Today, Veterans Day, an agreement was signed by the Missouri Historical Society and the City of St. Louis that sets in motion a $30M transformation of the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in downtown St. Louis. The agreement places the Historical Society in charge of a long overdue renovation and revisioning, while the city retains ownership of the building and artifacts.
Renovation costs will be covered by private donations already committed to the project. The plan calls for the museum to close next spring for approximately two years. A $1.1M annual operating budget will be covered by an endowment established by an anonymous donor. The city will continue to pay utility costs and the salaries of the museum’s two city employees. Admission will remain free following the renovation.
It’s a safe bet 95% of people reading this have never been inside the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in downtown St. Louis. This is likely true of 99% of visitors and downtown workers as well. The museum, at 1315 Chestnut Street, occupying a city block bordered by 13th, 14th, Pine, and Chestnut Streets, is strangely easy to overlook among the monumental buildings along the Gateway Mall.
The museum’s not only held a somewhat anonymous spot along the Mall’s most non-descript blocks, it’s existed in an uncommon civic and curatorial state. The building, and its contents, much of it donated by military veterans or their families, is owned by the City of St. Louis. Repairs have been deferred and donated items have piled up in boxes, uncatalogued and unpreserved.
The building and museum are fascinating. We held a portion of the 2012 Open/Closed conference on vacant land in St. Louis in the building’s auditorium. The space was dated, but worked well for a screening of Detropia and an address by Jay Williams, executive director of the federal Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers, and the former mayor of Youngstown, Ohio. Hopefully the space will remain available for private events.
The Historical Society brings museum expertise to the site, and will manage all permanent and special exhibitions, among other museum responsibilities. The art deco building will be cleaned, made ADA compliant, have a new HVAC system installed, among other improvements. The lower level of the museum will become gallery space, more than doubling the current amount of total exhibition space. Along with the newly renovated and excellent Missouri Civil War Museum at Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis is becoming a destination for those interested in military history.
The Court of Honor, a block of the Gateway Mall across Chestnut to the south, will be redesigned with fountains and new monuments honoring St. Louis veterans. An early rendering showed Chestnut Street closed for an expanded Court of Honor, but a revised vision shows the street remaining, and the Historical Society has stated that Chestnut will remain open to traffic. Learn more on the project’s FAQ page.
The interesting history of the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum:
The City of St. Louis created a Memorial Plaza Commission in 1925 to oversee the creation of the Memorial Plaza and Soldiers Memorial. Designed as a memorial to the St. Louis citizens who gave their lives in World War I, the Memorial became Project No. 5098 of the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works.
The St. Louis architectural firm Mauran, Russell & Crowell designed the classical Memorial with an art deco flair. St. Louis born sculptor Walker Hancock created four monumental sculpture groupings entitled Loyalty, Vision, Courage and Sacrifice to flank the entrances.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the site on October 14, 1936 and the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum opened to the public on Memorial Day, May 30, 1938. The Soldiers Memorial Military Museum is owned by the City of St. Louis and is under the authority of the Board of Public Service of the City of Saint Louis. Today, the Soldiers Memorial honors all veterans and active military from St. Louis.
Four monumental sculptural groups representing figures of Loyalty, Vision, Courage and Sacrifice by sculptor Walker Hancock stand, with their horses, on the north and south sides of the building. Other architectural sculpture here was completed by Hillis Arnold.