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Memories Of Building The Arch

Brett Blume
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Members of the crew that built the Gateway Arch nearly a half-century ago get the rock star treatment Monday. They autographed giant posters of the Arch for a long line of people who waited for their signatures and quizzed them about their memories of the historic project. (KMOX'Brett Blume)

Members of the crew that built the Gateway Arch nearly a half-century ago get the rock star treatment Monday. They autographed giant posters of the Arch for a long line of people who waited for their signatures and quizzed them about their memories of the historic project. (KMOX’Brett Blume)

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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – When Lawrence Hepburn, then a 19-year-old electrician, first heard about plans to build the Gateway Arch he had one overriding opinion.

“I thought it was a hell of a waste of money!,” he recalls with a hearty laugh. “I remember thinking they could build a hospital or something that would really benefit the people more.”

Nevertheless Hepburn and his older brother helped wire the Arch all the way to the top, something that wouldn’t have been possible if he’d suffered from acrophobia like some of the other guys who stayed on the ground.

“There were a lot of people who couldn’t work past a certain point because you could look out the top and see the clouds going by, and it made them sick,” he explains.

And of course Hepburn’s opinion of the 630 foot tall monument has changed over the years and he now recognizes it for the historic icon and symbol of St. Louis that it has become.


He was among more than a dozen members of the crew that battled the extreme heights, the bitter cold and the sizzling heat over a number of years to build the Arch who gathered together Monday morning on the 48th anniversary of the Arch’s topping off.

Like rock stars or famous actors they were lined up side-by-side at tables as a long line of people filed through to get their signatures on giant posters of the Arch.

Prominent among the group was Ken Kolkmeier, onsite project manager for the Gateway Arch.

Does he recall having any doubts as to whether the two legs of the Arch could successfully be joined up?

“No, not at all,” Kolkmeier answers firmly. “I don’t think there was ever a fear that we weren’t going to get it done.”

Kolkmeier figures prominently in the memorable film about the Arch’s construction, Charles Guggenheim’s “Monument to the Dream”.

He’s seen wearing a long overcoat, unflappably working hundreds of feet in the air dropping in metal pins to link the north and south legs of the Arch as the final segment was hoisted into place on October 28th, 1965.

A half century later Kolkmeier remains extremely proud of the work he and his co-workers were able to accomplish under what were often very trying conditions.

“The men who worked on this Arch were highly skilled and dedicated,” he says, adding that the end result speaks for itself. “As you can see, it’s still here.”

KMOX/Brett Blume

KMOX/Brett Blume

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