Metro-East News

Gateway Arch National Park is new name of landmark site

Take a peek at the Gateway Arch visitor center and museum expansion project

Rhonda Schier, chief of museum services, talks about the 46,000-square-foot Gateway Arch visitor center expansion project set to open in July 2018.
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Rhonda Schier, chief of museum services, talks about the 46,000-square-foot Gateway Arch visitor center expansion project set to open in July 2018.

The star of the show finally got its name on the marquee.

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial became Gateway Arch National Park on Thursday, when President Donald Trump signed legislation that changed the name of the 83-year-old National Park Service site in St. Louis.

"This doesn't affect our operations," said Rhonda Schier, the park's chief of museum services and interpretation. "It will be business as usual. We will continue to tell the stories that have been part of our legacy. It will, however, raise awareness among our visitors that we are a unit of the National Park Service."

On Friday morning, a receptionist answered the phone "Gateway Arch National Park," and Wikipedia already was redirecting searchers to a new page with that title. The park's website still reads "Jefferson National Expansion Memorial," but many employees have changed their email signatures.

Officials haven't yet ordered six large signs that will be scattered around the grounds as part of an ongoing renovation project, Schier said, so the National Park Service won't have to spend extra money to replace them.

"That worked out really well as far as timing," she said. Letterhead, business cards and smaller signs will be replaced gradually.

The Gateway Arch was built in the 1960s as part of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which was established in 1935 to honor President Thomas Jefferson and commemorate the role of St. Louis in the westward expansion of the United States in the early 1800s.

People describe the arch as an "iconic landmark" and "engineering marvel." It's No. 1 on almost every list of top places to visit in the St. Louis area.

"Take a 630-foot ride to the top of this world-famous, stainless-steel monument for the finest view of the Gateway City," suggests explorestlouis.com, the tourism website of St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission.

Over the years, as a consequence of the arch's rock-star status, many people forgot the real name of the 90-acre site along the Mississippi River or that it was affiliated with the National Park Service.

The name-change proposal originated with members of a community partnership, including the city of St. Louis, Bi-State Development, Gateway Arch Park Foundation, Jefferson National Parks Association and Great Rivers Greenway.

Legislation to change the name was introduced in Congress last summer, according to a National Park Service press release. It passed in the U.S. Senate on Dec. 21, 2017, and U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 7.

"It was bipartisan legislation," Schier said.

Sponsors included Republicans U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner and U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer and Democrats U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, all of Missouri.

In the press release, park Superintendent Mike Ward echoed Schier's sentiments, noting that the new name will more clearly connect the site with the National Park Service but emphasizing that its mission will remain the same.

"The stories of Thomas Jefferson and his vision of westward expansion are woven throughout the new Museum at the Gateway Arch, which celebrates its grand opening on July 3, while Dred Scott and his freedom suit are showcased at the Old Courthouse," he stated.

In a quick poll in the News-Democrat's "618 Food & Fun" Facebook group Friday, 17 people responded that they liked the park's new name. "I think it makes sense," one wrote. "Much easier to remember, too!"

Three respondents didn't like the change. One argued that it's yet another example of efforts to rewrite history. Joyell Green, 39, a housekeeper who lives in Fairview Heights, said in a phone interview that the old name served as an historical reminder and better reflected the seriousness of the park's original purpose.

"It's like we've changed the professional name to a nickname," she said.

The park's roots go back to the early 1930s, when St. Louis attorney Luther Ely Smith spearheaded a movement to establish a memorial site, according to an introduction for a National Park Service collection of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association records.

Smith got the support of then-mayor Bernard Dickmann and other civic leaders. They wanted to honor not only Jefferson but also his aides, Robert Livingston and James Monroe, who helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase; explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark; and hunters, trappers, frontiersmen and pioneers who drove the westward expansion.

"Most significantly, (the association) conducted the competition which resulted in the choice of Eero Saarinen's arch design as the central commemorative feature of the park," the introduction states.

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