Mini-Flood 54: Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park


photo by Ann Aurbach

Malcolm W. Martin was a St. Louisan dedicated to the cultural landscape of the city. After helping to plan the D-Day invasion in Normandy to end WWII, Martin returned home a decorated hero, and immediately set out to make even more of himself. He was influential to the origins of both KETC Channel 9 and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis. The Park bearing his name offers one of the best views of downtown St. Louis, which we were lucky to observe at sunrise.


photo by Dan Henrichs


photo by Mike Matney


photo by Isaac Richardson


photo by Annie Chartrand


photo by Sue Rakers


photo by James Palmour

In 1947, the 37-year old architect, Eero Saarinen entered his submission into a design competition to build a monument to both Thomas Jefferson and the American West.  The competition included more than 170 entries, including one from Saarinen’s own father (also an architect), but Eero’s vision, with its soaring catenary arch (a design some scholars believe dates back to at least the Minoans), won easily.

This is, perhaps, a story quite familiar to most St. Louisans, however, that Saarinen also had plans for the eastern side of the Mississippi River in his submission is known to a much lesser extant.  At one point, he even considered submitting a plan for the arch to extend across the Mississippi.  See the image below, a rendering from Saarinen for the design competition that illustrates landscaping the architect wanted for the eastern riverfront.



photo by Joe Rakers


photo by James Palmour


photo by Jason Gray


photo by Dan Henrichs


photo by Theresa Harter

Malcolm W. Martin, fresh from his stint in World War II, became a key player in seeing Saarinen’s vision for the St. Louis riverfront come to life (ten years went by after the competition was complete before construction began).  In 1987, twenty-two years after the St. Louis Gateway Arch was completed, Martin formed the Gateway Center to expand the Park across the Mississippi and into Illinois, according to what Saarinen had intended.  This same year, he became a chairman on the commission taxed with overseeing this extension. Successes were made gradually- it seemed easier to convince St. Louisans of the need for a memorial on their side of the river than it did on the opposite one (though even the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial project had an unpopular beginning). Martin personally purchased more than thirty acres of the Illinois riverfront for the project, and converted it into parkland. In 1995, the Gateway Center had the Gateway Geyser installed, which sprays upwards of 600 feet in the air (almost as tall as the Arch), making it the second tallest fountain in the world.  Four additional, 100 foot tall fountains surround the main one, and represent the four principle rivers of the area.


photo by Theresa Harter


photo by Sue Rakers


photo by Annie Chartrand

Mr. Martin died in 2004.  Upon his death, he donated an additional $5 million to the preservation of this Park in East St. Louis.  In 2005, Gateway Center donated the Park, renamed Martin W. Martin Memorial Park, to the Metro East Parks and Recreation District, though it continues to fund for its maintenance and any developments, like the forty foot tall, Mississippi River Overlook that was installed in 2009 and provided breathtaking views of St. Louis’ skyline.  Long term, one would hope that the National Parks Service would eventually recognize the significance of including this Park in its Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.  It’s almost as if Martin himself, whose bronze likeness sits on the overlook across the river, is steadfastly present, viewing what he helped to put in motion and waiting for it to catch up.


photo by Jason Gray


photo by Dan Henrichs


photo by Annie Chartrand


photo by Sue Rakers


photo by Jason Gray





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