And now, the arch just became more accessible than ever — in a variety of ways.
In addition to making the arch and its park easier to access by foot or bike instead of by car, the Gateway Arch Museum has been completely rethought to address a new generation of citizens.
It will open to the public on July 3, 2018, just ahead of St. Louis’ annual Independence Day festivities.
When Moraczewski started his job, he immediately knew the museum was due for a makeover. Many of the exhibits were old and out of date, with animatronic versions of explorers Lewis and Clark and taxidermied buffaloes that had damaged by years of grabby tourist hands.
There also wasn’t much information about the arch itself or how it was built, which was the number one thing many visitors had questions about.
Reimagining an icon
The Gateway Arch is 630 feet (192 meters) tall.
Now, the sleeker, streamlined museum tells a more complete story of American history from a broader range of perspectives, with exhibits timelines going through 1965, when the arch was built, rather than simply talking about the 1800s.
“This museum now tells the story St. Louis played in the westward expansion of this country,” Moraczewski explains.
The rethought museum no longer includes multiple points of view. For example, one exhibit about the concept of manifest destiny has three potential avenues — one labeled “the west was won,” one “the west was stolen,” and the third “the north was stolen.”
From there, visitors can learn not just about Native American communities but about the Mexican-American War, which took place between 1846 to 1848 and is often studied much less in American public schools than the U.S. Civil War two decades later.
“Early on, [a member of] one of the local tribes here said, ‘tell history, do not glorify history,’ and that has been one of our mottos,” Moraczewski says. “Just because you read something in a history book does not mean that’s how everybody felt about it. We can learn a lesson today about what happened in the past.”
And context for the arch is key — visitors can now learn about the other four projects that were proposed for the area and decide for themselves which one they would have chosen.
The project was Saarinen’s first major solo success and helped make him into a star.
Walking into the future
The park’s new walkway is an attraction in its own right.
Beyond upgrading the museum, there were several other modernization efforts that Moraczewski and his team worked on.
Gateway Arch Park, which is part of the U.S. national parks system, averages 2.6 million visitors per year. However, that number had tapered off over the last few years, leading the park’s staff to look into things that were keeping people from visiting.
Number one: the park was only accessible by car or by a bridge over a major highway, which some travelers saw as a deterrent and also led to a less friendly experience.
The park foundation decided to construct a safe, easy walkway that would not just physically be safer to access but would help get visitors in the mindset to experience the park — not just the arch.
Also, the existing park below the arch has been upgraded to make it easier to host festivals, events, concerts and the like.
Altogether, the changes to the park and museum cost $380 million and took five years to complete.