The 70mm World Odyssey Theatre
Original plans for the development of the visitor center at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial called for the construction of two theaters. The 325-seat North Theater was opened on May 13, 1972, for the premiere showing of Charles Guggenheim's prize-winning film "Monument to the Dream," detailing the construction of the Gateway Arch. A second film, "Gateway to the West," 30 minutes in length, was first shown to the public in the North Theater on August 12, 1975. The North Theater was officially renamed the Tucker Theater, in memory of former St. Louis Mayor Raymond R. Tucker, on April 13, 1976. 
Due to a lack of available funds, construction of a second or "South Theater" was postponed, although the location was excavated for future use. The concept for this theater, to be named in honor of former St. Louis Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann, grew from the plans of Superintendent Jerry Schober to involve the community in park programs. Schober recalled:
Bi-State Development Agency, at the request of Superintendent Schober, expressed an interest in financing the new theater, now planned as a wide-screen facility capable of presenting a movie in the 70mm IMAX format. Preliminary concept plans and cost estimates were completed during 1987. Technical and legal questions were researched, and discussions held within the Midwest Region of the National Park Service (NPS) and Denver Service Center (DSC) regarding the scheduling of studies and monitoring of construction activities. JEFF would be the first park in the system with such a facility. Funding was tentatively selected, in agreement with the Bi-State Development Agency, as the sale of Series E General Revenue Bonds with debt retirement secured by the Arch tram revenue. As with past projects such as the parking garage, there were no federal funds involved. 
Construction of the new theater required the removal of additional rock from the area of the earlier excavation to accommodate the huge screen. To determine whether this would be feasible, engineers from the Denver Service Center visited the site in May 1987. They concluded that the work could be done without any detrimental effect to the Gateway Arch complex. In meetings between Bi-State and NPS officials, it was decided that DSC would provide project supervision services. An independent A/E consultant would determine the effect of the construction on the Arch, the subterranean structure, and the surrounding grounds and utility systems. Bi-State agreed to finance this study, and in August 1988 Woodward-Clyde consultants began a geotechnical analysis. 
The study indicated that with proper precautions, approximately 1,200 cubic yards of Mississippi limestone could be excavated with no impact on adjacent structures. Once this determination was made, the next decision involved the method to be used. Conventional means, such as blasting, were not possible, for the obvious reasons regarding visitor safety and the structural integrity of the Gateway Arch. In September 1988, park officials forwarded a proposal to the Midwest Regional Office from the University of Missouri-Rolla (UM/Rolla), for a demonstration project to remove approximately 2,000 cubic yards of limestone using a high-pressure water jet. In February 1989, NPS architects attended a demonstration of the method in Rolla, Missouri, and concluded that it would be effective for the Arch project. Among the advantages of the water jet which influenced this decision were that it produced no loud noises, dust or fumes; no large equipment was required; it fragmented the rock into manageable pieces; and it did not damage the existing walls. A contract was drawn up between Bi-State and UM/Rolla, with the Park Service serving as reviewer and evaluator.  "We wanted to go to the wide screen dimensions," recalled Superintendent Schober, "and to accomplish this we only had this one small space."
In September 1989, UM/Rolla and the NPS concluded a Memorandum of Agreement that identified and described the duties of both. The University would design, fabricate, install, and maintain the cutting and splitting (CUSP) equipment, and provide the necessary training and technical assistance to students, hired as temporary NPS employees, who would perform the work. At the same time, University personnel continued their research and development to improve the CUSP process. 
Unexpected delays were encountered due to a Department of Labor determination regarding insurance and liability, which negatively impacted the proposed cooperative agreement between UM/Rolla and the NPS. The agreement had already been approved by the federal solicitor, but the Department of Labor problem was only overcome when it was decided that UM/Rolla employees would be paid under a grant. Non-federal funding was available, in the amount of approximately $750,000, to complete the fiscal year 1990 work schedule. 
The architectural firm of Cox/Croslin and Associates, of Austin, Texas was engaged by DSC on a $200,000 contract to design the South Theater in 1990. This firm had an indefinite quantities contract with DSC, and was "on retainer" for architectural work in the Midwest Region. The preliminary design was completed in March 1991. Excavation of the theater space was begun under a $377,867 demonstration program arrangement with the Rock Mechanics Department of UM/Rolla. Seven engineering technician students were rotated into employment on the project as temporary park employees under the administrative supervision of the JEFF Heating and Air Conditioning (HVAC) crew foreman, John Patterson. They operated the equipment and performed rock removal, using a monorail system to carry the debris across the theater space and out of the building. At first there were problems with the water jet technology. The system worked inefficiently on-site, according to John Patterson. "The way it performed in the lab and the way it performed on the job were totally different worlds. First of all, they had clean water in the lab. The plan was to catch the water in a sump, and reuse it, but the contaminants in the water prevented this. Secondly, the guidance from the professors was fragmented and poor, and the HVAC crew found themselves helping more than supervising. Finally, we got the bugs worked out of the system." 
Foundation design and consulting services were provided by Woodward-Clyde Consultants, St. Louis, under contract to the Bi-State Development Agency.  A $66,000 contract with Woodward-Clyde for rock-bolting and dewatering as well as a contract for rock hauling were also awarded; by the end of 1990, approximately $628,000 of non-federal funding had been provided toward the planning and initial construction of the theater. 
Work continued into 1991, as park management entered into negotiations with World Odyssey to construct the first American-made 70 mm 15 perforation wide screen projection system in the United States for the South Theater. None of the estimated $3 million was federally funded. 
Work began on interior features of the theater in April 1992. Back hallways between the theater site and the shipping-receiving area became very busy places during this phase of the construction. Contractor Kozeny-Wagner erected a partition wall to isolate the work area from the lobby of the visitor center. Park employees designed and supervised the painting of the partition wall with a poster announcing the new theater. This work was performed by a group of enthusiastic fifth grade students from the St. Louis school system, who filled in the design sketched on the wall with bright strokes of color, creating a very handsome interpretive display. 
While rock removal proceeded, plans were made for the film to be shown in the new theater. The project was once again financed by Bi-State Development Agency. The initial proposal, the creation of an IMAX film, led Superintendent Schober to open negotiations with that Canadian company in 1987. Schober remembered:
By July 1987, it was decided that the government would hold title to the theater; that Bi-State would be responsible for financing, construction and operation; and that IMAX would provide technical assistance during the design, construction and operation of the theater. IMAX would also produce a film for JEFF on westward expansion, and equip the theater with a screen, sound system, projection system, and other related equipment. 
In July 1988, a letter of intent from the NPS specified that the name IMAX would be allowed in the theater name, and that the movie could be leased to other IMAX theaters after two years. The NPS made plans to advertise for a treatment, production plan, and cost breakdown for a film on westward expansion. Harpers Ferry Center would serve as executive producer, at an estimated cost of $300,000, which would be paid by Bi-State. 
With the project well on its way, a disagreement developed between IMAX and the Park Service regarding the arrangements for the projection equipment. IMAX proposed leasing it to the park for $1.6 million up front plus a percentage of the gross ticket sales, while warranty maintenance and service of the projectors, screens, and the sound system would be available for an additional $50,000 per year. This was unacceptable to Superintendent Schober, since JEFF wanted to buy the equipment outright. In a letter to the IMAX company in July 1989, Schober explained that neither the NPS nor Bi-State could enter such a long-term lease agreement. He said that IMAX had implied in earlier negotiations that the projection equipment would be sold outright. In reply, the company stated that it had never been its practice to sell equipment.  Superintendent Schober recalled:
After the talks with IMAX fell through, the NPS began considering other possibilities. In July 1989, Omni Films of Sarasota, Florida, met with Superintendent Schober and Jennifer Nixon of Bi-State to discuss their "Magnavision" system. In September, Schober, Nixon, Assistant Superintendent Gary Easton, and Jerry Ward of Harpers Ferry Center traveled to Florida to see a demonstration.
In October 1989, the Iwerks Company made a proposal to JEFF to set up their "Iwerks 870" system. For $395,000 they would provide the projection and audio equipment, as well as technical consultation and support for film production.
In 1991, after considering many possibilities, JEFF decided to purchase the "World Odyssey" 70mm system from NJ Engineering of Los Altos, California. A sophisticated sound system was licensed from THX®, a division of Lucasfilms, in San Rafael, California, and a completion date for the theater set for January 1993. 
In 1988, JEFF began to consider options regarding the creation of a 70mm wide-screen film, designed to be shown in the park, telling the story of westward expansion. In Superintendent Schober's words:
In November 1988, Bi-State agreed to pay $8000 each to Ben Burtt of Sprocket Systems, a division of Lucasfilms, independent filmmaker Charles Guggenheim, and Greg MacGillivray of MacGillivray-Freeman Films, to develop proposals for a treatment, production plan, and cost breakdown for the production of a 70mm, large-format motion picture on the westward expansion of the United States, to be no longer than 25 minutes running time.  Schober continued:
In December 1989, a contract was signed with Lucasfilms for the development of a script for a movie to be titled "Gateway America." Ben Burtt and Laurel Ladevich, film editor for Sprocket Systems, were set to direct the film. They were also to research and define all locations and to prepare a detailed budget and schedule for production. All proceeds from ticket sales were to go to JEFF. 
Once this contract was in place, there still remained the matter of raising the estimated $4 million necessary to produce the movie. Schober hoped to line up a corporate sponsor, but by June 1990 no one had volunteered to finance the project and the deal with Lucasfilms was canceled. It had been hoped that the fame of the California company would attract investors, but several problems arose. Costs escalated to $4.5 million, and LucasArts wanted distribution rights to the movie, interactive video rights and other rights and reservations which JEFF was not ready to resign.  "I still think people don't realize what a good thing [corporate sponsorships are]," Superintendent Schober reflected.
Park officials decided that once the theater was finished, other large format 70mm films such as To Fly and Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets could be shown until a westward expansion film was produced.  It was anticipated that the wide-screen theater would provide a tremendous educational and interpretive opportunity to an estimated 900,000 annual visitors, who during the busy season might wait as long as three to four hours for a tram ride to the top of the Gateway Arch. In addition to the Museum of Westward Expansion, ranger-led tours and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Association museum shop, the film would provide a further interpretive opportunity for a ready-made audience. 
Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004