These comments should not be discounted by my admiration for Saunders Schultz. Schultz is a sculptor, artist and renowned landscape architect with works all over the globe, including St. Louis. He is one of the founding fathers of architectural art in an environmental context and he is a long-time acquaintance.
More than 26 years ago he started working on his Eco Arch concept, creating, designing, refining and putting on paper how to revitalize not only the Arch grounds in downtown St. Louis, but also rejuvenate East St Louis.
The St. Louis media have largely ignored his ideas, except for a feature article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch 15 years ago, and mention of him in 2009 at the bottom of a story on possible expansion of the Arch grounds to the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.
Not a part of the social, commercial or political elites in this hub of Mid-America, Schultz’s vision may remain just that as the powers that be have made their choice in the recent competition for renovating the Arch grounds and adding tourist attractions.
Schultz, working with architect Ted Wofford, doesn’t admit defeat. He claims the battle has just begun. U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin endorsed his Eco Arch creation. This year, Durbin recommended that Schultz’s work be considered in the competition, but only large firms were allowed to compete.
Schultz’s Web site (www.saundersschultz.com) includes supportive letters, among others, from 17 architects who worked with Eero Saarinen, designer of the Arch.
St. Louis-based interests may find that the Eco Arch concept is primarily relevant to the Illinois side of the Mississippi. In response, Schultz writes on his website, “The Eco Arch will beautify and correctly develop the area along the eastern riverfront in axial proportion and scale to Saarinen’s existing monument. In this way, the Mississippi river will cease to cut the two cities apart and unite St. Louis with East St. Louis at long last.”
When it was announced that the National Park Service required that reshaping the Arch grounds by the winner of the competition be completed by 2015, Schultz felt that this was an unrealistic time frame. FDR, he says, signed the bill to create the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park in 1935. It took three decades for the Gateway Arch to
Over the years, Schultz has been aggressively pushing for his concept. He tried to communicate with U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Acting Director of the National Park Service Dan Week and later Director Jon Jarvic, Acting Director of the Midwest Region David N. Given and Superintendent Thomas Bradley. Bradley was the only one willing to meet with him.
The story in the Post-Dispatch in June 2009, described Bradley as “not a fan of the Eco Arch, saying `You really have to question its reality.’’
Jake Wagman’s story noted the plan would require relocation of a grain elevator, railroad and the geyser built by Malcolm Martin, a St. Louis lawyer who championed development of the east side of the river bank. Wofford estimates that procuring and landscaping the land would cost a couple of hundred million dollars, which he describes as “peanuts.”
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill also declined to meet with Schultz, suggesting he meet with her aide. But the aide never arranged a meeting.
This writer is capable neither of judging the comparable merits of the entries submitted nor of Schultz’s Eco Arch.
However, reviewing the drawings, the accompanying text explaining what motivated the concept and the regional impact it would have, particularly in rejuvenating East St. Louis, I suggest that it deserved and deserves more attention, particularly by the press, than it was granted.
Bradley probably considers the cost, the all-encompassing scope, and its orientation for the Illinois side will make the Eco Arch unlikely to be built.
Sen. Durbin feels differently. A spokesman for Durbin said he supported the inclusion of the Eco Arch plan in the design competition as a way of giving local sculptors and designers a fair chance to compete. (The five competing firms were all from other cities.)
Even Eero Saarinen would not have been allowed to compete as only big firms were invited, said his daughter, Susan Saarinen, an architect herself. She said St. Louis’ city fathers should work to connect the Arch grounds with East Louis. “This should have been done in the first place,’’ she said.
An architect who worked with Schultz, the late Roger Fritz, said of the Eco Arch plan: “It’s the right project, in the right place and at the right time.’’