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by Bob Moore
The Gateway Center officially transferred title to the Gateway Geyser and the 34.1 acres of ground leading from the soaring fountain west to the Mississippi River to the Metro East Park and Recreation District.
In remarks before a crowd gathered at the site, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay complimented the effort of many people who worked to make the park a reality. "I'm also looking forward to having people who come visit St. Louis, come by here and get the most spectacular view of the City of St. Louis," said the mayor.
Jerry Kane, president of Metro East Park and Recreation District, stated that Martin spent almost four decades to make it happen and then turned it over to a public park district so it could remain forever. "That in itself is his legacy - not only his vision, but his perseverance. He sets an example for everyone that we can improve the quality of life for all of us."
In an interview following the dedication, Marshall Hier, president of Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis, told Southwest Illinois News that Martin would always joke with St. Louisans who would ask, 'Why are you interested in East St. Louis.' He would say, 'Well that's what I have to look at each morning.'"
Heir stated that the Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis was formed by Malcolm W. Martin, back in 1968 with the intention of doing something on the east side to fulfill Eero Saarinen's dream of having a memorial on both sides of the Mississippi River.
It wasn't until the railroads on the east side had no further use for their tracks, that the property became available. In 1983, Martin's organization purchased 50 acres of land of which this is the remaining 34 acres. Additional property north of the site which could not be incorporated into the park was sold that to the Casino Queen.
In 1984, there was federal legislation to designate this a federal park which would have been fine, but no funding ever came through, stated Hier. "In the early nineties, the thought was, well let's not wait for some park to take this over, let's do something with the property. It was actually, the late Robert Hyland, of KMOX, who suggested to Malcolm, why don't we build the world's highest fountain."
The fountain, powered by three 800-horse-power pumps, discharging 8,000 gallons of water per minute at 250 feet per second, was completed in 1995 at a cost of $4 million. "We think it is the world's highest fountains because it goes up 600 ft on a calm day and then there are four smaller fountains that reach 100 ft," stated Hier.
The next step was approaching the Metro East Park and Recreation District in 2002 about the possibility of their interest in taking over the property. The contract was finally completed back in April 2005 with the closing on June 8.
"At the closing, we transferred not only the 34 acres and the fountains and other improvements, but we also transferred $2.5 million in funds to be used to operate and maintain this property.
Martin's philanthropic work was also inspired by another lawyer, Luther Ely Smith, whose vision paved the way for the Gateway Arch (Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park). A memorial park named for Ely is located east of the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.
Hier related that Luther Ely Smith grew up in Downers Grove, just outside Chicago. "He went to school in the East and then came to St. Louis to teach school originally. He went to law school and was known as a St. Louis lawyer all his life. In addition to his law practice, he was also heavily involved in civic endeavors including the Arch."
Hier said that Smith had been appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt as part of the commission in Vincennes, Indiana to help bring about a national memorial on the Walbash River. "He was so inspired by what Vincennes had done in this tribute to George Rogers Clark of Revolutionary War fame, that he brought the same idea back to St. Louis."
When Malcolm came back from WWII, Hier continued, he wanted to make himself useful. "He discovered that Luther Ely Smith needed some help in this civic endeavor in bringing the Arch into being. Malcolm volunteered his services and learned civic responsibility from Smith's example," said Hier.
"Neither Smith nor Martin ever lived to see the fruition of the dream. But each of them said, the dream doesn't end with me. There will be others who will carry it on."
Hier stated that both men volunteered their free time and also invested their own money in the civic projects.
"When there wasn't enough funding for the architectural prize that resulted in the Arch being chosen, Luther Ely Smith reached into his own pocket and came up with forty thousand dollars. Back in the late forties, it was real money," noted Hier.
"Malcolm also poured millions of his own money," stated Hier. "He lived frugally. His only indulgence was his apartment in the Mansion House that overlooked East St. Louis. He was very much interested in the well being of East St. Louis."
"What you have is two good men, two good examples. Today we see the completion of the dream of a park on both sides," stated Hier.
The memorial park will include observation decks, a 9-11 memorial, multi-use trails, picnic tables, terraced lawn seating, interpretive signage, wildflowers and a wetland.
A 10-foot tall sign, developed by HOK to mark the official entrance to the park, will be installed later this summer.
See related story: Illinois Officials Unveil Model of New Mississippi River Overlook
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