this process in very technical detail; I personally found it slower going than the rest of the book. The Arch has no doubt added some tourism; however, the area around the Arch is otherwise uninteresting and is cut off from the rest of the city by highways. St. Louis as a whole lost over 2/3 of its population since 1950. So it is not clear whether the Arch did the city any good in the long run.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David Shelton

    This was a well-written book and surprisingly fast paced and interesting for a history book. The author explains the political climate that led to the building of the arch, with just the right amount of detail to keep the pace moving. He also includes a couple of chapters on the personal life of Eero Saarinen, the architect who designed the gateway arch. My only complaint is that the book gives a fairly negative view of the arch. Growing up in St. Louis, I always had a deep connection and sense This was a well-written book and surprisingly fast paced and interesting for a history book. The author explains the political climate that led to the building of the arch, with just the right amount of detail to keep the pace moving. He also includes a couple of chapters on the personal life of Eero Saarinen, the architect who designed the gateway arch. My only complaint is that the book gives a fairly negative view of the arch. Growing up in St. Louis, I always had a deep connection and sense of civic pride when I saw the arch. It is one of the great structures of the 20th century and unique in many facets in the history of the world. I understand some of the bad civic decisions that went into leveling the riverfront and that believing it would lead to the regeneration of downtown was foolish. Learning more about this history was fascinating and helpful, yet I think the author could have given a better balance to the meaning and value that the arch gives to the city for citizens like me.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    This book supposedly shows why the St Louis Arch was a bad idea. While it does eventually get around to that, it's super meandering and boring due to unnecessary and uninteresting details. No, I didn't want a full chapter on the architect's childhood. I have no idea what that had to do with the urban planning failure of the Arch. This book supposedly shows why the St Louis Arch was a bad idea. While it does eventually get around to that, it's super meandering and boring due to unnecessary and uninteresting details. No, I didn't want a full chapter on the architect's childhood. I have no idea what that had to do with the urban planning failure of the Arch.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Stephani Hannahs

    Informative, leaving nothing out, the most interesting part of the book for me was the chapter on the architect.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    Good history not just of the building of the Arch, but everything uip to it, behind it, and associated with it. The land for the eventual Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was cleared in the name of "urban blight" back in the 1930s. With a commercial real estate broker as mayor of St. Louis, this means trying to artificially drive up riverfront land values, finding a reason to do so, then letting the ends justify the means. St. Louis bigwigs wanted federal money from the PWA to do something wi Good history not just of the building of the Arch, but everything uip to it, behind it, and associated with it. The land for the eventual Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was cleared in the name of "urban blight" back in the 1930s. With a commercial real estate broker as mayor of St. Louis, this means trying to artificially drive up riverfront land values, finding a reason to do so, then letting the ends justify the means. St. Louis bigwigs wanted federal money from the PWA to do something with the land after they cleared it. After much wangling, they got agreement to a 75 percent match. Well, the bond issue for the city's 25 percent seems to have passed under fraudulent voting. From there, it gets more fun. Until after WWII, the cleared land simply sat vacant, being used as a parking lot and other things. Finally, a design contest was held in the late 1940s, won by Eero Saarinen. Arch construction, awaiting more federal money, National Park Service hoops and local bond money, didn't start for another decade-plus.Saarinen died about the time the footings for the two ends were laid. And, this was in the middle of a St. Louis that was still a very Southern city, with segregated schools and almost no blacks in building trades unions. Indeed, the Arch made history -- it was the direct stimulus for federal legislation requiring affirmative action on building projects funded with federal dollars. The urban revitalization of the Arch grounds area fell far short of hopes. I-70, turning from E-W to N-S to cross the Mississippi, cuts off that area from the Old Courthouse and other parts of downtown. Besides, with the city of St. Louis separated from St. Louis County (for you folks wondering why it's not the county seat), urban revitalization by this point was dicey anyway. In 2011, a new design contest approved plans to canopy I-70 (like a giant wildlife crossing, or like recent work on the Woodall Rogers Freeway in Dallas), but where money will come from for this is anybody's guess, with GOP budget axing and St. Louis now becoming Detroit on the Mississippi. Read about construction details and more, as well as snippets of Saarinen's life.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Pam Fullem

    I came across this book at my local library. Since my oldest child did grad school at Wash U. I have had the occasion to visit St. Louis many times. I have been up to the top twice. I enjoyed the Jefferson Expansion Museum, located underground, under the arch. but the museum really does not tell the story of how the arch came to be, or tell us much about the architect who designed it. After reading this book there are several things I understand more clearly. The whole intent of the structure an I came across this book at my local library. Since my oldest child did grad school at Wash U. I have had the occasion to visit St. Louis many times. I have been up to the top twice. I enjoyed the Jefferson Expansion Museum, located underground, under the arch. but the museum really does not tell the story of how the arch came to be, or tell us much about the architect who designed it. After reading this book there are several things I understand more clearly. The whole intent of the structure and the contest to select this design, was to honor Jefferson and the whole Louisiana Purchase and the westward expansion and development of the West. Now the museum makes sense to me. This book covers all the struggles in getting it built, gives a good picture of the architect, Eero Saarinen. The book covers the history of the river front where the arch now stands. The author seemed upset and disappointed about the destruction of some historic buildings the minute this project was approved. I also now understand how the true city limits of St. Louis are so finite, and so many attached communities developed. A lot had to do with white flight as the author explains it. He describes how a series of poor development decisions by the city for this area still leaves a lot of the area not developed in a way that draws and keeps community and tourists in the area. 2015 will be the 50th anniversary of the completion. A completion that took more than 20 years from design approval to the capping off-placing the keystone (cap). Hopefully the city of St. Louis will find a fitting and appropriate way to make the occasion special and to honor the accomplishment. I recommend this book for those who are curious about how this monument came to be, and the people key in having it come about. I rated it as I did because it is a very specialized group that would have interest in this topic. It was well researched.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David Allen

    Deeply researched but very readable exploration of one of America's most instantly recognizable monuments, which also happens to be a piece of modernist sculpture. Campbell's book explores the three-decade effort to remake the St. Louis riverfront (40 square blocks were leveled), the wrongheaded thinking that separated a tourist attraction from downtown, why once-great St. Louis has faltered -- and yet why the Arch is still astonishing. Deeply researched but very readable exploration of one of America's most instantly recognizable monuments, which also happens to be a piece of modernist sculpture. Campbell's book explores the three-decade effort to remake the St. Louis riverfront (40 square blocks were leveled), the wrongheaded thinking that separated a tourist attraction from downtown, why once-great St. Louis has faltered -- and yet why the Arch is still astonishing.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    Quite enjoyable and informative for anyone who has ridden the tiny "pods" up to to the top of the arch. There is a lot of hidden history behind the building of the arch, and Campbell does a great job pulling the story together in this compact volume. I learned a lot about not only the arch, but the history of St. Louis and the challenges of urban planning during the mid-20th century. This is a quick read and hits a sweet spot with just the right amount of detail for the subject matter. Quite enjoyable and informative for anyone who has ridden the tiny "pods" up to to the top of the arch. There is a lot of hidden history behind the building of the arch, and Campbell does a great job pulling the story together in this compact volume. I learned a lot about not only the arch, but the history of St. Louis and the challenges of urban planning during the mid-20th century. This is a quick read and hits a sweet spot with just the right amount of detail for the subject matter.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Arindam Kar

    An quick read for anyone interested in the long messy history to the building of the Arch and the surrounding park. The struggle to build civic, political and financial support, along with the race relation issues surrounding this project, are all very interesting although not surprising. That all being said, it is an architectural wonder that, with the CityArch2015 Project that is underway, ought to be the type of urban renewal project that many had originally hoped for such a grand endeavor.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rich

    I liked a lot of things about this book. It feels well researched, and it sheds a lot of light on the inner workings of the city of St. Louis at the early and middle parts of the 20th century, as well as the failures of the urban renewal movement. I wonder, however, if I would have understood it quite as well if I had not been born and raised in St. Louis, with some understanding of the city's layout and cultural past. I liked a lot of things about this book. It feels well researched, and it sheds a lot of light on the inner workings of the city of St. Louis at the early and middle parts of the 20th century, as well as the failures of the urban renewal movement. I wonder, however, if I would have understood it quite as well if I had not been born and raised in St. Louis, with some understanding of the city's layout and cultural past.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    I've visited the Arch a few times, been up in it twice, I think. I was very interested in Lewis & Clark and the western expansion in grade school so I enjoyed visiting the Arch and museum. I never knew there was so much drama behind the building of it. It was an interesting, if at times slightly boring, read. But pretty quick. If you are interested in architecture or have visited it you might find it interesting. I've visited the Arch a few times, been up in it twice, I think. I was very interested in Lewis & Clark and the western expansion in grade school so I enjoyed visiting the Arch and museum. I never knew there was so much drama behind the building of it. It was an interesting, if at times slightly boring, read. But pretty quick. If you are interested in architecture or have visited it you might find it interesting.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Gustav Von

    Honest analysis of the history of the building of a monument. Per usual, there were heroes and scaliwags. Victims of capitalist greed and pure racism. The resultant edifice still has its' problems and the site the arch resides in continues to defy integration into the life of the city. But we still love it. Honest analysis of the history of the building of a monument. Per usual, there were heroes and scaliwags. Victims of capitalist greed and pure racism. The resultant edifice still has its' problems and the site the arch resides in continues to defy integration into the life of the city. But we still love it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    David Linzee

    A jaundiced view of the shining monument, from conception to design through construction. It's hard to argue with the author's conclusion, that the Arch achieved one of its aims (It's famous around the world and is a much-visited tourist attraction) but not the other (it didn't revitalize downtown St. Louis). A jaundiced view of the shining monument, from conception to design through construction. It's hard to argue with the author's conclusion, that the Arch achieved one of its aims (It's famous around the world and is a much-visited tourist attraction) but not the other (it didn't revitalize downtown St. Louis).

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rae

    MUST READ for all St Louisans. This book explains a lot about the mess we are in, and shows that history does truly repeat itself (NFL stadium, ahem). Extremely well written and well researched.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    3.75 stars. Succint, but readable and informative.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    An interesting and informative social, political and design history of one of St. Louis' enduring symbols, the Gateway Arch. An interesting and informative social, political and design history of one of St. Louis' enduring symbols, the Gateway Arch.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Feeney

    Good book. Interesting and quick....always a good combo for a history book. Got a little repetitive in the middle but still good.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Schafer

  22. 4 out of 5

    Robert Smith

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark

  24. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

  25. 4 out of 5

    Susan

  26. 5 out of 5

    Theron Gamble

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cara

  28. 4 out of 5

    Catapult Okpahrah

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tolen Oliver

  30. 4 out of 5

    scott tiek

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