Why Hasn't the Arch Been Lit to Honor France?

Nov 16, 2015 at 11:28 am
click to enlarge Not an actual photo of the Gateway Arch — but shouldn't it be? - Photo illustration by Roy Kasten
Photo illustration by Roy Kasten
Not an actual photo of the Gateway Arch — but shouldn't it be?

Update: Two buildings in downtown St. Louis will be lit up with the French tricolor beginning tonight, the mayor's spokeswoman says. Also, the National Parks Service explains why they can't satisfy us on this request. See the bottom of the post for more details.

Original post follows....

After terrorist attacks struck the heart of Paris on Friday, buildings around the globe turned red, white and blue in homage to the French. The tricolor motif graced the Sydney Opera House, the Tower Bridge, the Brandenburg Gates and San Francisco City Hall.

But the Gateway Arch stayed stubbornly gray.

See also: 50 Stunning Photos from the Gateway Arch Construction

RFT contributor Roy Kasten was just in Paris in September. He wonders why St. Louis hasn't made a point of visibly standing with our French friends. After all, the French founded the settlement of St. Louis and gave this city its name. We were under French control until 1803. In St. Louis, the French aren't just our first ally — they're literally our founders. So why not make a point of our solidarity during the city's darkest hour since World War II?

Kasten has tweeted at the mayor, and the National Parks Service. So far, that's been to no avail.

We left messages with both the National Park Service and Mayor Slay's office this morning, but hadn't heard back as of press time. We'll update this post if they respond. 

But we can't help but think that maybe we need to force their hand a bit. As Kasten wrote on Facebook this weekend,

The attacks last night on Paris, a city I came to love during two beautiful weeks there this past September, were barbaric. They targeted Parisian cultural life, the bars and cafes and music and sport, all dens of "prostitution and vice" in the words of the murdering fanatics themselves. This assault is shocking but it is not unbelievable. Insane belief is what compels the violence.

Let us not waste time on geopolitical rationalizations, idle talk of how fighting against these ideologues and their mad belief system only makes things worse. France was our first ally, and Paris is the sister city of all who love the values and beauty of the human spirit the fanatics wish to destroy. Those values and that beauty, and the people of Paris and France (and all civil societies and cultures now under attack), need our solidarity and our defense.

So far, Kasten's photoshopped image of the Arch in tricolor has been shared more than 330 times on Facebook. Clearly, the people of St. Louis stand with France. Isn't it time the powers that be here do the same?

Update at 11:20 a.m.

We just heard from Maggie Crane, spokeswoman for Mayor Slay. The mayor's office, she says, has no control over the Arch — like any other national monument, decisions relating to it are under the jurisdiction of the National Parks Service.

"If you don't see other national monuments being lit up, you're not going to see it happening to the Arch," she cautions.

However, the mayor's office does have control over the Civil Courts building at 10 N. Tucker, as well as the Soldiers Memorial, also in downtown St. Louis at 1315 Chestnut. In both cases, lighting has been approved to honor France, and — weather permitting — should be up as early as dusk this evening. 

The lighting will stay in place through Thanksgiving, she said.

Update at 2:15 p.m.

We just got off the phone with Frank Mares, deputy superintendent for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (aka everyone's favorite arch). He tells us that there are a few reasons why this isn't feasible. 

The first, as Crane warned us, is that this is generally something that isn't done with national monuments. While people equate the Arch with something like the Empire State Building, that isn't a fair comparison — it's more like the Statue of Liberty. And with very rare exceptions, monuments do not change colors to honor this cause or that.

"Tradition holds that national monuments are best displayed with white light," he says.

Now, about those exceptions. For a time, the Arch was turned pink to raise awareness about breast cancer — Macy's foot the bill on that one. And more recently, it was turned gold for a single 24-hour period in honor of its 50th anniversary, again with a donor stepping up to cover the cost.

But even if there was a will to do it in this case, Mares says, the technical aspects would be a serious complication. Kasten's photoshop job aside, no one has ever lit the Arch with three different colors. Since the Arch is lit by 40-something fixtures in nearly a dozen different pits, each light angled in different ways, it would be a real challenge to figure out how to turn each segment the right color. It was hard enough to find the right gels to turn the silvery horseshoe pink or gold at 600 feet — "multicolored has never been tried," Mares says.

Then add in the fact that the Arch grounds are under construction, and things get even trickier — they'd have to install the gels anew each night, and then remove them each morning so they wouldn't be damaged by construction equipment. You can see how the whole thing isn't quite as simple as anyone would hope.

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