National Park Service Competition Hurdles

Home » Visionary Concepts » Eco Arch Project » Design / History » National Park Service Competition Hurdles

Letter from Chuck Harris, Chairman, Emeritus, Harvard Graduate School of Design and Landscape Architecture

(Reaction to recent National Park Service competition proposals)

"What a very deep mistake that the competition cut out an opportunity to consider your brilliant proposal for the East Side of the river!  I keep thinking some other reason might come along to cause a re-examination of the present proposal for the East Side.  What is being proposed on the East Bank is empty of any historic significance, (tie with the famous Indian mounds,etc.)  or of any future or meaning.

Why would any one want to go there based upon the proposed land uses and design for the East Side of the river?



Following is a brief synopsis of the resistance and difficulties with which the Eco Arch and improvements to the Arch grounds have been met.

As a site-specific sculptor, I have remained focused for the past 33 years on a project for this region.   I have contributed the major portion of my passion, creative commitment, and money to a project I call the Eco Arch proposed for the East St. Louis riverfront.  When built, it will make East St. Louis an equal aesthetic partner with St. Louis.  With the proper development, St. Louis and East St. Louis can become a valued destination, a favored tourist attraction as well as a catalyst for growth.
When the competition was announced by the National Park Service, the public learned that the site selected for the East St. Louis development is almost entirely south of the centerline of the Arch.  Any development on that side of the Mississippi river must obviously correspond to the east-west axis of the Arch to relate to that great monument.  It was further announced that the project is to be completed by 2015 to meet an anniversary date.  Memorable monuments are not erected under such time constraints.   In 1935 FDR signed the bill to create The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park.  Thirty years later, in 1968 the Gateway Arch was dedicated and it was not completed until 1986.

Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar
Secretary Salazar’s staffer emailed me to say: "Thank you for your request to meet with Secretary Salazar regarding your Eco Arch ideas.  Unfortunately, his schedule will not be able to accommodate your request this time.  Thanks again, and have a good day."

National Park Service, Dan Wenk, Jon Jarvic and David Given
I was told that not only were they too busy, but since the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is in the Midwest Region, David N. Given, Acting Director of the Midwest Region in Omaha, Nebraska, would respond to my concerns.  I informed them that this was not just a Midwest  regional issue.   David Given stated, " If you have any questions, Superintendent Thomas Bradley is the one to contact."

Superintendent, National Park Service Thomas A. Bradley, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
Bradley met with me because Senator Richard J. Durbin wrote Mr. Bradley a powerful letter supporting both the Eco Arch and the bridge connecting the Arch and Old Courthouse, quoting eminent Saarinen architect, Ralph Rapson.   Superintendent Bradley then sent a St. Louis Post- Dispatch reporter.  Here is a direct quotation resulting from the 06. 07. 2009 article:  "Bradley, the Arch superintendent, is not a fan of the Eco Arch, saying, "You really have to question its reality".   When I called Bradley, he assured me he never made that statement.  The reporter, Jake Wagman, sent me an email saying Thomas Bradley did make that exact statement and I forwarded it to the superintendent who said that it was probably quoted out of context.   Jake then let me listen to the tape and the quote was accurate.

Excerpts from Thomas Bradley letter to Saunders Schultz on October 22, 2009:
“...we have to keep so many things in mind; suitability for the site, compatibility with the existing Saarinen/Kiley plan, ...adaptability to the park’s established themes,etc.
Hopefully, this competition will echo the tone and results of the 1947-1948 program.    Transparency and public input will avoid the many pitfalls of an individual or an exclusive group of people making decisions in a vacuum.
I hope you understand that at no point, either before or after the current General Management Plan, could we have contacted with a designer non-competitively to create a plan for the East Side.  Likewise, we cannot stop the current process to say that we already have a design, and that we will not hold a competition”
As late as 01.29.2012, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the “compatibility issue” was reemphasized: “CityArchRiver leaders say they won’t be able to finish their plan for the  east St. Louis riverfront by 2015.
The plan is to expand the park onto 60 acres of East St. Louis riverfront, with a restored wetlands area and pavilion around the fountain pond.  Metcalfe said the project needs a connection to a new Illinois   Route 3 running along the elevated interstates in East St. Louis.  The Illinois Department of Transportation has begun preliminary design for a new four-lane highway from Venice to Sauget but has no start  date, a spokesman said.”   Is it difficult to see that for a metropolis to realize its full potential, all adjacent areas must also benefit from the urban renaissance?   In this case, the eastern side of the Mississippi River.

U.S. Senator Claire Mc Caskill
Missouri State Senator, Joan Bray called U.S. Senator Claire Mc Caskill to suggest she view these projects.  The Senator was too busy but she did ask her Chief of Staff, Tod Martin to meet with us.  Tod told Bill Houlihan, Senator Richard Durbin's Downstate Director and me that a meeting would be a waste of our time because the Senator wanted the competition and was not interested any other ideas.  He finally agreed to a meeting even though we could expect a negative answer.   He told us to keep two dates open because he would be in St. Louis and find time to meet.  It has now been over three years with no call to cancel or reschedule.

Former U.S. Senator Donald Danforth
At a meeting concerning the NPS competition, I asked former Senator Donald Danforth if I might show him a bridge concept.  "You have your agenda and I have mine.  If you want anyone to view yours, see them," pointing to National Park Representatives.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch President, Publisher Kevin Mobry, Editor-in-Chief Arnie Robbins
Concerning the the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Kevin Mobry, President, Publisher and Arnie Robbins, Editor-in-Chief could not be reached by phone. letter or email.  Finally, I was able to reach Maurine Tomsack, Newsroom Office Manager and she suggested I send personal emails to: Christopher Ave, Political Editor, Steve Parker, Assistant Managing Editor, Adam Goodman, Assistant Managing Editor/Metro as well as to Kevin Mowbray and Arnie Robbins.   Not one of these men bothered to acknowledge my email.

St. Louis Post Dispatch OPINION
On August 31, 2009, the Post-Dispatch printed their OPINION piece, Our View, Saarinen's Dream- "Illinois should be a vital component in transforming the Arch grounds."  Evidently, no one there knew that on the front page of the Sunday Post, October 9, 1995 there appeared in color, an article on the Eco Arch.  The next day, Associated Press sent similar stories across the country.  Seeking Saarinen was the lead article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sunday, November 30, 2008. where the last sentence stated, "Let's see what a new generation of Saarinens has to offer."  Why won't the Post find out what the original Saarinen had and still has to offer?  The Eco Arch is the best chance to transform our mutual riverfronts.
When it comes to common sense, can it ever be too late to stop the inexorable momentum of bureaucracy.  The ultimate criterion is and always will be whether we will have honored Eero Saarinen's aesthetic vision.

Saunders Schultz

Mayor Francis Slay
Mayor Francis Slay was shown photos of my sculpture about a year ago by a mutual friend.  His secretary said that he really liked my work and that Jeff Rainford, his Chief of Staff, would arrange a meeting.  When my friend, Landscape Architect Susan Saarinen, Eero's daughter, was in town, I introduced her to the Mayor.  At that time, I reminded him of his promise and he said that although he was very busy, he did wish to meet with me some day.  I said I had information critical to the success of the National Park Service Competition. In an article in the May-June 2010 issue of the St. Louis Commerce Magazine Mayor Slay said, "When a national design competition was held in 1947, the jury chose the most audacious entry-Eero Saarinen's 630-foot arch.  The results of that competition changed our skyline forever- and I'm confident that the results of the 2015 competition will be no different."   Mayor Francis Slay's remarks will be proved incorrect because the current competition does not contain any designs that could be remotely described as audacious.

Governor Jay Nixon
When we met in May, 2009, I mentioned that I had a few Ideas for St. Louis and especially a bridge solution between the Arch and Old Courthouse supported by twenty-one architect collaborators of Arch designer, Eero Saarinen.  I said that it could impact the National Park Service competition and be of value to the St. Louis region.  He said that he wanted to meet with me and instructed me to call Deputy Chief of Staff Dustin Allison, to set that meeting.  After six calls with no return response from Mr. Allison, over three years have elapsed. (he even gave me Dustin’s card to make sure I had the correct number.)
I mentioned, at that time that there were wealthy, politically connected St, Louisans who were attempting to alter our National Park through a flawed competition, under his watch.  The lid-bridge resulting from that competition is inappropriate and will cost Missouri taxpayers millions of unnecessary dollars as well as creating serious inconvenience by disrupting existing traffic patterns. It is also inconsistent with the design intent of Eero Saarinen.

U S Representative William Lacy Clay
I tried to reach U.S. Representative William Lacy Clay for many months.  His staffers informed me that he was too busy to meet with me, even though I had told his representatives that it was urgent and involved the St. Louis segment of the National Park Service competition.  On January, 30, 2011, I read a quote by him in the. Louis Post Dispatch stating: "This is not a time for timid leaders or weak ideas.  It is a time for courage.  People always resist change, because they fear it."

Chancellor Mark Wrighton
Mark Stephen Wrighton, Chancellor of Washington University, told me that he had viewed a proposal for a music museum on the East. St. Louis Riverfront and inquired how my concept was different.  As a sculptor, I strive for a holistic solution to uniting the St. Louis and East St.Louis region.  My concept does not diminish Eero Saarinen's Arch.  As far as the Eco Arch is concerned, he continued, I don't understand it because, "I'm not a landscaper."

Response from Saunders Schultz to National Park Service Competition Proposals

THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES                                                           

The revised, presumably final, study by MVVA for the modifications to the Jefferson National Expansion Park has now been unveiled. Funding is being sought to make these changes a reality.  The cost has nearly doubled and after respectfully waiting to study the final results the time has come to publicly ask what is being achieved.   Having studied this site and the problems on which the competition was supposedly based since 1967, we have raised many of our concerns  and shared our solutions with the National Park Service staff, their consultants and others.   Most of our suggestions ultimately found their way as components of the program documents for the "competition"- a process that was so restrictive that it virtually eliminated creativity. We discovered that no surviving architect of Saarinen's office whom we contacted, had been consulted in this entire planning process.   Even those chosen by Saarinen to collaborate with him on the Arch design were overlooked.   Most of his colleagues, after viewing the requirements to enter the recent competition, have stated that Saarinen and Kiley themselves could not have qualified to enter.  Therefore, we feel obligated as concerned and experienced design professionals, to raise the following points for serious discussion.  

Nothing is gained by closing a block of Memorial Drive and re-routing already complicated traffic.  Fourth Street remains open and a barrier with even heavier traffic volume.  The costly MVVA lid covering the depressed highway is almost identical in its design, scale and landscaping to the plan of our landscaped bridge proposal (1974) spanning Memorial Drive.   Our proposal permits spanning Fourth Street, tying in at the sides of the east portico of the Old Courthouse,  as well as a below grade connection from the basement of the Old Courthouse.    Both options would serve those with limited mobility, offering traffic-free access to the Arch grounds and its amenities.   There is no need to alter the traffic patterns of the streets (including Memorial Drive) in any way, to provide direct, traffic-free, landscaped pedestrian access. That would enable the Arch and the Park to engage the Old Courthouse, an element of the Park, with the integrity it deserves, and as Saarinen and Kiley intended, based on their surviving sketches.

The attractions (skating rink, beer garden etc.) at the critical south end of the Park have been eliminated, probably to cut costs, except for the oddly sited gondola station and the retention of the maintenance facilities.  This will effectively block access to the area to the south.  Chouteau’s Landing could still house an impressive tourist drawing aquarium (as we proposed in 1974) as well as other new attractions, and those already existing, such as the historic Our Lady of Victories church, that are little known and virtually inaccessible.    

The gondola system related to the Poplar Street Bridge is less visually competitive with the Arch than the one originally proposed, although it could present a hazardous distraction for drivers on the already accident-prone bridge. Motorists in managing a three way merge (I-70 vs. I - 44 vs. I-64) while watching a gondola go by could pose a real danger.  The terminals are oddly sited on both sides of the river.

With all the expenditure of time and money, it is curious that no one has addressed the obvious problem of getting people from one end of the Park to the other, except on foot.  Why not, in lieu of pricy " competitive gondolas to nowhere", provide a personal rapid transit (PRT) loop utilizing compact, driver-less, family-sized pod cars for greater security, comfort and maneuverability.  Such a highly flexible system already exists and has been used successfully elsewhere including (in demonstration mode) Heathrow Airport (London) and is now being installed at the new Masdar City, the post-petroleum model community being developed in Abu-Dhabi.  The pods are so light and efficient that they could cross the river supported ( and perhaps in tandem with a fine pedestrian walkway) from the deck structures on the south side of the Martin Luther King Bridge and the north side of the Mac Arthur Bridge.  

While one must ask the question, “What of any real worth is proposed as an attraction on the East Side?    Moving with river views above the flood wall on the East side, these PRT pods would provide access to the full range of potential development of that vital and valuable riverfront without limiting its planning options.  On the West bank the PRT could be housed unobtrusively either in the existing railroad cut expanded to the east, or paralleling it and roofed by a gracious riverfront promenade that would permit the visitor to view and experience the mighty river in all of its many moods.  This extremely energy efficient, safe, public friendly and even wheelchair accessible system would link the attractions of Laclede's and Chouteau's landings to those at the north and south ends of  the JNEM and possibly even to the Old Courthouse and the City.  A station located beneath the grand staircase would serve the museum and the Arch.    Because the PRT has substantial potential to assist in  relieving the congestion in our cities, funding might be available to support the development of this prototype.