Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Monument to the Dream gives the construction workers behind an American design icon their proper due.
Welcome to the latest installation of “Public Access,” where CityLab shares its favorite videos—old and new, serious and nutty—that tell a story about place.
After years of work, a better Arch experience in St. Louis has finally arrived.
As described in great detail by Zach Mortice earlier this year for CityLab and more recently by Curbed’s Alexandra Lange, Gateway Arch National Park now has a refreshed 91-acre site, from its landscape design to its museum and visitor center. The centerpiece, Eero Saarinen’s 630-foot stainless-steel tribute to America’s westward expansion, remains flawless.
As part of the experience today, Arch visitors get to watch Monument to the Dream, a 1967 documentary film about its construction. With dramatic visuals directed by Charles Guggenheim and the confident vocals of narrator Paul Richards, it’s hard not to feel inspired by the labor that made it all happen. Richards at one point describes the workers in the film as “men closer in kin to the trappers and pioneers than they knew. They, too, were a mixed and scattered breed, men given to roaming and reshaping the face of the land.”
As the film concludes, Richards reads American historian Bernard Augustine DeVoto’s words on Lewis and Clark’s return from their western exploration in 1805 to describe the people who completed the arch made in their honor 160 years later:
By strength and skill and valor they rolled the unknown back before them. They were too weary, uncomfortable, and much too seasoned to rejoice. But the idea in the restless mind of Thomas Jefferson had been given flesh. Meriwether Lewis’s dream had come true. And the thing was done.
The camera then pulls back as the sun sets, showing St. Louis with its newest—and instantly most beloved—structure.