After a five-year renovation project, the museum and grounds surrounding the Gateway Arch in St. Louis are finally open to the public as of July 3. That’s just in time for “America’s Biggest Birthday Party,” a series of free concerts over the July 4 holiday weekend that’s returned to the arch grounds after a four-year hiatus.
The park was originally established in 1935 as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial to honor President Thomas Jefferson, who turned St. Louis into the gateway to the West by doubling the size of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase. It was renamed Gateway Arch National Park in February 2018 to better reflect the nature of the park, which is widely associated with Eero Saarinen’s 630-foot-tall arch. This was the first major renovation to the park since the arch was completed in 1965.
The $380 million project was funded by a combination of mostly private but also some public funds, including a 2013 tax increase approved by St. Louis city and county voters as well as state and federal grants.
Of the funds, $176 million went toward redoing the museum that sits partially underground below the arch. While the previous museum that opened in 1976 featured taxidermied buffalo and out-of-date animatronic versions of Lewis and Clark, the new museum includes an additional 46,000 square feet and features new sections about how the arch was built and offers more information about how the expansion of the United States affected Native American communities.
“Early on, [a member of] one of the local tribes here said, ‘Tell history, do not glorify history,’ and that has been one of our mottos,” Eric Moraczewski, executive director at the Gateway Arch Park Foundation, told CNN Travel. “Just because you read something in a history book does not mean that’s how everybody felt about it. We can learn a lesson today about what happened in the past.”
As with the previous museum, admission is still free. It costs $13 to take the tram to the top of the arch.
In addition to the new museum, the grounds surrounding the monument were revitalized by removing a parking garage and adding a grassy pedestrian walkway over the interstate that divided the arch from downtown so it’s easier for visitors to cross between the two areas.
The project isn’t completely finished yet. The Old Courthouse, located on the grounds of the national park and where the first two trials of the Dred Scott case occurred in 1847 and 1850, expects to finish another improvement project in 2020.
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