By Trish Muyco-Tobin
Nothing epitomizes St. Louis more than the Gateway Arch. The nation’s tallest monument—at 630 feet—celebrates America’s pioneering spirit, and the vital role St. Louis played in the country’s westward expansion.
It’s a big month for the Gateway Arch National Park: Following a $380-million reconstruction, the park (which also includes the Old Courthouse) will be marking the grand reopening of its museum, as well as the return of Fair Saint Louis to the Archgrounds for America’s Biggest Birthday Party.
For St. Louisans who haven’t been to the Arch lately—in fact, numbers show the locals visit only once every six to 10 years—you’ll be surprised at the transformation. Among the biggest changes: You’ll no longer have to dodge traffic to get to the Archgrounds, and once you do, there’s no more guessing which leg of the Arch is the entrance. Oh, and did we mention that the new museum and visitor center is 50 percent larger, and definitely much more on par with other national park museums across the country?
The stunning metamorphosis is part of the CityArchRiver project, and a result of a partnership involving the National Park Service, Gateway Arch Park Foundation, Bi-State Development Agency, Jefferson National Parks Association and Great Rivers Greenway.
Visitors to the Arch can now enter via a central entrance in front of the monument that leads to a spacious welcome area from which they can access the museum, ticketing and loading zones for the tram rides, the gift shop and a new café.
The much-anticipated museum reopening signifies its first-ever renovation since it opened its doors in 1976. You’ll be happy to know that the taxidermy show-and-tell of your childhood is no more. In its place is a top-notch attraction that uses high-tech wizardry, along with an abundance of historical artifacts and a few impressive replica pieces that allow for more hands-on interaction.
There’s also plenty of symbolism throughout the museum’s well-planned design: As visitors walk east toward the museum, they are greeted by “settlers” on their westward journey, by way of towering video screens that lead to the galleries. The “Old Rock House” gallery features a replica of the historic building assembled with stones from the original structure that was demolished to make way for the construction of the Arch. In “Manifest Destiny,” there are now two distinct perspectives on “how the West was won,” including Native American voices that tell their side of the story.
Following its unveiling on Tuesday, July 3, the museum will be open for the summer from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (The Old Courthouse, from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.) The park grounds are open 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. year-round.
(See more museum photos below)
GATEWAY ARCH PARK FOUNDATION
The nonprofit foundation is tasked with ensuring that the Gateway Arch and its surroundings continue to be well-supported for generations to come. Memberships help sustain its work, with members receiving a number of benefits, including complimentary parking and tram rides, invitations to special events and other perks.
The foundation also hosts public events year-round. Some highlights:
Every Tuesday through Oct. 16, 7 to 8 a.m.
Welcome the sunrise as you gaze east toward the Arch with a rise-and-shine flow at Kiener Plaza. Yoga Buzz instructors lead a 45-minute, all-levels class set to calming music. Free
Kiener Cocktails Happy Hour
Thursday, June 28, 5 to 7 p.m.
Relax and chill as the sun sets over downtown with an open bar featuring specialty cocktails, appetizers from Ruth’s Chris, and pizza from Porano Pasta. There’s also music and plenty of prime space for people-watching. $20 (in advance), $25 (at the door)
Blues at the Arch
Fridays in August (except Aug. 31), 6 to 9 p.m.
In partnership with the National Blues Museum, the four-week concert series features a lineup of popular local, regional and national acts. Free
For more information, visit archpark.org
IN AND AROUND THE GATEWAY ARCH
The Spa at the Four Seasons is the ultimate in posh pampering. As you await your massage or facial, the spa’s relaxation room allows for time to unwind, and just sit back and enjoy the calm. There’s also a steam room and whirlpool for even deeper repose. And because this is the Four Seasons, after all, they’ve managed to make their treatments even more indulgent—with Bissinger’s chocolate, no less! The Four Seasons and the St. Louis-based chocolatier have partnered to offer decadent body scrubs, facials and manicures using Bissinger’s proprietary cocoa blend as a base. Use your willpower to avoid sampling during treatment. As a reward, you’ll get an edible Bissinger’s treat at the completion of your service. fourseasons.com/stlouis
If ever a donut can make you swoon, a blissfully pillowy fried dough ring from Pharaoh’s is it! While its downtown storefront (within walking distance from the Archgrounds) has only been around for a couple of years, Pharaoh’s has been making donuts for wholesale for two decades. And it’s definitely been worth the wait for those of us seeking donut perfection. You’ll find all the classics such as glazed, long johns and jelly-filled, plus ones that are topped with lemon, custard, whipped cream and all sorts of other deliciousness. It’s a bit tricky to find—be sure to look for the golden Pharaoh sign on the side of the building, and step right in! 200 N. 7th St. (7th and Pine streets in downtown St. Louis)
Museum photos courtesy Gateway Arch Park Foundation, archpark.org