‘Hollow at its core’ – Washington Post article critical of St. Louis Gateway Arch Park

The Gateway Arch is seen in this April 14, 2012 photo in St. Louis, Missouri on a sunny Sunday afternoon. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS, MO — A stainless-steel monument on the Mississippi riverfront has been a part of many St. Louis memories for 50 years. Now the museum underneath Eero Saarinen’s dream is getting set for its grand opening July 3rd. The free museum is telling the many stories from St. Louis and American history.

Not everyone is excited about the concept of Gateway Arch Park. Art and architecture critic Philip Kennicott’s critical article in the Washington Post is raising a few eyebrows. It is titled, “50 years later, St. Louis’ Gateway Arch emerges with a new name and a skeptical view of western expansion.” He interviewed the site’s executive director and took a tour of the new museum.

Kennicott praises the newly renovated Arch grounds and museum. He writes that the new exhibits, “are more substantial, extending the story of westward migration back to the colonial days of St. Louis, and grappling with the fundamental questions posed by the historical narrative.”

Two paragraphs in the article especially highlight a problem with the park and the region:

“Saarinen’s soaring arc of steel is an icon of the automobile age, an attraction that has always been more about playing to the passing audience of the interstates than any particular relevance to the idea of national expansion. It also honors historical events that are now understood as deeply problematic within the larger trajectory of American history, including the dispossession of Native American land, cultural genocide, the extension of slavery, centuries of conflict and ill will with Mexico, environmental degradation and the emergence of a myth of American exceptionalism.”

The article concludes with this paragraph:

“But Saarinen finessed the problem rather like corporate architects today finesse the problem of housing large, impersonal, often rapacious organizations in buildings that suggests transparency, openness and idealism. He found a gesture that overwhelmed skepticism, both skepticism about the viability of the project, but also the larger historical skepticism that Americans have traditionally found inconvenient and dispiriting. His arch stole the show, which made it possible to avoid the history, except as a passing entertainment. Saarinen understood how essentially American the arch form was, a symbol of triumph and conquest that is hollow at its core.”

Read the entire article in the Washington Post here: