Soldiers Memorial Military Museum reopened Saturday, Nov. 3, in downtown St. Louis after a two-and-a-half year, $30 million renovation, paid for entirely by private donors. The 1938 structure was originally built to memorialize the 1,075 local service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in WWI. Now, the state-of-the-art facility honors veterans, those in the military, and their families, and offers a comprehensive look at American military history through the lens of St. Louis.
Soldiers Memorial has been restored to its original glory and also taken far beyond it. The compelling stories of St. Louisans who have served their country, along with the unique combination of architecture, art, design, technology and accessibility throughout the building and grounds make it a must-see during a visit downtown.
“My team and I are excited to fulfill the serious responsibilities of ensuring Soldiers Memorial properly honors all St Louis veterans and delivers educational programming and exhibits that the community will find relevant and engaging,” Mark Sundlov, director of Soldiers Memorial Military Museum and U.S. Air Force veteran, said in a press release. “We look forward to establishing Soldiers Memorial as a vibrant and dynamic part of downtown.”
Throughout the project, exceptional care was taken by Mackey Mitchell Architects to ensure the old and new aspects of the building were cohesively and seamlessly blended, ensuring the architectural and historic integrity of the museum. Anything that could be saved was carefully cleaned and restored. This is noticeable in the unique design details throughout the building, such as the ceiling of the main floor exhibit galleries and the lighting outside the loggia doors. In addition, hundreds of missing tiles from the spectacular Gold Star Mother’s mosaic on the loggia’s ceiling were meticulously matched and replaced.
The exhibit space more than doubled with the renovation of the lower level, which was previously not accessible to the public. This floor holds “World War I: St. Louis and the Great War,” a temporary exhibit that commemorates the centennial of the end of that war. The main floor is home to a long-term exhibit, “St. Louis in Service,” which examines local military history from its beginnings to today.
Across Chestnut Street, the Court of Honor, created in 1948 as a World War II memorial, now features a reflecting pool and a Five Branches fountain, as well as memorial walls honoring those who lost their lives in Vietnam, Korea and more recent conflicts. Chestnut Street has been narrowed to a single one-way lane to allow for more complete integration with the museum.
The museum is ADA-compliant for the first time in its history, an especially important update. A new ramp at the intersection of Chestnut and 13th streets makes the building accessible to all visitors. Power-assist automatic openers provide easy entry from the loggia and into the exhibit galleries on the main level.
Energy efficiency and sustainability were a primary focus of the project. Where possible, materials including granite steps and marble walls were saved and reused. Environmentally friendly materials were used where new material was needed. All but five incandescent bulbs have been replaced with LED lights, and there’s even an electric vehicle charging station on the north side of the museum.
The Soldiers Memorial Military Museum, at 1315 Chestnut St., is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Admission is free. For more information, visit mohistory.org/memorial.