A New Arch for a New St. Louis: Let's not just redesign the grounds around the Gateway Arch. Let's go for the whole enchilada!

A New Arch for a New St. Louis: Let's not just redesign the grounds around the Gateway Arch. Let's go for the whole enchilada!
Bob Cassilly's playful concept.

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.

Improve it or we'll move it, the Kroenke/Rosenbloom "Gateway to LA" 
Improve it or we'll move it, the Kroenke/Rosenbloom "Gateway to LA" vision.
Andrew Puzder's Angus beef-inspired ThickArch
Andrew Puzder's Angus beef-inspired ThickArch

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
CONCEPT: ThickArch

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

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

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