Soldiers Memorial - 2018 Renovation - Part 1 - The building and the grounds

The Soldiers Memorial recently underwent a $30M renovation inside and out.

The memorial, dedicated by FDR in 1936 and opened to the public in 1938 is located at 1315 Chestnut Street between Chestnut, Pine, 13th and 14th streets. It was a dedication to the American efforts during World War I.

Soldiers Memorial - Cornerstone

Soldiers Memorial - Cornerstone

It is located in a city park called Memorial Plaza.

Per St. Louis Public Radio, the property is still owned by the city, but the museum is now run by the Missouri Historical Society and the renovation was largely made possible through private donations:

“The Crawford Taylor Foundation and the Taylor family donated $30 million for the renovation, plus a $25 million endowment for the memorial's continued operation, according to officials with the historical society. The memorial's assembly hall has been named for St. Louis philanthropist Jack C. Taylor who died in 2016. He was a decorated Navy fighter pilot during World War II who founded Enterprise Holdings after the war.

The Guth Foundation also donated $300,000. Until this week, the donors had been anonymous.” (source)

I admire the way American museums commemorate wars, there is no victorious flag waving scenes, rather nods to the soldiers who lost their lives as well as the living veterans. The presentations are somber and solemn. They seem to be designed to be reflective and proud without arrogance. Four sculptures outside the building speak to courage, loyalty, vision and sacrifice.

The Soldiers Memorial building and grounds look better than ever.

Prior to this renovation, I’d describe a visit to the Soldiers Memorial as kind of sparse. The grounds looked a lot like most St. Louis parks, grass and mowed weeds with minimal upkeep and interest. A visit inside was hot and humid in the summer, cold in the winter. The exhibits were old school and austere.

All that has changed. The HVAC was updated, it is fully ADA compliant, two very important upgrades considering the age of many Veterans visiting this special place.

I visited on re-opening day (November 3, 2018), and the place was packed. The dignitaries had spoken, the crowd was dispersing and I was able to take in opening day and get some photos.

I wasn’t able to navigate the interior with ease, so I won’t cover the exhibits and presentation in this post. Actually, one of my favorite vets on the planet (my Dad) was drafted at age 18 out of the small town of Freeburg, IL during the Vietnam War.

I am going to visit the museum again with him when it’s less crowded and I’ll speak to the content, presentation and feel of the expanded materials.

So let’s start outside and take a look at the grounds, the landscaping, the memorials, the connections to the city and the building itself.

There is new, bright signage identifying the space to visitors, with the Missouri Historical Society named as the modern day proprietor.

There is new hardscape including trash cans, bike racks, and widened sidewalks along Chestnut complete with bump outs to make crossing the street easier for pedestrians.

The landscape is varied and structured, creating interest in several areas. While November is no time to showcase landscape, I’ll include some shots that will look even better come warmer seasons.

There are nice views of Downtown from various vantage points on the grounds and from the building itself.

The outdoor monuments have been scrubbed of old coal soot and look almost new. That patina of the dirty old days is disappearing slowly but surely as time marches on. The outdoor setting is peaceful with the new fountain and reflecting pool in the World War II area near the Battle of the Bulge makes quite an impact.

The building itself looks fantastic after the renovation and coal soot scrub.

The loggia entry ways and approaches are shiny, tiles were replaced on the Gold Star Mothers mosaic on the ceiling, the look over the garden is perfect.

The art deco touches were lovingly restored ready for another generation to take in.

So there is the outside and a couple glimpses inside.

Part 2 will concentrate on the interior and exhibits. The content has been expanded to include much more than just the World War I content you may be familiar with from past visits. They have expanded the content to show the multiple generations of St. Louisans’ contributions to war efforts.

I love this place, and it just got way better and will be a respected place for at least anther generation.