When it comes to the redevelopment of the Gateway Arch, much of the region's attention has been focused on the grounds and the areas surrounding the Arch. However, underneath the Arch's footprint, a brand-new museum experience is taking shape.
The Jefferson National Expansion Museum, as it's known today, will be "100 percent a new museum," said Ann Honious, chief of museum services and interpretation for the National Park Service's Jefferson National Expansion Museum. While it will be in the same footprint of space under the Arch, the new museum will feature six new galleries focusing on St. Louis' role in westward expansion. The galleries will address colonial St. Louis, Thomas Jefferson's vision, new frontiers, Manifest Destiny, the riverfront era and the building of the Arch and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
"The museum exhibits are based on the purpose and mission of the park," Honious said. "We will tell the story of Lewis and Clark, but we're looking more into the people who left St. Louis and how St. Louis allowed them to move west."
Honious added: "We want to tell a story that's not reflected elsewhere."
Themes of the new museum will be supported in the Arch's new visitors center, which upon its completion will open toward Memorial Drive and the Old Courthouse. The 42,000-square-foot expansion and redesign provides space for an interactive audio-visual experience like none other in St. Louis, said Ryan McClure, communications director for CityArchRiver 2015 Foundation, the organization that is overseeing the design and fundraising of the Arch redevelopment project. A huge screen will display the people and scenes you would have seen if you were traveling into the west in the 19th century.
The current museum, which opened in 1976, will close in the second half of 2014, Honious said, and she encouraged families to visit one last time before it does (See details on the March 22 Night at the Museum event).
During museum construction, Arch trams will continue to run, as will school, scout and ranger programs.
The Old Courthouse will also house new exhibits. Four galleries will be added to the historic building. Topics will include the U.S. court system and how it works, the history of the building, the Dred Scott case, and other important cases tried on site. These galleries are scheduled to open in fall 2015.
Both museum experiences are being designed by Haley Sharpe Design, and they are part of the $380 million renovation of the arch grounds and surrounding areas.
The National Park Service is currently recruiting volunteers to participate in focus groups to help shape the visitor experience at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial visitors center and museum. Focus groups are about two to three hours long. For more information, email [email protected]