A St. Louis landmark honoring military service men and women and their families reopens to the public this weekend.
Following a $30-million renovation, Soldiers Memorial Military Museum downtown will be unveiled on Saturday, Nov. 3, kicking off a weeklong of Veterans Day events.
One of the most apparent changes can be found across from the museum on Chestnut Street: The Court of Honor, established in 1948 to honor St. Louisans who lost their lives in World War II, now has The Five Branches Fountain and a reflecting pool. Along with the L-shaped limestone memorial, the space allows for a quiet, contemplative area in the heart of downtown. The Korea and Vietnam War memorials have been relocated to their own spaces nearby. An adjoining grassy area can be used as an outdoor event space, complete with a light and sound system. The lawn, trimmed with marble hardscaping, also connects the Court of Honor with the main building.
The restoration work is also in full view at the museum’s entrance, where the World War I cenotaph in the center of the loggia shows the names of 1,075 St. Louisans who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War I. Above it, the Gold Star Mothers mosaic, lovingly restored with missing tiles replaced, shines bright on the loggia’s ceiling.
There will be two exhibits on view at Soldiers Memorial when it opens: St. Louis in Service, in the Main Galleries, tells St. Louis soldiers’ stories from the American Revolution to the War on Terror. It is here where you’ll find some 300 artifacts, including a flintlock pistol dating back to the War of 1812, a Vietnam-era grenade launcher, a B-24 gun turret, and even Stan Musial’s dirt-stained Navy Seaman 1st Class uniform. In the lower level, WWI: St. Louis and the Great War (on view through December 2021) chronicles St. Louis’ significant role during World War I, its local impact and how its effects still resonate today. The exhibit features more than 200 artifacts that have never been displayed before.
Soldiers Memorial is now under the auspices of the Missouri Historical Society, which also operates the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. An agreement with the City of St. Louis in 2015 paved the way for a unique public-private partnership that allowed for the Missouri Historical Society to take the lead in managing and maintaining the museum.
The memorial, off of Market Street, officially opened on Memorial Day in 1938. The building, taking up seven city blocks, was designed by St. Louis architectural firm Mauran, Russell & Crowell in a classical style with art deco gilding.
The iconic four sculptures of winged horses flanking the building were created by St. Louisan Walker Hancock to represent the attributes of military service members and their families: courage, loyalty, sacrifice and vision. The sculptures, covered by coal dust over the years, were among the many items, decorative metalwork, plasterwork, fixtures—small and large—painstakingly cleaned, restored and preserved during the two-year process.
The facility also has new museum-quality security, HVAC and fire-suppression systems, new restrooms on the renovated lower-level (now converted into exhibit space), updated elevators and more. Not only has the restoration and renovation upgraded the museum to contemporary standards, it has also made the structure ADA-compliant for the first time in its 80-year history.
For a complete schedule of Opening Day ceremonies, as well as Veterans Week events, visit mohistory.org.