Sunday, July 09, 2006
We like tall things. And the St. Louis Arch is a Very Tall Thing. It is much taller and thinner than I imagined. It's taller than the Washington Monument, but not as tall as the Eiffel Tower. The Arch is also a lot younger than I realized. It wasn't completed until 1965. I'm not sure I like being older than internationally recognizable monuments.
The real surprise was the trip up to the observation deck. We are used to the office building observation deck where you take the elevator up to the top and there is a platform and a gift shop and maybe even a restaurant.
To get to the top of the St. Louis Arch you climb into a pod that looks like a space ship capsule designed by Austin Powers. Each pod only holds five people and they better get along. If your group is smaller than five, hope that your randomly assigned companions have good hygiene. The trip takes a couple of minutes and the cars are poorly ventilated.
Each tram is a group of eight pods that get pulled like pearls on a necklace up the inside the slender triangular base of the arch. They are inline when people board them, but stack one on top of each other as they go up the hollow inside of the arch.
At the top, the tram cars open onto stairs that go up to the observation deck. The cabin of a wide body jet is bigger than the observation platform. However, the views through the small rectangualr windows are spectacular. You can see the casino boats across the river, the new Busch Field baseball stadium and the courthouse where Dred Scott lost his freedom, and arguably started the Civil War.
The gift shop down in the undergound museum had a book that asked in an essay the rhetorical question "Could we build the Arch today?" It was challenging our lack of will to build bold monuments. I took the question to mean that there is no way this clever but cramped tramway inside a caternary arch would ever past muster in this ADA-accessible world. The Arch would have to be three or four times as wide to accommodate a more conventional vertical transportation system.
The current system seems like an afterthought that is not very comfortable for people of any mobility level. The vision of the Arch came first, and the other functions had to fit in the concept. Today that sort of compromise would not be tolerated. Whether that is good or bad can be debated, but the Arch is an engineering and artistic marvel.
Blatent Comment Whoring: What is the oddest form of transportation you have taken?