Missouri's Gateway Arch monument built on rigged votes, protests

Sat Oct 24, 2015 7:17am EDT
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By Greg Bailey

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - When the last section of St. Louis' Gateway Arch, an American landmark as iconic as the Statue of Liberty, was hoisted into place on Oct 28, 1965, it was the concluding act of a story that began more than 30 years earlier.

From rigged votes in a bond election to fund the project, to a famous father-son mix-up when the winning architect was alerted, to a civil rights protest high above ground, some of the Arch's rich, complicated history during those three decades has largely been forgotten as the 630-foot-tall, stainless steel structure nears its 50th anniversary.

The monument, meant to celebrate America's western expansion, has taken on different interpretations over its lifetime.

Bob Moore, resident historian at the Arch, called the structure "an icon of the modern age," but said it also represented the taking of land from Native Americans and Hispanic people.

While today’s television viewers may know the Arch better as the centerpiece of the SyFy series "Defiance," the seed for its creation was planted in 1933, when attorney Luther Ely Smith, returning by train to his home town, saw the blight of the riverfront and proposed building the structure.

Two years later, city leaders, eager for jobs and federal money, asked voters to approve a bond issue in an election which had an unusually high turnout and approval rate. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch investigated the results and found the vote was fraudulent, winning a Pulitzer Prize for its revelation.

Starting in 1939, 37 blocks of the city's riverfront were demolished, but wartime priorities left the space unused until a design competition following World War II.


The Gateway Arch is seen in St. Louis, Missouri in this October 25, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Jim Young/Files