Saturday, November 05, 2005

40 Years--The Arch and the Stadium

41 years ago, one of the most recognizable monuments in the US, the Saint Louis Arch (pictured at left, with Busch Stadium at far left, the Old Courthouse at bottom left, from Tzongming), also known by its official name, the Jefferson National Expansion Monument and Museum, was still two triangular pillars rising into the air. Although St. Louis businessman Luther Ely Smith had convinced Mayor Bernard Dickmann to set aside land on the city's waterfront back in 1933 and President Franklin Roosevelt created a 15-member commission to explore a US Territorial Expansion Museum a year later, it took until 1946 for a St. Louis committee to launch a design commission, two more years to select the winning architect, Eero Saarinen (who designed furniture and the Eames House with Charles Eames, and also designed the TWA terminal at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, the splendid Kresge Auditorium at MIT, and Dulles Airport outside Washington), and 14 more years before the workers poured the first concrete foundations. In 1963, the stainless steel triangle forming the base of the south leg began to pierce the air, and two years later, in October 1965, using special "creeper cranes," the construction team set the final, 142nd section at the very top of the arch. It would take several more years before the Arch was completely ready and visitors could ride the elevator cars to the top, which I remember doing many times as a kid; through the western windows you could see the city distantly below, its buildings and cars and residents shrunken as if through a microscope, while through the eastern ones the Mississippi River unfurled like an endless brown ribbon.

Saint Louis ArchThe Arch (at right, photo from Microservios) is St. Louis's emblem (as much as the French fleur-de-lys or the Native American mounds that give it its nickname), the visual signature of its skyline, one of America's architectural treasures, and one of the man-made wonders of the 20th century. It's 630 feet tall and 630 feet wide at its base, and from its summit you can see 30 miles in either direction, perhaps even a litle farther on a clear summer day. Its internal cars take 4 minutes to reach the the top and it has 1076 emergency stairs. It's the tallest monument in the United States, though several commercial buildings (including Chicago's Sears Tower) rise even higher. Many millions of St. Louisans and tourists have visited over the years, and it also has periodically been the target of aerial daredevils flying through its open legs, even though the FAA banned this even before it was finished. (I imagine that since 9/11 not only the FAA but the FBI are keeping a close watch on planes getting too close to it.) Approaching the city from Illinois's gentle hills presents the Arch with considerable drama, but it's also striking from up close, at its base. The Saint Louis Arch officially turned 40 last month; according to its original builders, MacDonald Construction, Inc., it is projected to stand for a millennium, and I hope it will.

The same year the Arch received its closing steel section, Busch Stadium, the new home of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, also was finished, and the Cardinals prepared to move from their residence of 46 years, Sportsman's Park, where some of their brightest lights, including Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean, Franky Frisch, Paul Medwick, Johnny Mize, and Stan "The Man" Musial, had starred. In 1964, the Cardinals won their first World Series since 1946 by defeating the New York Yankees, and their new team, now owned by the beer baron August Anheuser Busch Jr., who was as famous for his Clydesdale horses and multiple marriages as his unerring business sense, included their first group of Black superstars, pitcher Bob Gibson (below right) and outfielders Lou Brock and Curt Flood. Like the team, the city was in transition: official, legal racial segregation in public facilities, as well as at many private establishments, was declining or gone altogether (though de facto segregation still exists), and St. Lois was rapidly losing population to the suburbs of the surrounding county and entering a long period of economic and social decay. Yet Busch Stadium, hailed as one of the new, model stadiums in 1965 and 1966, remained a positive civic centerpiece for the entire span of its existence. Two years after moving to Busch, the Cardinals would win their second World Series in three years, defeating the Boston Red Sox in 7 games behind Gibson's almost unbelievable pitching performance, and a year later, in the tragedy-drenched year of 1968, the Cardinals would return to the Series and lose to the Detroit Tigers, despite Gibson's and Brock's season-long and post-season heroics.

I went to Busch Stadium a number of times as a child and teenager, and was there the year they finally returned to the World Series, after a long drought, in 1982. Under their charismatic and puckish manager Whitey Herzog, and with a lineup that featured for the first time future Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, they defeated the Milwaukee Brewers, who were then in the American League. The Cardinals went on to play in two more World Series under Whitey and with Ozzie, in 1985 and 1987, losing respectively to the Minnesota Twins and the Kansas City Royals, but those were exciting years at the ballpark. With Tony LaRussa at the helm since the mid-1990s, the Cardinals have been perennial contenders but also-rans. Their 2004 World Series visit turned out to be a nightmare, and this year, as Busch was set to crumble, the Cardinals' newest stars, first baseman Albert Pujols and pitcher Chris Carpenter, couldn't send the ballpark out on a winning note. It is set to be demolished very soon, with a new, larger stadium rising right beside it. Nevertheless, millions of fans' memories of Busch Stadium, like mine, won't dim, and perhaps some of its luster and winning magic will transfer to the new stadium, and maybe even to LaRussa's final years as a manager. One can only hope. Goodbye, Busch Stadium!

Oh, and 40 years ago, yours truly was born....


  1. What was on the site before the arch was built? I heard a neighborhood was displaced. Any truth to that?

  2. Bernie, the land the Arch stands on included industrial buildings, railroads, and a neighborhood. It really wasn't until the late 1970s that the city actually rebuilt and restored the levee area and the riverfront, which are both now tourist and entertainment hubs.

  3. Having just had a layover in the StL, I can tell you the Arch is very impressive from the air as well. The light glinting off it...beautiful.

    And Mr John K is rather impressive from every angle!

  4. Hey Treasure! Reggie, it is really beautiful from the air. I liked Busch Stadium at night. I wonder what the new field will be called. The owners are named DeWitt, Hanser and something else, none of which sounds all that mellifluous or memorable. I'm not even sure what company they own. And will they still serve Busch beer?u

  5. any chance you can:
    1. not steal the use of my photograph of the st. louis arch
    2. at least give me a credit as the creator and owner of this image that you have stolen
    3.I earn my living as a photographer, my clients pay me to use the images I create. You may not like copyright laws but this image is mine and I have the right to say who gets to use it etc.

  6. Dear James Visser, why approach me in such a nasty way? You don't know me, so why impute something to me like I "may not like copyright laws" or claim that I stole it? I usually try to credit non-AP or AFP photos, but sometimes I don't. I wasn't trying to "steal" anything. I'm sorry I linked to your photo, but I've taken it down. Is that okay? No more James Visser photos of the Arch on this site. Good luck with your artwork and your business.