Future Visions of the Downtown St. Louis Riverfront

After attending the Opening of the Public Exhibit: Framing a Modern Masterpiece sponsored by the National Park Service and CityArchRiver2015 at the Gateway Arch this morning, with my husband, designer Tom Kavanaugh – then giving a private Downtown Tour with a mom and two, soon-to-be 4th graders in tow, I settled down in Post Office Square to begin this post.

The day was sunny with intermittent cloud cover. At 84 degrees it might have been hot but instead it was delightfully breezy and the waterfall in Post Office Square suggested a tropical paradise that the skyscrapers around me belied. As I slipped off my sandals and rested my feet on the cool concrete of the plaza I felt myself sinking into an urban landscape that has been shaped over three centuries – the 19th, represented by the U.S. Custom House and Post Office to my left, the early 20th – by Isaac Taylor’s City Library/later Board of Education Building, straight ahead and the 21st – by the Roberts’ gleaming, glass tower on my right. And I couldn’t help but wonder what the many generations of St. Louisans who preceded us – Indians, fur trappers and merchants, pioneers from the east and immigrants from the far corners of the world – would make of the amazing proposals for the riverfront that I viewed this morning.

Roughly ten generations have shaped St. Louis (as well as an unknown number of tribal people whom history does not record), each with their own dreams and visions of the future. Mississippian Mound Builders dreamed a capital that dwarfed everything north of Mexico. Pierre Laclede dreamed the largest inland river port in New France out of a fur trading post. He planted the post and that dream on bedrock safely above river flood levels so that St. Louis flourished and remained dry when every other 18th century town around us was inundated by the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Finnish-born architect, Eero Saarinen, dreamed the Gateway to the West as an enormous steel arch so timeless that it will see us well into the 21st century, at least. And it remains to us, the present generations of St. Louisans in concert with artists from around the nation, to shape a metropolis that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will want to imbue with their own vision. A place they will want to belong to and continue.

I was surprised that such a small number of people were present for the opening ceremony officiated by Mayor Francis Slay and other dignitaries from the National Park Service and the Design Competition. Television and newspaper reporters were out in force – including Patrick Murphy beginning to chronicle the 5 year CityArchRiver project for Public Television, as well as Tim O’Neil, who has done such a great job covering the event for the St. Louis Post-Disptach. It was easy to pick out the artists and designers as they arrived beneath the Arch to study the designs with great care.

As I rounded the 1st corner in the exhibit from “Re-framing the Arch/ Expanding the River” to the design renderings for “Rivercircle” my eyes filled with tears and a lump rose in my throat. For it was clear from the outset that all of the designs showed amazing creativity and some, the kind of futuristic daring that I’ve hoped could be brought to visualizng the Downtown St. Louis Riverfront, with its deep and dramatic history, and its great potential. This exhibit will travel the bi-state area over the next several weeks allowing for as many people as possible to see it and weigh in with comments which the jury will take into consideration before it announces the winner on September 24th.

The National Park Service and the civic leadership group that calls itself CityArchRiver2015 deserve kudos for a beautifully organized competition as do the competing design firms for their beautifully rendered, elegant and thoughtful proposals. Tim O’Neil of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a comprehensive article with accompanying photos and illustrations that you can access at: http://stltoday.com and take a look at the lay-outs at: http://www.stltoday.com/collection_12b11e7a-a9b4-11df-b67f-00127992bc8b.html

We have until Monday, August 23rd to study the proposed designs and submit our comments in person at the Gateway Arch or other designated exhibit sites, or to visit http://www.cityarchrivercompetition.org/ and click on the link to submit opinions online. A relatively small number of octogenarians + use the internet with ease. If you have family members or friends who would like to participate in this competition why not offer your assistance?

I also hope that teachers will take this opportunity to show their students what an exciting process such a competition can be, let them view the design proposals online, discuss the possibilities and take classroom votes. It will be fun for the entire community to await the final results. Almost as much fun as it was for many of us to watch the center segment of Eero Saarinen’s magnificent, shining arch fitted into place in 1965! This massive RiverCityArch project is slated for completion in 2015, the 50th Anniversary of the Gateway Arch.

My thanks to Tom Kavanaugh for taking the photos in this blog post!

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About stltourguide

I am a walking tour and narrated coach tour guide in St. Louis, Missouri specializing in the history of the area.
This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, Commentary and Criticism, Happenings, St. Louis and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Future Visions of the Downtown St. Louis Riverfront

  1. Terry says:

    Can you give us an update on which design was chosen for the St. Louis Arch grounds, please?

    • stltourguide says:

      Thank you, Terry, for reminding me that although I addressed the winner of the City-Arch-River Competition via Twitter, I neglected to talk about it on this blog! You can view multiple images from MVVA’s Winning Proposal with the following link: http://stltoday.mycapture.com/mycapture/enlarge.asp?image=31049549&event=1058989&CategoryID=0&picnum=13&move=F#Image. I must confess that I’m disappointed with the Jury’s choice which is why I’ve been reluctant to write about it. I understand the reasons they gave and I like some aspects of the proposal. It is probably one of the most affordable designs and one of the few that was able to meet the National Park Service’s deadline of October 2015 when the Gateway Arch turns 50. But it isn’t daring. It doesn’t propel St. Louis into the future in a visionary way. I hope I’m wrong. I hope it’s realization is splendid. And if so, I’ll be the first to say so.

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