The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is really big — bigger than I remember.
I don’t recall when I last stood beneath its gleaming curve — perhaps two decades ago — but some things have changed. The Arch, of course, hasn’t, but the landscape has. The trees that stand tall and full along the walkway leading to the Arch were much shorter and thinner back when, and there is a fountain and brick work that I don’t recall.
Taken together, the riverfront area is much improved and more inviting than it ever was when I lived in St. Louis in the early 1960s.
It was good to be back, even if it was August, notoriously a time when the temperatures and humidity are about the same — and both numbers start with a nine. Well, no matter; my husband, Jerry, and I were determined to see the best of the city. We’d just have to slow our usual pace.
We left our hotel in West County and headed east toward the river and downtown. It was a brilliantly clear day, reminiscent of the October 1965 day when the center piece of the 630-foot high Arch was placed. I watched on television, but Jerry stood atop a nearby hospital to watch as the top section slid delicately between the two legs.
The entire city held its collective breath — we all knew that if the legs of the arch were off by one sixty-fourth of an inch at the bottom, the two sides would not meet. And as luck would have it, there was a problem. The steel of the south-facing leg had expanded because it was warmer than the north leg. Fortunately, the St Louis Fire Department came to the rescue. It sprayed the south leg until the water cooled the metal enough so the two legs could align.
Before actually getting up-close-and-personal with the Arch, we had lunch at Laclede’s Landing, a picturesque neighborhood just south of the Arch with restaurants, bars and boutiques situated in historic brick buildings. We chose an outside, tree-shaded table at Hannegan’s Restaurant & Pub to facilitate people-watching and enjoy the slight breeze, but the interior was equally interesting. It was built as a replica of the U.S. Senate dining room with lots of dark, cool woodwork and many well padded, tiered booths, all facing the front of the room.
Back on the street, we walked parallel to the Mississippi River and came upon a not-quite-finished memorial sculpture of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The explorers and their party left from St. Charles, Mo., (just north of St. Louis) in 1804 to explore the Louisiana Purchase, which President Thomas Jefferson bought from the French — sight unseen. He commissioned Louis and Clark to check out the goods. The men ended their journey more than two years later in St. Louis.
We didn’t want to take the tram to the top of the Arch — been there, done that — but we did want to see the underground historic exhibits and gift shop. Unlike 40 years ago, however, this required a security check and a longer wait than we cared to make. So we headed east on foot toward the beautifully restored Old Courthouse, the site of a historic Supreme Court decision in 1857. The court ruled that people of African descent who were imported into this country and held as slaves, and their descendants (whether free or slave), were not protected by the Constitution and could never be citizens of the United States.
Thank goodness for change.
Walking east on Market Street, our goal was to reach Union Station about 10 blocks further up, but the heat and humidity put a damper (emphasis on “damp”) on that idea. Instead we lingered in Citygarden, a wonderful urban oasis that includes artful landscaping, several fabulous fountains and about 30 sculptures. (To be continued…)
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.