The Story Behind the Gateway Arch

On March 27, 2015, in Speakers, by Walker News
Tracy Campbell Gateway to Arch Talk

Professor Tracy Campbell

On March 27, the Walker School hosted Tracy Campbell, PhD, for a presentation about the Gateway Arch. A renowned historian, Campbell is the author of, “The Gateway Arch: A Biography,” which is a book about complicated and troubling history of St. Louis’ signature monument.

Benjamin Akande, dean of the Walker School, opened the event by welcoming guests and introducing Campbell. He said that while few of the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the Arch each year understand the monument’s complicated history, Campbell’s book brings to light the true origins and meaning of this icon. Read Akande’s introduction to Campbell.

Following Akande’s remarks, Campbell began his presentation by sharing the reason why he chose to research the history of the Arch.  “Behind every great building is the story of what was there before,” he said.

Envisioned in 1947 but not completed until the mid-1960s, Campell described the Arch grounds as, “Some of the most contested soil in U.S. history.” The reason, he explained, was because of the social, political and cultural factors at play during this time.

Tracy Campbell Gateway to Arch Talk

Professor Tracy Campbell

“The Arch is deeply ironic. It is huge and a magnificent work of public art, but it is also symbolic of a flawed strategy of city renewal.”

In addition to discussing the construction of the Arch, Campbell offered insight into the life of architect Eero Saarinen, whose prize-winning design brought him acclaim but also charges of plagiarism. While Saarinen never lived to see the completion of his vision, Campbell described him as a sculptor at-heart and said the Arch was his greatest sculptor.


Dean Benjamin Akande, Professor Tracy Campbell and Associate Dean Peter Maher

In closing, Akande thanked Campbell for being a part of the Walker Speaker Series and he encouraged the audience to find their own arch.

“To find that often illusive arch will require an expansive mind and inventive spirit, a tenacious grip and a brave heart,” Akande said. “While there will be people who will try to steer you onto another path, a safe path, a well-worn path, you must stay the course.”

Following the presentation, Campbell took questions from guests and signed copies of his book.

Watch a video recording of this event.


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