This small, minimally illustrated black-and-white book is a curious tribute to Eero Saarinen's soaring monument in St. Louis. It is part of a series called Icons of America, joining the Statue of Liberty, Joe DiMaggio, Wall Street, Alger Hiss, The Hamburger, and others. The Gateway Arch has been back in the news since Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates won a competition in 2010 to redesign the area around it. That firm's scheme, intended to rejuvenate both the park and the adjacent downtown, will submerge and plant over the highway that separates the two areas.
This book provides a solid and complete history of the political maneuverings that led to funding the arch, the competition that chose its design, and the process of actually building it. The book is carefully researched and clearly written by University of Kentucky history professor Tracy Campbell, who wonders whether building the arch was folly. Initially, he rues the loss of a historic cast-iron district on the riverfront, which was razed to make way for the monument. Then he suggests that, had the old district been preserved, St. Louis might not have declined so precipitously in later years—though he admits that political decisions, such as separating the city government from the county administration, were a major factor. While the loss of the neighborhood was unfortunate, other Midwestern river cities, where no wholesale demolition of old riverfront properties occurred, also declined.