Luther Ely Smith

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Luther Ely Smith
Born June 11, 1873
Downers Grove, Illinois
Died April 2, 1951(1951-04-02) (aged 77)
St. Louis, Missouri
Cause of death
Heart attack
Resting place
Bellefontaine Cemetery
St. Louis, Missouri
Education Williston Northampton School (1890), Amherst College (1894), Washington University in St. Louis (1897)
Occupation Lawyer
Known for "Founder of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial"
Spouse(s) Sa Lees Kennard
Children Addeline Smith Boyd
Sa Lees Smith Seddon
Luther Ely Smith, Jr.

Luther Ely Smith (June 11, 1873 – April 2, 1951) was a St. Louis, Missouri lawyer, civic booster and is called by the National Park Service the "father of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial."

Early life[edit]

Smith was born in Downers Grove, Illinois. He attended prep school at Williston Northampton School in Easthampton, Massachusetts graduating in 1890; Amherst College where he was a classmate of future Chief Justice of the United States Harlan F. Stone and was a year ahead of Calvin Coolidge and Dwight W. Morrow. He graduated in 1894 and then received a law degree at Washington University in St. Louis in 1897.

He volunteered with Third U.S Volunteer Engineers during the Spanish-American War.

St. Louis Booster[edit]

After the war he started a law practice in St. Louis and became active in various civic functions including in 1914 when he started that pageant-Masques on Art Hill in Forest Park. The outdoor pageants morphed into The MUNY.

He was chairman of the City Plan Commission and hired Harland Bartholomew as city planner in 1916—making St. Louis the first city to have such a full-time position.

In World War I, he volunteered and served as a captain in the field artillery.

After the war he worked on establishing the Memorial Plaza—a collection of landmark buildings including the Civil Courts Building and Kiel Auditorium.

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial[edit]

In the 1920s his Amherst school-mate Coolidge appointed him to a federal commission to build the George Rogers Clark Memorial in Vincennes, Indiana.

In the 1930s the United States was looking to build a memorial to Thomas Jefferson (which would eventually become the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.) however Smith said that while riding a train back to St. Louis from a meeting on the Clark memorial, he happened upon the idea that the memorial should be placed on historic property in St. Louis where the expansion to the west occurred but had become a dowdy waterfront.

Smith pitched the idea to Mayor Bernard Dickmann. The two then pitched the idea again to civic leaders. Smith was appointed chairman of the committee to investigate further. The committee became the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association and was formally chartered in April 1934. He served as its chairman for every year except until 1949 after the selection of the signature Gateway Arch.

The original plan called for it to be financed by the federal government and city of St. Louis. The proposed project required clearing 40 blocks in the heart of St. Louis and expected to cost $30 million was met with considerable opposition. However, voters on September 10, 1935, approved a $7.5 million bond issue for the project. Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order on December 21, 1935, authorizing the Department of Interior to acquire and develop the memorial.

The federal government acquired the property via condemnation rather than negotiated sales and court cases delayed the process. But the entire 90-acre (360,000 m2) site was cleared by May 1942.

Further work was delayed due to World War II. In 1941 he was chairman of the state organizational committee that created the Missouri Plan for non-partisan selection of judges.

During the war, Smith was quoted about his vision for the site that there should be "a central figure, a shaft, a building, an arch, or something which would symbolize American culture and civilization."

In 1946 he attempted to raise $225,000 for an architecture contest for the Memorial. He personally invested $40,000 of the amount.

In 1948 he wrote contest winner Eero Saarinen:

It was your design, your marvelous conception, your brilliant forecast into the future, that has made the realization of the dream possible – a dream that you and the wonderful genius at your command and the able assistance of your associates are going to achieve far beyond the remotest possibility that we had dared visualize in the beginning.

Smith died in 1951 before the arch construction began in 1963. He was buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery.


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