Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book Review: Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch

A new book completed through a collaboration between the National Park Service and local author and historian Nini Harris documents the construction of the Gateway Arch and the history of the site through photographs, drawings, and detailed captions. "Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch" is a photographic time capsule of the thirty-plus year time span of the design and construction of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

The site of one our nation's most iconic landmarks was once the original riverboat docking warehouse district of old St. Louis. "Historic Photos of the Gateway Arch" provides readers a detailed retrospective on the city's original industrial warehouse and riverfront area.

Author Nini Harris is a lifelong St. Louis resident and author of many books on St. Louis history. The writer was active in early rehab efforts of the Lafayette Square neigborhood and is a resident of South City. In addition to her writing, Ms. Harris is involved in historic preservation consulting, including the preparation of National Register historic district nominations for St. Louis neighborhoods.

Through a wide variety of images, Harris leads readers through the planning, design competition, and construction of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Images range from hand drawings to historic and modern photographs. From the expressions on the faces of city leaders, construction workers, and citizens at the time, you can see the sense of pride and accomplishment the Arch brought to St. Louis.

The book opens with a panoramic aerial photograph of downtown St. Louis taken before massive clearance was carried out to make way for the Arch grounds. For those interested in early St. Louis history, the book provides reproductions of many posters and drawings from mid-19th century St. Louis. Photographs then lead readers through many blocks of the historic street grid once located where the Arch now stands. Cobblestone streets, cast iron storefront, warehouse, and apartment buildings are shown.

Following the documentation of the original buildings, the book transitions readers into the design competition for the Memorial. There are many photographs of the unselected proposals. It is interesting to ponder how different St. Louis would be today had any of the alternative proposals been selected. A proposal by St. Louis architect Harris Armstrong called for the construction of a futuristic observation tower and navigable slough for small watercraft on the St. Louis riverfront, with a new airport to be built on the East St. Louis side offering prime views of downtown's growing skyline.

The approximate 30 year timeline from the original clearance to construction of the monument can be tracked based on the vintage of automobiles in the photographs. A significant percentage of the work covers the actual construction of the Arch. Many of the photos of Arch construction must have been taken by the workers themselves, since they are shot from vantage points high in the rigging.

As the National Park Service is currently updating its General Management Plan for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a process and plan that will govern uses of the Arch grounds for the next 15 - 30 years, including a new design competition and possible expansion into Illinois, this book provides an important context in the overall review of the Memorial as future uses and designs of the Memorial are considered.

Historic Photos the Gateway Arch is available at local St. Louis retailers like Hammonds and Left Bank Books or online at www.turnerpublishing.com or www.Amazon.com for $39.95.

No comments: