No manmade monument in the United States is taller than Gateway Arch, at the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis, and big-time renovations turned the area into a national park this year.
The Arch, as tall as it is wide at 630 feet, looks the same — but much of what surrounds it has changed. The area “has become more than a piece of sculpture with incredible views,” said Tom Nagel of Gateway Arch National Park.
No longer does it seem like the iconic structure is divorced from the city or that you are crossing six lanes of traffic when walking there.
Part of the $380 million revamp included parkland development, nearly 300 feet wide, over Interstate 44.
Carefully sculpted green space extends along and near the riverfront too. Inside the 90-acre site, formerly known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, are five miles of new walking and bicycling paths.
In an enlarged, free-admission park museum are history lessons that begin with the area’s identity as a fur-trading post. Props include a stagecoach, dugout canoe and full-size facsimile of a French colonial house.
Renovations allow a more graceful link between the Arch and the park’s other historically significant structure, the Old Courthouse, where Dred Scott sued for freedom from slavery in 1847.
Now everything, except Arch tram rides, is accessible to wheelchairs.
A new, ground-level web cam shares views from the top, which on a clear day extend 30 miles.
The tram ride still takes four minutes up, three minutes down.
The Arch, made with 900 tons of stainless steel in 1965, still has 16 observation windows for up to 160 people to gawk at one time.
Arch design — simple, elegant and timeless — enlivens “an area that’s always been in flux,” Nagel said.
The Mississippi River meets the Ohio and Missouri rivers near here, making St. Louis a historically vibrant transportation and trade hub.
The city’s “Gateway to the West” reputation stands, thanks to the sturdy Arch, which is hit by hundreds of lightning bolts every year.
A 50 mph wind will move the top of the Arch only 1.5 inches, and the structure is built to withstand earthquakes.
The full Arch experience includes a tram ride, movie about Arch construction, park exploration and one-hour paddlewheel riverboat cruise for $34.
Free, 45-minute Old Courthouse tours are led by park rangers daily.
For more information, visit gatewayarch.com, nps.gov/jeff
Also in the neighborhood of the Arch:
• City Museum, a former shoe factory and warehouse, got a new life in 1997 as an ultimate recycling project and funhouse.
It is full of secret passages, tunnels, slides and places to climb inside and at the top of the 10-story building.
Look up for the rooftop Ferris wheel, teetering school bus and abandoned jet, for starters. Admission starts at $13.
For more information, visit citymuseum.org.
• Museum of the Dog. The American Kennel Club collects and displays 700-plus pieces of art — paintings to porcelain, drawings to decorative arts — devoted to man’s best friend.
Admission is $6 and, yes, you can bring your well-heeled pooch.
For more information, visit museumofthedog.org.
• National Blues Museum preserves blues music history and variety while acknowledging cultural impact.
The nonprofit enterprise is a mix of artifacts, music, art and technology.
Create your own blues tune from title to performance name and lyrics to melody.
Pros perform here too.
Admission is $15.
For more information, visit nationalbluesmuseum.org.
• Inside St. Louis Union Station, built in 1892, is a mix of nostalgic architecture and high-tech surprises.
Grand Hall light shows, synchronized to music, usually happen daily.
Look for light-fire-music shows, in 3D, outdoors at dusk.
Opening at the former train station in 2019 is the 75,000-square-foot St. Louis Aquarium.
For more information, visit stlouisunionstation.com.
For more about St. Louis, visit explorestlouis.com.
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