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Gateway Geyser Renowned as Tallest Fountain in U.S. and Spectacular Complement to the Arch

How Hydro Dramatics Helped Civic Booster Realize His Dream Of Creating a Marvel on the East St. Louis Waterfront

The story of the Gateway Geyser - which rises to nearly 630 feet as befits a fountain located directly across the Mississippi River from St. Louis’ world-renowned Gateway Arch - is an inspiring blend of vision and commitment, ideas and expertise.

It all began with the dream of the late Malcolm W. Martin. A retired attorney and civic booster, Martin embarked on a personal mission dating back to the 1960s to revitalize the East St. Louis waterfront in a way that would be both synergistic and complementary to the Arch. Toward that end, Martin and other civic leaders founded the nonprofit Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis in 1968 and began purchasing the site. By 1985, the land was theirs and development could begin to move forward.

Initially, Martin and the Gateway Center considered building a museum, but the idea of a spectacular fountain that would mirror the height of the Arch—and therefore be taller than any other fountain then built in the world--soon began to take shape. But could it be done? What about costs and long-term maintenance? For the answers, Martin turned to Hydro Dramatics and its parent company, Missouri Machinery & Engineering.

As Kerry Friedman, vice president and general manager of Hydro Dramatics explains: “Martin and other board members wanted to know whether their vision of building and operating a fountain taller than any other, anywhere, was possible. We didn’t hesitate—we knew we could make their ideas work and were thrilled with the challenge.”

In May 1995, Martin’s vision came to fruition, as the Gateway Geyser and four surrounding smaller fountains—each representing one of the rivers that converge in St. Louis--were dedicated amidst a crowd of well-wishers. “It was—and still is—awe-inspiring,” Friedman says. “Few people have ever seen anything else like it.”

Fascinating Facts about the Gateway Geyser

  • Powered by three 800-horsepower pumps, the Geyser rockets 7,500 gallons of water per minute straight up at a rate of 250 feet per second—a speed approaching that of air travel. The four smaller fountains are powered by a 125-horsepower pump.
  • An 8-acre, 600-foot-diameter lake containing more than one million gallons feeds the fountains.
  • “An important feature is an automatic system that detects wind speed and lowers the height of the column as necessary to minimize water fallout,” Friedman says. The fountain is automatically shut down when wind speeds exceed 13 mph.
  • The Geyser normally propels about 1,100 gallons of water weighing 9,200 pounds into the air.
  • An electric beacon on the roof of the maintenance building alerts any overhead aircraft when the Geyser is about to go off.
  • At the Geyser’s heart is a custom designed and manufactured six-foot-tall nozzle-within-a-nozzle system; the nozzles aerate the water and give it a remarkable shimmering whiteness.

Maintaining the Geyser

Operating a massive water feature such as the Gateway Geyser involves what Friedman describes as a “Twenty-First Century control system.” Hydro Dramatics can operate, monitor and shut down the fountains in an emergency from any location, using the Internet. In addition, Hydro Dramatics performs routine monthly maintenance on-site, checking for noise, vibration, over-heating, pressure, and so on.

“Our control system for the Geyser is similar in approach to controls we install for fountains of all sizes and complexity,” Friedman says. “No matter how complicated a fountain or water feature may be, we always look for maintenance solutions that will work for the long term.”

The Gateway Geyser Site Continues to Develop

The Gateway Geyser’s principal proponent, Malcolm Martin, died in 2004; the organization he founded, the Gateway Center of Metropolitan St. Louis, donated the Geyser and the surrounding 34.1 acres to the Metro East Park and Recreation District in 2005 for further development. The transfer coincided with the dedication of the grounds as Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park.

Numerous enhancements are in the works for the park, including construction of The Mississippi River Overlook Platform, a 43-foot-tall tiered observation structure designed to provide breathtaking views of the Geyser, the Gateway Arch and the St. Louis skyline. The platform is expected to be completed in the fall of 2007.

“The Geyser and surrounding park are a fitting tribute to Malcolm Martin,” Friedman says. “We take great pride in the fact that we helped make his vision reality and, through our continuing work on the Gateway Geyser, contribute to the ongoing effort to enhance the riverfront for the enjoyment of all.”

The Gateway Geyser is the tallest fountain in the world.

The 600-foot-plus Gateway Geyser
opposite St. Louis' Gateway Arch, is the world's tallest fountain and a Hydro Dramatics success story.


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