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The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is located in St. Louis, Missourimarker, near the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It was designated as a National Memorial by Executive Order 7523, on December 21, 1935, and is maintained by the National Park Service (NPS).

The park was established to commemorate several historical events:

The memorial site consists of a park along the Mississippi River on the site of the original city of St. Louis; the Old Courthouse, a former state and federal courthouse which saw the origins of the Dred Scott case; the Museum of Westward Expansionmarker; and most notably, the Gateway Archmarker, an inverted steel catenary arch that has become the definitive icon of the city.

Today, the park is host to four million visitors each year, three quarters of whom enter the Arch or the Old Courthouse.


The Gateway Arch

The Gateway Arch is known as the "Gateway to the West". It was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel in 1947 and built between 1963 and 1968. It is the only building in the world based on the catenary arch, making it the iconic image of the city. It stands tall and wide at its base. The legs are wide at the base, narrowing to at the arch. There is a unique tram system to carry passengers to the observation room at the top of the arch.

Old Courthouse

The Old Courthouse is built on land originally deeded by St. Louis founder Auguste Chouteau. It marks the location over which the arch reaches. Its dome was built during the American Civil War and is similar to the dome on the United States Capitolmarker which was also built during the Civil War. It was the site of the local trials in the Dred Scott case.

The courthouse is the only portion of the memorial west of I-70. To the west of the Courthouse is a Greenway between Market and Chestnut Streets which is only interrupted by the Civil Courts Buildingmarker which features a pyramid model of the Mausoleum of Mausolusmarker (which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) on its roof. When Civil Courts building was built in the 1920s the Chouteau family sued to regain the property belonging the Old Courthouse because it had been deeded in perpetuity to be a courthouse.

Museum of Westward Expansion

Underneath the Arch is a visitor center, entered from a descending outdoor ramp starting at either base. Within the center is the Museum of Westward Expansion, exhibits on the history of the St. Louis riverfront, and tram loading and unloading areas. Tucker Theater, finished in 1968 and renovated 30 years later, has about 285 seats and shows a documentary (Monument to the Dream) on the Arch's construction. Odyssey Theater, designed by Cox/Croslin Architects, Robert Cox, AIA and Charles Croslin, AIA, was completed in 1993 and has 255 seats. It was the first 70 mm film theater to be located on National Park Service grounds and operated by the NPS. The theater runs films from a rotating play list. Also located in the visitor center are retail operations run by the Jefferson National Parks Association, a not-for-profit partner.



The memorial was developed largely through the efforts of St. Louis civic booster Luther Ely Smith who first pitched the idea in 1933, was the long-term chairman of the committee that selected the area and persuaded Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 to make it a national park after St. Louis passed a bond issue to begin building it, and who partially financed the 1947 architectural contest that selected the Arch.

In the early 1930s the United States began looking for a suitable memorial for Thomas Jefferson (the Washington Monument and the newly built Lincoln Memorialmarker were the only large Presidential memorials at the time).

Shortly after Thanksgiving in 1933 Smith who had been on the commission to build the George Rogers Clark National Historical Parkmarker in Indiana, was returning via train when he noticed the poor condition or the original platted location of St. Louis along the Mississippi. He thought that the memorial to Jefferson should be on the actual location that was symbolic of one of Jefferson's greatest triumphs—the Louisiana Purchase.

The originally platted area of St. Louis included:
  • Site of the Spanish capital of Louisiana (basically the entire Louisiana Purchase area north of Louisianamarker from the city's founding in 1764 until it was turned .
  • Site of the Battle of Saint Louis, the only battle west of the Mississippi River in the American Revolutionary War
  • Site of the Three Flags Day ceremony in 1804 in which Spain turned over Louisiana to France for less than 24 hour before it was turned over to the United States clearing the way for Lewis and Clark to legally begin their exploration (which Spain had specifically prohibited)
  • Site of the first capital of Upper Louisiana for the United States

Almost all of the historic buildings associated with this period had been replaced by newer buildings. His idea was to raze all of the buildings in the original St. Louis platted area and replace it with a park with "a central feature, a shaft, a building, an arch, or something which would symbolize American culture and civilization."

Smith pitched the idea to Bernard Dickmann who quickly assembled a meeting of St. Louis civic leaders on December 15, 1933 at the Jefferson Hotel and they endorsed the plan and Smith became chairman of what would become the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association (a position he would hold until 1949 with a one-year exception).

The Commission then defined the area, got cost estimates of $30 million to buy the land, clear the buildings and erect a park and monument. With promises from the federal government (via the United States Territorial Expansion Memorial Commission) to join if the City of St. Louis could raise money.

The area to be included in the park was the Eads Bridgemarker/Washington Avenue on the north and Poplar Street on the south, the Mississippi River on the east Third Street (now I-70) on the west plus the Old Courthouse just west of Third Street (the Courthouse was actually added in 1940).

The only building in this area not included was the Old Cathedralmarker, which is on the site of St. Louis first church and was opposite the home of St. Louis founder Auguste Chouteau. The founders of the city were buried in its graveyard (but were moved in 1849 to Bellefontaine Cemeterymarker during a cholera outbreak).

Taking away 40 blocks in the center of St. Louis was bitterly fought by some sources—particularly the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

On September 10, 1935, the voters of St. Louis approved a $7.5 million bond issue to buy the property.

The buildings were bought for $7 million by the federal government via Eminent domain and was subject to considerable litigation but were ultimately bought at 131.99 percent of assessed valuation.

Roosevelt inspected the memorial area on October 14, 1936 during the dedication of the St. Louis Soldiers Memorial . Included in the party was then Senator Harry S. Truman.


The land was to be cleared by 1942. Among the buildings razed was the "Old Rock House" 1818 home of fur trader Manuel Lisa (now occupied by the stairs on the north side of the Arch) and the 1819 home of original St. Louis pioneer Jean Pierre Chouteau at First and Washington.

The architectural competition for a monument was delayed by World War II. Interest in the monument was fed after the war as it was to be the first big monument in the post-World War II era.

The estimated cost of the competition was $225,000 and Smith personally donated $40,000. Civic leaders held the nation-wide competition in 1947 to select a design for the main portion of the Memorial space.

Architect Eero Saarinen won this competition with plans for a catenary arch to be placed on the banks of the Mississippi River. However, these plans were modified over the next 15 years, placing the arch on higher ground and adding in height and width.

The central architectural feature at the base of the arch is the Old Courthouse, which was once the tallest building in Missouri and has a dome similar to the United States Capitolmarker and was placed on the building during the American Civil War at the same time as that on the U.S. Capitol.

Saarinen developed the shape with the help of architectural engineer Hannskarl Bandel. It is not a pure inverted catenary. Saarinen preferred a shape that was slightly elongated and thinner towards the top, a shape that produces a subtle soaring effect, and transfers more of the structure's weight downward rather than outward at the base.

When Saarinen won the competition, the official notification was sent to "E. Saarinen", thinking it to be the architect's father Eliel Saarinen, who had also submitted an entry. The family celebrated with a bottle of champagne, and two hours later an embarrassed official called to say the winner was, in fact, the younger Saarinen. The elder Saarinen then broke out a second bottle of champagne to celebrate his son's success.

Among the five finalists was local St. Louis architect Harris Armstrong.


Land for the memorial was formally dedicated on June 10, 1950 by Harry S Truman. However the Korean War began and the project was put on hold.

On June 23, 1959, work begins on covering railroad tracks that cut across the memorial grounds.


On February 11, 1961 excavation began.

On September 1, 1961 Saarinen died.

On February 12, 1963 the first stainless steel triangle that forms the first section of the arch was set in place on the south leg.

On October 28, 1965 it was completed, costing approximately US$15 million to build. Along with all other historical areas of the National Park Service, the memorial was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall dedicated the Arch on May 25, 1968.


In 1984, Congress authorized the enlargement of the Memorial to include up to on the east bank of the Mississippi River in East St. Louis, Illinoismarker. Funds were authorized to begin land acquisition, but Congress placed a moratorium upon NPS land acquisitions in fiscal year 1998. The moratorium continued into the 21st century, with expansion becoming less likely because of the construction of a riverboat gambling facility and related amenities.


During the Great Flood of 1993, Mississippi flood waters reached half way up the Grand Staircase on the east.

In 1999, the Arch tram queue areas were completely renovated at a cost of approximately $2.2 million.

In 1999 the Ulysses S.marker Grant National Historic Sitemarker in St. Louis County, Missourimarker was brought under the Superintendent of the Memorial jurisdiction.


The arch was featured on the Missouri state quarter in 2003.

In 2007 St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and former Missouri Senator John Danforth asked the National Park Service to create a more "active" use of the grounds of the memorial and model it on Millennium Parkmarker in Chicagomarker including the possibility of an amphitheater, cafes and restaurants, fountains, bicycle rentals, sculptures and an aquarium. The National Park Service is currently cool to the plan noting that the only other overt development pressure on National Park property has been at the Jackson Hole Airportmarker in Grand Teton National Parkmarker

The Memorial is separated from the rest of Downtown St. Louis by a sunken section of I-70. The city is considering a $90 million proposal to cover the interstate. The NPS, as part of their Centennial Initiative celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016, is considering a plan to complete Saarinen's original master plan. The intention is to build the Gateway Arch Connector to link the Old Courthouse with the grounds of the Arch.

On June 28, 2008, a National Park Service law enforcement ranger on duty at the Memorial was attacked by a group of men who he caught in the act of throwing traffic barricades into the Mississippi river from the Memorial. During the confrontation the ranger was run over by a vehicle driven by one of the suspects and seriously injured. To prevent his own death, the ranger subsequently fired his service weapon at the suspect, killing him. The remaining suspects were arrested by members of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

The ranger eventually recovered from his injuries and the shooting was determined to have been a justifiable homicide. A similar officer-involved shooting event occurred on the Memorial grounds in 2007.

Additional photographs

Image:STL_JNEM_north_tram_base.jpg|Lower north tram queue areaImage:Gateway Arch.jpg|The Arch, from the westImage:Arch sign 9.jpg|The sign at the top of the observation deck.Image:St_Louis_Arch.jpg|The St. Louis Arch as seen from the lawn.Image:FromLacledesLanding.JPG|As seen from Laclede's LandingmarkerImage:Archatdawn330.JPG|Arch at dawnImage:Archviewofoldbasilica366.JPG|The Old Cathedralmarker as viewed from top of ArchImage:Gateway_arch_south_entrance.jpg|South entrance to the archImage:St Louis night expblend.jpg|At night as seen from IllinoismarkerImage:Gateway_Arch_from_below.jpg|Gateway Arch from below


  • Nation Register of Historic Places - Nomination Forms

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