The End of an Era & The Beginning of a New Chapter
The Gateway Geyser at Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park has graced the East St. Louis riverfront for more than 29 years. In late 2023, Metro East Park and Recreation District and Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis sadly but optimistically, announced the end of that era.
The Gateway Geyser was inaugurated on May 27, 1995. The geyser was the brainchild of Malcolm W. Martin, a philanthropist and civic leader who shared the vision of Gateway Arch architect Eero Saarinen, who believed that the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, now the Gateway Arch National Park, should be extended into Illinois, connecting both sides of the mighty Mississippi River. Martin made it his mission to fulfill Saarinen’s unrealized vision and in 1968 he founded the Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis, a non-profit group that still exists today. The nonprofit has worked tirelessly to protect the tract of land along the Illinois riverfront and raised private donations to construct the fountain.
The Gateway Geyser was designed to mirror the height of the Gateway Arch, reaching up to 630 feet in the air, making it the tallest water fountain in the United States and third tallest in the world. The geyser was flanked by four smaller fountains, representing the confluence of the four major rivers in the St. Louis area: the Mississippi River, the Missouri River, the Illinois River, and the Meramec River. The fountain was a testament to the perseverance and dedication of Malcolm W. Martin and the nonprofit.
In 2004, the Gateway Geyser and undeveloped land surrounding it was donated by the Gateway Center to Metro East Park and Recreation District. Between that time and 2009, the land was transformed into and officially dedicated as Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park. During the warmer months of the year, the geyser could be seen from miles away with daily eruptions at noon.
Unfortunately, as they say all good things must come to an end, and the Gateway Geyser is no different. Nearly 30 years of wear and tear has certainly taken a toll on the geyser’s pond liner, pumps, generators, and infrastructure; really no different than if your daily driver was a 30-year-old vehicle. All the parts and pieces have just surpassed their useful life and it shows. Also, what once might have made sense to operate and maintain the tallest water fountain in the U.S., is now outweighed by fiscal due diligence, environmental impacts, and the prioritization of other important goals and objectives.
One such priority is the continuation of support for and progress of the Illinois Expansion of Gateway Arch National Park, and we have some hopeful news to share with you regarding just that. The Metro East Park and Recreation District and the Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis are in active discussions with the National Park Service (“NPS”) about the Illinois Expansion of Gateway Arch National Park. This has been a long-standing goal of both organizations and one that Malcolm W. Martin himself felt most strongly about.
The National Park Service has always expressed interest in acquiring the park, but had major reservations about the geyser, which is clearly incompatible with the mission and story behind the Gateway Arch being a memorial to the Westward Expansion of the United States. The removal of the geyser will not only alleviate that concern for the National Park Service but will allow space for potential future developments and make way for the new Illinois Route 3 which will be directly adjacent to where the geyser once operated.
Both the Metro East Park and Recreation District and Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis are proud of what the Gateway Geyser once was; but now look forward to the next chapter finally achieving Eero Saarinen’s and Malcolm Martin’s shared aspirations of the Illinois Expansion, a goal that has been more than fifty years in the making.
Although there is a significant amount of work that still needs to be accomplished to make the Illinois expansion a reality, and it isn’t a sure thing, both the Metro East Park and Recreation District and Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis are pleased with the recent progress and remain optimistic that the NPS will follow through. We will keep you updated on the Illinois Expansion project as it unfolds. In the meantime, we invite you to visit Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park and enjoy a passive park environment where you can take in the best view in the region of the Gateway Arch and St. Louis skyline. The park remains open daily from dawn to dusk, and admission is free.
Thank you for your continued support and patronage of Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park. We hope to see you soon.