Museum Monday: St. Louis Gateway Arch museum

Courtesy Gateway Arch Park Foundation

July 3 is opening day for the new museum at the iconic Gateway Arch, the iconic 630-foot-tall concrete and stainless-steel structure on the St. Louis riverfront that commemorates Thomas Jefferson and the role St. Louis played in the westward expansion of the United States.

Completed in 1965, the arch began offering tram rides to a viewing platform at its top in 1967. Now $380 million of upgrades to the parkland around the country’s tallest man-made monument and to the underground museum below it are being readied for visitors.

Here’s a preview of the upgraded ground-level Gateway Arch experience that I originally prepared for CNBC.

 

The arch itself and the tram ride that brings visitors to the small observation room at the top of the arch remains unchanged, but the way visitors get to the arch and experience the Gateway Arch Park has been transformed.

“You don’t change a masterpiece,” said Eric Moraczewski, Executive Director of the Gateway Arch Park Foundation, “What we’ve done is renovate about 100 acres of park space, added 46,000 square feet of museum space, a café and raised the riverfront about 30 inches to prevent flooding and give us more useable days on the riverfront. We also built a land bridge over Interstate 44 to make the park more accessible to visitors.”

When the free museum inside the Gateway Arch reopens on July 3, visitors will see some old favorites, such as the statue of Thomas Jefferson, and many new artifacts, including a resin version of the much-loved taxidermy buffalo that park officials say was showing too much wear and tear.

The new museum has six galleries: Colonial St. Louis explores the founding of St. Louis and the indigenous and Creole culture before the Louisiana Purchase; Jefferson’s Vision documents how St. Louis shaped the west; and Manifest Destiny follows the trails, the settlers and the conflicts for those heading west. The Riverfront Era gallery shows how steamboats created an American metropolis at St. Louis and New Frontiers presents the history of railroads, industry, and the myth of the West. Finally, Building the Gateway Arch presents the history of the Eero Saarinen-designed monument itself.

The Riverfront Era gallery in the new museum at the Gateway Arch features a façade made with stones from the Old Rock House, a structure built as a warehouse in 1818 that was demolished to make may for the construction of the arch.

“The history preservation team for National Park Service kept the stones, carefully stored them and was able to reuse them. Now you walk into the museum through the stones of the Old Rock House,” said Eric Moraczewski, Executive Director of the Gateway Arch Park Foundation.

A new feature in the tram lobby will offer visitors on the ground a live webcam stream of the view from the observation space at the top of the Gateway Arch. The webcam will give those waiting for the ticketed tram ride a preview of what they’ll see and also make the view accessible to people who use wheelchairs, visitors afraid of heights and others who choose not to purchase a ticket to the top.

 

The new museum and visitor center on the renovated grounds of the Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, MO will be celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony on July 3 as part of Fair St. Louis, a July 4th celebration dubbed “America’s Biggest Birthday Party.”

All phoots courtesy Gateway Arch Park Foundation

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