Barricades around Arch grounds draw some complaints

Friday, February 7, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Critics who don't like the aesthetics of the new barriers along the western edge of the Gateway Arch grounds can take solace in knowing they are temporary. Or are they?

The National Park Service office in St. Louis said Thursday the string of 10-feet long, 32-inch high, 4,100-pound concrete barriers along Memorial Drive is a temporary security measure, intended to keep a truck or van carrying explosives from entering the Arch grounds, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

Yet, the agency's office in Washington says it doesn't know if the barriers being installed this week will be temporary. The agency hasn't gotten that far in its thinking, spokesman Al Nash said.

"I think they're horrible; they look terrible," said St. Louis architect Andrew Trivers, immediate past president of the American Institute of Architects' St. Louis chapter. "I understand the necessity from a security standpoint, but they start out being temporary and end up being there for years."

He said the park's designer, Eero Saarinen "would be aghast" at seeing "terribly unsightly" highway barriers as the foreground for such a major historic structure.

"If they would simply get architects involved, we could arrive at something that is both attractive and serve security purposes," he said. "This is the quickest, most expedient solution possible, and my fear is it's going to be there forever."

"These are supposed to be inviting public places, but what these do is simply say they're not quite inviting."

The AIA's St. Louis chapter is open to discussing how it might help design a more aesthetic alternative, Executive Director Michelle Swatek said Thursday. "Security doesn't have to look like an afterthought," she said.

More appealing solution

St. Louis architect Everett Medling, who does security design, said a more appealing solution could include landscape adjustments, grade changes, and the addition of concrete retaining walls.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the National Park Service decided it had to provide greater security for its vulnerable sites, especially a handful of very high-profile parks because of the "place they hold in our national psyche" -- the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the Washington Monument, Liberty Bell Pavilion and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and the Statue of Liberty, Nash said.

He said the so-called Jersey barriers are a way to safeguard people and places and limit vehicle access. "It's how we can deal with this now," he said. "I don't know if any of us feel we can legitimately look five, 10, or 15 years down the road."

Arch Superintendent Gary Easton said Thursday he believes the barriers are a temporary measure until the National Park Service gets funding to design or build something else. "It can't be a final solution, but it's true, no money has been appropriated," he said.

Jim Cloar, president of Downtown St. Louis Partnership, said he's anxious to find a more palatable security solution. "We have to accomplish security without something as formidable as Jersey barriers," he said.

College freshman Stephanie Jansing, who runs each day to the Arch grounds from Saint Louis University, said the barriers are ugly and probably could not bar a terrorist intent on hurting the Arch or its visitors.

"If they're that determined, they'll find a way to get around," she said.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the National Park Service closed the Statue of Liberty in New York, as well as street and pedestrian access in front of Philadelphia's Independence Hall, said Edie Shean-Hammond, Park Service spokeswoman for the Northeast Region.

The city of Philadelphia agreed, but merchants have challenged the decision to permanently close the area, citing concerns that the Jersey barriers are ugly, obtrusive and uninviting to pedestrians, Shean-Hammond said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: