Here's a lesson quickly learned by first-time visitors to St. Louis: Getting to the Gateway Arch is downright tricky.
Bad planning and weirdly designed freeways separate the Arch grounds from the rest of downtown. Blink while driving in on I-44, and you'll find yourself in ghettolicious southern Illinois instead of Laclede's Landing. (Oops.) Even if you take the trusty MetroLink, there's a good chance your path to the Arch will involve traipsing through the bowels of a parking garage — a fucking parking garage! — before you emerge at the Arch grounds.
Faced with similar conditions back in 1804, Lewis & Clark would have hightailed it back to Virginia.
And so we're delighted that the U.S. National Park Service is seeking to redesign the area surrounding the Arch. Next month, five finalists, all architecture firms, will unveil their plans for making the spot more accessible to downtown, linking it with East St. Louis and updating the grounds themselves.
Worthy goals, all of them.
But they're not enough.
After months of study and dozens of visits, we've come to a stark conclusion: It's not just the grounds that need updating. The Arch itself needs — nay, demands — work.
So what if it's an engineering marvel? It's one that reeks of early-'60s hubris. We're knee-deep in the great recession. Marvels and excess are out. Humility and functionality are in.
And sure, Eero Saarinen's design is graceful and all, but who needs graceful when you can have 3-D? Or computer-generated special effects? Times have changed. If America really wants to spend its discretionary income on Avatar, well, Scandinavian simplicity ain't gonna cut it.
Let's face it: It's time to drag this fair city and its premiere symbol into the digital era. And at the Riverfront Times, we're willing to do the dragging — along with handling the kicking and screaming if need be.
We talked to civic leaders. We polled our readers. We even interviewed a local celebrity or two. We believe that several of these local experts have ideas worth trying.
As for the others: Well, what do we have to lose?
VISIONARY: Andrew Puzder, Hardee's restaurants owner
People have always joked about how the Arch could become the Double Arches and form some kind of public-private partnership with McDonald's. Pardon me, but this is a Hardee's town.
I propose transforming the Gateway Arch into the new ThickArch. That name would coincidentally echo a new product available for a limited time at Hardee's restaurants across the country: The Angus ThickArch Sandwich will feature a whopping pound of charbroiled, certified Angus beef, twelve strips of bacon, eight slices of cheese and a veritable cup of tangy mayo.
In partnership with the sandwich, Hardee's will personally sponsor a widening of the Arch. This much-needed renovation will allow the Arch to accommodate today's Americans — not just the scrawny beanpoles who lived in the 1960s, but the bigger-boned folks common to the Midwest today.
Remember the claustrophobic ride to the top in a pod elevator that looked as though it came straight from 2001: A Space Odyssey? That's out. Imagine a smooth ascent on a double-wide escalator. And if you're heavy enough that you need a motorized chair to get around, the ThickArch can handle that, too.
As a final whimsical touch, to remind visitors of the delicious menu items available at Hardee's, the ThickArch will drip with our own special blend of ketchup, mustard and mayo.
Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge and Jessica Simpson will be on hand for the ThickArch's unveiling. The three reality stars will gyrate on the ThickArch clad only in condiment-soaked bikinis.
VISIONARY: Tony La Russa, Cardinals manager and animal lover
CONCEPT: The ARFch
Animals need love. They need a place to run and play. They need a place to heal before they can be adopted into good homes.
I'm not asking St. Louis to give up eating meat. I gave up eating it, but I'm not asking that. I am asking them to donate the Arch to help animals live.
What's more important? A symbol of civic pride or new hope for dogs and cats? I'm going with dogs and cats every time. In honor of my charity, the Animal Rescue Foundation, I propose a new name: the ARFch.
I'll put my resources on the line. If St. Louis gives animals the ARFch, I'll give St. Louis Mark McGwire to manage it. Big Mac will have all those sick, weak animals looking big and strong and hitting dingers in no time.
VISIONARY: Bob Cassilly, sculptor
and founder, City Museum
CONCEPT: Slinky Arch
To make the Arch truly special, you'd need to make it a giant art installation you can play in. Something anti-elitist.
I'm thinking of the Arch as a giant Slinky. Everyone loves a Slinky. And you could suspend an old MetroLink car from its apex. Who hasn't wanted to sit in a MetroLink that's about to pitch off the edge of the proverbial cliff? That's universal.
I'd also surround the Slinky Arch with a field of giraffes. There's a huge pent-up demand for giraffes.
VISIONARY: Heather Taylor, student, Mary Institute and Saint Louis
Country Day School
CONCEPT: World's Largest Croquet Game
The Arch is, like, cool and all, but it's not interactive. Kids today don't want to just see or ride. We're used to Wii. We want to participate.
We should totally turn the Arch into a giant game of croquet. We could plant more arches around the grounds, and teams would work to move giant beach balls through them. The first team that completes the route gets to knock the other team's ball straight through the giant silver wicket into the river. OMG, fun!
VISIONARY: Bill Hennessy, cofounder,
St. Louis Tea Party
Now, I know this is going to make a lot of people mad, but what in the name of Glenn Beck is the federal government doing subsidizing arches? That is so classic Barack Obama. The National Park Service is talking about $300 million for the grounds update? Not on my watch! Let's cut that budget. Let's return the money to the people!
As for the Arch itself, time to privatize it. The monument to federal waste has been around since 1965: If it can't stand on its own by now, it deserves to close. Let's sell it to the highest bidder and see what they can do with it. And if it can't make a profit, tough.
Look, I've got the brass to call it like I see it. And the Arch is a money pit at a time when America simply can't afford it. Let's turn it over to the Walt Disney Company, or GlaxoSmithKline, or Ameren. Let's make it their problem.
And let's kill the National Park Service while we're at it. I don't see anything in the Constitution that calls for a park service. If George Washington didn't need a park service, why do we?
VISIONARY: Lola van Ella, performer, Show-Me Burlesque
CONCEPT: All the park's a stage
We should set the mood that St. Louis is a fun, sexy, exciting, good time.
I'd propose a giant swing hanging from the middle of the Arch. What could be more fun than swinging high in the air, floating over the Mississippi? And what could be sexier, should the National Park Service be willing to hire the right performers, than beautiful women working that swing on a moonlit night?
Park Service, call me!
VISIONARY: St. Louis Airport Commission
CONCEPT: East East Terminal, a.k.a. Terminal 3
In order to again facilitate Lambert St. Louis' status as a hub for a major carrier, a third terminal has become necessary.
Laclede's Landing, the park and much of north city will need to be leveled. Twenty thousand homes will be destroyed. Our careful planning has identified the Arch as an optimal location — and design — for this new "East East" terminal's control tower.
This $17 trillion project will break ground as soon as an airline partner is identified. Any major carrier interested in participating in such a venture should e-mail us at desperation @airportcommission.com.
VISIONARY: Alderman Freeman M.
CONCEPT: Give it to Paul McKee
We could always blight the Arch, couldn't we? Throw in a little TIF money, and our pipe dream becomes real: 62 acres of commercial and residential development built literally onto the stainless-steel flanks of our beloved monument. Right now it's all barren and gray. Let us reverse the underutilization and bring some revitalization instead, brothers and sisters!
There's this developer — Paul McKee of ArchSides Regeneration LLC — who's made up this PowerPoint presentation, see? He grew up on top of the Arch. This will be his way of giving back. You say a PowerPoint isn't a detailed plan — well, nobody else has come up with anything better. Let's take a chance on it.
VISIONARY: Stan Kroenke and Chip Rosenbloom, owners of the St. Louis Rams
CONCEPT: Bigger and better
We all know the Arch isn't competitive. The Empire State Building is taller. The Golden Gate Bridge is longer. Disney World has costumed princesses and a haunted mansion.
That's led us to a harsh conclusion: If St. Louis isn't willing to give the Arch the $90 million it needs to improve and expand, the Arch will move to California.
There are cities that would really appreciate the Arch — and support it with their pocketbooks. St. Louis needs to prove it's one of them, or that Arch is going to Anaheim.
VISIONARY: Phyllis Schlafly, activist
CONCEPT: A restoration of true American values
Americans should be wary of the entire concept of a Gateway to the "West," much less one built upon the 1960s values that have been so ruinous to our society. The '60s brought us abortion, drugs, immorality and values straight out of liberal Berkeley, California. We have women working outside the home and demanding equal rights. We have a ruinous liberal welfare system.
We've seen the awful corollary: America is in decline. (Just look at Barack Obama.)
We need to tear down the Arch and restore the site to its 1950s glory. A simple river bluff will remind all visitors of when America was truly great. If we could turn the clock back a half-century here in St. Louis, just think what a wondrous example we'd set for the rest of this God-given nation!
VISIONARY: Joe Edwards, "mayor" of the Loop
CONCEPT: The Loop 2.0, the Riverfront Version
The Arch site is great, but woefully underutilized. Why not add some unique, owner-operated burger joints? What about some brewpubs, some live music venues? Why not add trolley access?
And for that matter, why doesn't someone come up with a theme to pull the whole thing together? The Loop didn't get chosen as one of the ten greatest streets in America without a plan. Walking along Delmar, visitors can learn about each of our eight unique planets. Well, if they're walking along the Loop 2.0, why not give them a history lesson about each of the world's great oceans?
What do oceans that have to do with St. Louis' riverfront? That's a dumb question. What does Uranus have to do with the Loop? Wait, don't answer that.
VISIONARY: TechJedi00, local Twitter user
All right, tweeples, it's time we do something about the Arch. Sure, a giant, shiny, metal thingamabob was probably really awesome back in 1967, but the world has changed. A lot. Seriously, for a generation born into a world of iPhones, Facebook and everything digital, nothing is more boring than a stationary hunk of metal. "Cool mom, thanks for bringing us here, but what does it do?" Well, the new and improved Arch would be equipped with monitors scrolling a real-time Twitter feed of hashtag #Arch. Now you can visit the shiny thingamabob and drop your own digital two cents into the dialogue. Think about the possibilities! Mrs. Brown's third grade class can let everyone know they were there. Somebody could drop an update on the Cardinals game. Heck, the truly nerdy could even pop the big question: @JulieT Will You Marry Me #Arch. It will happen. Tweetaholics 4life, w00t w00t!
VISIONARY: Larry Rice, pastor, New Life Evangelistic Center
CONCEPT: Tent City
Across this city, people are suffering from poverty, homelessness, addictions and abuse. God has moved us to action.
There's no better way for St. Louis to show that it's heeding the Lord's call than to take the Arch — the symbol of this city — and use it to help the people who are hurting the most. The new Tent City could house thousands of desperate St. Louisans. With convenient MetroLink access and God's fervent love, we could get them back on their feet and ready to live the life that their Creator intended.
VISIONARY: Paul Smith, Washington
Avenue loft dweller
CONCEPT: Gateway to the East...Side
So, me and my buds totally know every bar on Washington. We go there, we pound Jäger, we pick up chicks.
But some nights I'm just not closing the deal. Everybody's got an off night, bro. So whaddaya do at 2 a.m.? You go to the East Side, baby! That's where all the fun is — on the other side of the fucking river!
Work with me here. It makes no sense that the Arch is stuck in Missouri. Our scene would be soooo much more happenin' if we just swung the Arch across the river. The Park Service wants to connect with East St. Louis? Dude, if we stuck one Arch foot in Illinois, we could just ride that Arch tram from one side to the other. What's more connected than that?
We could make the Arch tram a toll tram. Trust me, me and my bros would not mind ponying up another $1.50 to see those hos in Illinois. That's like, one-tenth of a lap dance. Total bonus for the taxpayers, bro. Total fucking bonus.
VISIONARY: Whittaker Homes, builder of New Town
CONCEPT: Arches Landing
Our plan for Arches Landing is a unified 40 blocks of color-coordinated arches surrounding the original Arch. We'd offer one-story, ranch-style arches, split-level arches and two-story arches in the popular "Colonial" style, all in tasteful pastel shades.
Each baby arch will feature ceramic tile in the kitchen, soaring vaulted ceilings, wood-burning fireplaces and a lot of cheap dry wall.
VISIONARY: Bill DeWitt III, president of the Cardinals and developer of Ballpark Village
CONCEPT: Arch Village
The Arch is antiquated. It has no luxury suites for high-flying corporate types. There's not enough concession space for pricey vendors. (A Good 'N Plenty ice-cream cart is just about it.) It lags far behind comparable attractions in other cities.
So why not start over? As long as the city offers $100 million in tax breaks, I'll build an all-new Arch. Just like my all-new Busch Stadium, New Arch will feature luxury boxes and the amenities that today's tourists demand, from a gelato stand to a roast-beef carving station.
Once the New Arch is finished, it would be an easy step to tear down the old Arch. We don't need two arches, people!
In place of the old Arch, I vow to build "Arch Village," which will provide St. Louis with plenty of new tax revenue in the form of office buildings, retail and perhaps even high-end housing.
Don't believe the cynics. Build New Arch, and Arch Village will come. We won't get stuck with a lousy parking lot on the once-revered Arch site. There's no way this plan will result in...nothing.