Located on the western bank of the Mississippi River, the 630-foot-tall stainless steel arch is the centerpiece of this 91-acre national park. The land for the Jefferson Expansion National Memorial was set aside by Executive Order in 1935 and a design competition for the site was won by Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley in 1947.
Their winning design was asymmetrical and heavily wooded, proposing that Saarinen's Gateway Arch rise from an urban forest. Implementation was delayed until 1957 when funding became available. Saarinen and Kiley revisited their original design to create a concept that respected important axial sight lines between the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse. The sweeping landscape reflects the curve of the Arch, repeating the curvature in walkways, stairs, and site walls. The Gateway Arch was completed in 1965 and dedicated in 1968, with landscape construction continuing for more than a decade.
In 2009 Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates won a design competition for improving the visitor experience. Completed in 2018, and funded by a public-private partnership, the work improved park access with the addition of a 280-foot-long pedestrian land bridge across Interstate 40, regraded the site, and introduced pedestrian and bike paths to improve connectivity with the surrounding neighborhood. A parking garage on the park’s north side was replaced by a bowl-shaped lawn. Kiley’s design intent was retained, with some trees, shrubs, and perennials throughout replaced with native and more resilient species. A subterranean visitor center, also designed by Saarinen, was replaced with one designed by Cooper Robertson and James Carpenter Design Associates with a glass-fronted entrance and a regraded western approach that reinforced visual and physical connections with Luther Ely Smith Square and the Old Courthouse. The park was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. In 2018 it was rededicated as Gateway Arch National Park.