While in St. Louis recently, I paid a visit to the Gateway Arch, that awe-inspiring structure of stainless steel that soars 630 feet above the grassy west bank of the Mississippi River. It is an evocative memorial to the role that westward expansion played in the history of the United States. It has also become the symbol of St. Louis, as connected in the public mind with that great city as is the Eiffel Tower with Paris.
I rode the capsule to the top of the Arch, where I reflected upon another, more modest structure, many hundreds of miles to the south, the wooden “baton rouge” that Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville sighted on the bluffs above the Mississippi River on March 17, 1699. In short, the famous “red stick” that gave our city its unique name.
With such a name and history, I thought, why don’t we follow the lead of St. Louis and build a great monument, too? I’m sure all true Baton Rougeans would like their home town to stand out among the cities of the nation. What we need then is an audacious vision, something to startle the rest of the country and make it realize what a special place our city is. As St. Louis did, we could hire a world-class architect to design the structure. And then, after the construction, a new “ Baton Rouge” would rise from the east bank of the Mississippi, an edifice for the 21st century, a red metallic needle soaring skyward, ascending (at least) 631 feet over the surface of the Earth. And don’t forget the high-speed elevator in the pipe to bring visitors to the observation platform on top!
Think of the sunset views, of the tourists who would flock to see it, to photograph it, to spend money in the gift shop. Think of the cultural richness, of the linking in the national mind of our city and an instantly recognizable symbol. And it wouldn’t have to have “several heads of fish and bears attached in sacrifice,” as on Iberville’s original pole. A few thousand gallons of red paint splashed over large metallic animal heads would do the trick.
I fully expect the naysayers, the usual letter writers and enemies of downtown development, to dismiss this proposal as “impractical” and “a waste of taxpayer resources.” But just remember: the same sentiments were expressed in St. Louis. There, however, determined civic leaders overcame strident opposition and transformed their vision into shining reality. Our neighbors to the north possessed a certain spirit of audacity — and so should we.
community outreach specialist
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