One of Eero Saarinen’s most iconic designs, the Gateway Arch, was completed today, October 28, in 1965. While the arch’s sleek design is unforgettable, the story behind the towering, graceful 630-foot structure is less known.
The Gateway Arch’s design came out of an architectural competition in 1947-48 that both Eero and his father, Eliel – an already-renowned architect at the time – entered. Both father and son submitted designs to highlight the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri.
Famously, Eliel celebrated his victory when “E. Saarinen” was awarded the design. Only later did the family realize that Eero had won the competition, and that his sleek, simple arch would be the next iconic addition to the St. Louis skyline.
The arch was designed to celebrate the role St. Louis played in the westward expansion of the United States, and to remember President Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase. The massive flow of pioneers in the 1800’s – whether families in covered wagons or explorers like the famous Lewis & Clark – was channeled through St. Louis. Eero’s design was a marker for our rapid movement westward and the exploratory nature that has come to symbolize the American spirit.
Unfortunately, Eero Saarinen passed away in 1961, and never saw the arch completed. Today, you can experience Saarinen’s work from the ground, exploring the expansive park, or ride to the top, where you can view the mighty Mississippi to the East and the vast plains to the west.