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"The Gateway Arch" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab

St. Louis architect John Guenther is the author of a concise history of the iconic, monumental Gateway Arch. Guenther tells the history of St. Louis from 1763 to the 2018 opening of the reconfigured museum and visitor center in an illustrated timeline format.

With a fast-moving narrative and accompanying historic photographs, drawings, and maps the author marks the steamboat area, the construction of the Old Courthouse and Old Cathedral, and the devastating St. Louis fire of 1849 along with many other major milestones in the city's history.

In 1933, during the Great Depression, architect Luther Ely Smith called together a committee to discuss a memorial on the Mississippi Riverfront to honor former President Thomas Jefferson, who purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt approved the finances necessary to develop the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

This plan received fiery pushback because 37 blocks of downtown St Louis had to be razed to complete the memorial. Many citizens opposed the project arguing the demolition would destroy too much of the city's heritage.

There were 172 design entries in the competition for the monument. Eero Saarinen, age 38, was the winner with his proposal to build an arch 630 feet tall. His design was adopted in 1948, construction started in 1962 and the flattened catenary was completed in 1965. Guenther describes the story of the arch as “one of vision, determination, persistence, collaboration, creativity, innovation and co-making.” In 2018 ,the 91-acre site was designated a National Park, the smallest in the system.

Guenther has created a well-researched, fascinating read on this dynamic symbol. The photos in the 40-page paperback are vivid and the historical vignettes accomplish Guenther's goal of connecting St. Louis city history with the development of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

About the Author: John C. Guenther holds a fellowship in the American Institute of Architects and was a lecturer in the College of Architecture at Washington University. He serves as President of the Society of Architectural Historians—St. Louis Chapter. He is the author of several books about the history of Missouri architecture.

Guenther will speak about his book at the Washington Public Library, Thursday, June 8, at 6:30 P.M. The author event is sponsored by Neighborhood Reads and the Friends of the Washington Library. All are welcome.

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