Mississippi Rising

Mississippi Rising

The HOK-designed overlook is located across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.
Miriam Moynihan

Visitors to the Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park in East St. Louis, Illinois, can walk up a new viewing platform designed by HOK to get that perfect shot of the St. Louis skyline, or just watch the big river roll by. The 34-acre park, which opened in June directly across the Mississippi from the St. Louis arch, was the vision of the St. Louis attorney who left his entire estate to help fund the green space and viewing platform in a spot carved out from the commerce along the Illinois side of the river.

“Eero Saarinen always thought about having a park across the river,” said Gyo Obata, a founding partner of HOK who studied with Saarinen. “What we came up with was to create an overlook in this location. The levee is so high that you have to go up almost 40 feet to see the river and the skyline.”

The St. Louis skyline seen at night from the new overlook.
Courtesy HOK

Construction started in 2006, with costs at $5.7 million to build the platform and an additional $2.7 million for the parking lot, landscape, and irrigation, said Mike Buehlhorn, executive director of the Metro East Parks and Recreation Division. The handicap accessible platform is 43.5 feet tall, a poured-in-place concrete structure supported by 64 beams. The park also has a huge geyser-type fountain that shoots water four times a day as high as the 630-foot St. Louis arch. Each 15-minute-long blast can send 8,000 gallons of water per minute into the sky.

The park sits adjacent to a Cargill grain elevator to the north and vacant land to the south. Martin worked for decades on the project, making sure that the site was not scooped up for commercial activity until enough money was raised to develop it. “It’s a crime that all along that eastern bank of the Mississippi, more couldn’t be done,” Obata said. “We, as a city, have not really taken advantage of that river.”

So far, the platform has been a great success. “We’ve had people from all over the country, making comments about the magnificent view and the easy walk to the top,"  Buehlhorn said. "It’s been very well received.”

Obata discusses the overlook in a video shot by HOK.