In the case of the 630-foot-tall stainless-steel catenary sculpture itself, “old” is good; the adjective carries the patina of a classic work of art. But the rest of the 90-acre Gateway Arch National Park, which includes a park along the Mississippi River and a subterranean museum beneath the Arch, had become outdated and stale over the course of 140 million visitors. A five-year, $380 million facelift to revitalize the grounds culminates this month.
The most noticeable improvement is better access. For decades, Interstate 70 (now I-44) separated the park from downtown. Visitors no longer have to play Frogger—a new landscaped pedestrian plaza, Park Over the Highway, now connects the arch to the Old Courthouse, site of the historic Dred Scott runaway-slave trial, and North Gateway, featuring a new natural amphitheater and revamped Kiener Plaza with playgrounds, fountains, and gardens. Even more has changed below ground, with the Museum at the Gateway Arch taking the place of the Museum of Western Expansion. Gone are the dusty and staid cowboy and Indian mannequins, replaced by an immersive multimedia tour of the West, starting with the art and artifacts of its Native American population and the early French and Spanish colonists through to the Lewis and Clark Expedition that launched from this spot and the steamboat era, which made St. Louis a world-class economic engine. For each stop, there are tactile exhibits for the vision-impaired.
Then there is the centerpiece: the Arch itself. Visitors can still buy a $13 ticket to ride the tram all the way to the top of the Eero Saarinen–designed landmark, where they can take in the view of the mighty Mississippi to the east and the seemingly endless expanse westward.