Patriotic Nostalgia – The St. Louis Arch

St. Louis Arch, 1966

This weeks nostalgia is a visit to the St. Louis Arch which was completed in 1966.  The architect was Eero Saarinen, probably the preeminent American architect in the mid 20th century.  It is located on the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis, Missouri.  You can ride to the top of the 630 foot high arch and look out over the vast midwest vistas.  Somehow, the pictures never seem to impress.  Because the arch is so big and yet so gracefully proportioned, it seems wimpy and out of scale with the office buildings nearby.  Yet when you visit the site, it’s quite another experience.  Each base is massive.  It is also a unique experience to be at one end of the park and view the arch head on where it takes on the character of an obelisk (like the Washington Monument).  Another aspect of the monument which I have never read about is the museum under the arch.  It depicts various aspects of opening the west but the remarkable thing about the museum is that it is like a time capsule of the 60’s.  I don’t think that the museum has been touched since it was first conceived.  The layout and the exhibits have a naive simplicity and garish colors that takes me right back to college days.  The only things missing are orange shag carpet and avocado appliances (but maybe I missed them).
Many of Saarinen’s buildings are forgotten or torn down (like my college dormitory) but many remain (like Dulles Airport).  Perhaps his greatest building lies hidden in the overbuilt JFK Airport complex.  It isn’t torn down but no one seems to know how to use it.  In it’s time, the TWA terminal symbolized flying when flying was sophisticated (you used to dress up to fly). It’s sweeping curves predated the Sydney Opera House and Frank Gehry’s curvaceous museums.  Flying TWA from JFK  made flying sublime, so different from the cattle car experience of today.  No wonder they don’t know what to do with that magnificent building.
Check out more about Saarinen and the wonderful TWA terminal, if this interests you.

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