New Renderings of Soldiers Memorial Renovation Highlight Accessibility

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It’s been more than a year since an agreement was signed by the Missouri Historical Society and the City of St. Louis that set in motion a $30M transformation of the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in downtown St. Louis. The long overdue renovation is being funded by private donations and will be maintained by a privately funded endowment. 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.

Now new renderings provide the clearest look yet at how the historic building will be preserved, the plaza as part of the Gateway Mall will be reimagined, and true accessibility for people of all abilities. While ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) requirements present a minimum standard, the design for Soldiers Memorial sought provide natural accessibility that didn’t feel like an add-on.

To achieve this, angled ADA-compliant parking will be introduced around the site. A new ramp is included on the east side of the Memorial. The connection from the Memorial to the Plaza is at-grade across a narrowed Chestnut Street. The street will be reduced from 42′ to 24′ and include a single drive lane and bike lane. Inside, a new elevator and chair lift will enable access to multiple levels of artifacts and displays.

Soldiers Memorial closed to the public in February of last year and is planned to reopen in 2018. Mackey Mitchell Architects has led the design of the project. Renderings above are by Laura Linn. [dtls] landscape architecture studio has also contributed to the design of the project. Renderings below are by [dtls].


New renderings of exhibits added 02/22/2017


From our previous report: Renovation Planned for Downtown Soldiers Memorial Military Museum

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.

Soldiers Memorial Military Museum - St. Louis, MO

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 interesting history of the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum:

Soldiers Memorial Military Museum - St. Louis, MO

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.

From Wikipedia:

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.

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  • Mike Bouquet

    looking forward to a Memorial upgrade befitting of the past home to the National Commemoration to the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of the Buldge… which was in 1994 and a great undertaking… as is this effort here…

  • miguel2586

    When I first saw this post I thought: “You know what would be great? If someone renovated the old Municipal Courts building in conjunction with this plan.” And guess what happened?!?

  • citylover

    Great to see this and Kiener Plaza. Though I will miss the amphitheater, the new plaza is a beautiful runway to the courthouse. And those lights–wow–it’s truly a welcoming square.

    A bit off topic, but I saw crews pouring concrete to extend sidewalk curb at Spire HQ across Kiener. Anyone know if there is an effort to mend cross-walks downtown?

  • Nick

    It’s incredible how little-known the memorial had been over the years given the prominence of the building. Excited to see the renovations when completed.

  • Riggle

    The museum was pretty cool. Lots of good guns, smelled like oil from the jeep kept there.

  • Luftmentsch

    Interesting those benches. Will they really be installed? Note: Years after the “renovation” of the park on the other side of the Memorial (between the Memorial and the Central Library), they have still not re-installed the benches that used to be there and that were promised in the drawings. Since, the Central Library renovation, moreover, security guards no longer allow patrons to sit on the historic benches outside the library. Drawings are lovely. Something’s gotta change before you’ll ever see people granted the right to sit and enjoy a sunny day downtown. I wish they’d quit bullshitting us.

    • It’s very unlikely there will be benches, since they almost immediately become beds.

      • STLEnginerd

        Probably why they are rendered as single seats rather than benches… so that they make for very uncomfortable beds. Its not a huge expense and they could later be removed if they become an issue. I’d give it roughly even odds that they install them and see what happens.

        Humans are capable of making a bed out of almost anything though.

    • This is one of those small ways that really kills urban vitality here, because of petty fears of other human beings. I hope that the next mayor embraces more compassionate and urbanist thinking on amenities in downtown park spaces (and takes Jane Jacobs 101). The current aversion to benches and congregation has made the parks in west downtown dreary, empty and unwelcoming to EVERYONE. Consequently they become another piece of evidence that this city is empty, and its public spaces dead. Downtown had more pedestrian life in some parts in the 1990s than it does today.

    • No BS here! We’re looking forward to a revitalized Court of Honor with benches and spaces for sitting and reflecting. We hope you’ll join us when Soldiers Memorial reopens in 2018.

  • Chicagoan

    To go full architecture nerd (Correct me if I’m wrong!) this building is a great example of Stripped Classicism. I remember it on my last stroll along the Gateway Mall, it’s a gorgeous building. I’m excited to see it gain prominence with this project.

  • Chad Sucher

    Was the “for a view inside the museum, click on the image above” to be an interactive 360º image?

    • Alex Ihnen

      I believe it did, not sure why it no longer does.

      • Chad Sucher

        I am assuming your web page does not support them then.

  • STLEnginerd

    I would like to see the Eternal Flame memorial (shown in the second rendering) moved to a prominent and featured spot on the memorial grounds as part of this project.

    Then re-light it as well (perhaps through a sponsor like Laclede gas) or if that is deemed too wasteful or costly have the burner replace with a vertically oriented LED spotlight of some kind. (Ameren sponsor..?)

    Lastly start exploring options to develop Eternal Flame and Kaufman Parks offsetting the park land with new park lands along the riverfront similar to how the loss of Forest park land was offset by the new Chouteau Park in FPSE. There is no rush to develop it and they should wait for the right project but the end goal IMHO should be to build on those to blocks.

    • Unlikely in the extreme. The city charter requires a public vote to sell off parks, which has to be proposed by the aldermen, and in practice would need to be proposed by Jack Coatar, whose ward covers those parks. There’s zero chance he’s going to stick his neck out for something like that, because his head would quickly be lopped off by his NIMBY-oriented Soulard and Lafayette Square constituents.

      • STLEnginerd

        I don’t know would Soulard and Lafayette square care that much about the opportunity to vote on whether to develop some under utilized park land that isn’t even in their particular neighborhood. Not exactly “in their back yard”.

        Also i thought they did a trade of Forest Park Land to Barnes without a vote by creating a new park of equal area. If these parks were offset by adding the proposed riverfront park in Laclede’s Landing even if it still had to go to a vote, wouldn’t that be seen as a reasonable and mutually beneficial exchange?

        If anything i would think it would be downtown west residents
        complaining about the loss of open space, but if it meant gaining some
        real development i would think the vast majority would support it.

        You aren’t wrong though, the alderman would have to be on board or it would be DOA. I suspect he would be hesitant to stick his neck out unless there was a truly transformational proposal for those two blocks, and i suppose that is a good thing. I’d hate for them to be converted into something sub-par.

      • jhoff1257

        I doubt very much the residents of Soulard or Lafayette Square would care about the city developing two empty and unused blocks Downtown. Besides it’s a vote, if you don’t like it say no. Nothing wrong with giving people a chance to voice their opinion. In fact, I say take STLEnginerd’s idea a step further and develop the blocks between Aloe Plaza and Peabody Opera House as well. The Mall is a waste of space. The blocks between the Old Courthouse and Civil Courts are finally coming together (need to work on that awful Twain block), combined with this we might finally have a decent public space between the Arch and Peabody pretty soon. Then fix up the block between the Memorial and Central Library. Build on the rest and return those blocks to the tax rolls.

        I’d also put up to a vote the removal of that stupid park rule.

    • Framer

      Why do people keep suggesting that we develop buildings on the Gateway Mall? It’s just not going to happen. No way. Nor should it, IMO. Come on, folks, there are tons of empty and under-utilized sites to build on before we even consider building on existing parkland, especially one that symbolically defines the backbone of St. Louis.

      • Adam

        I would argue that the demolished Real Estate Row better symbolized St. Louis, but that ship has sailed. The mall *could* be beautiful if there were a cohesive plan/landscaping for its entire length (I’m thinking of Boston’s Commonwealth Ave. Greenway, for example). Unfortunately Gateway One ruins it. IMO the mall just looks awkward and disjointed from above, and from the ground it mostly looks blah except for Citygarden. I have high hopes for Kiener Plaza, but I’m not really a fan of the new Luther Ely Smith Square. In any case, except for maybe the Plaza and the Square, I’d rather have buildings. Just my $0.02.

      • jhoff1257

        I’d say it symbolically defines the destruction of historic St. Louis and the universal failure of mid-century urban planning.

        • Framer

          Sure, I understand that hard-core urbanists feel that way, but I assure you, the vast, vast majority of St. Louisans do not.

          • jhoff1257

            I’m not a “hard-core” urbanest. I’ve seen what was there before, my grandfather grew up in it. In fact the city forced him and his family out of his house to knock it down. And I’ve seen what’s come after it. The Gateway Mall was and is not a success. It, and that god awful Gateway One building, are nothing but a scar on a business district that by many measures is barely hanging on.

            I’d love to see some data about the “vast majority” that like it too. Outside of Citygarden and (most likely) the new Kiener, I don’t know a single soul that spends anytime in that waste of space. And just to clarify, I’m all for keeping it between the Arch and Peabody and between the old Muni Courts building and the Central Library, also Aloe Plaza. Just fill in the rest.

          • Framer

            Not trying to bicker here, but I thought this excerpt from today’s CNN article about STL and KC was relevant; an outsider’s perspective of the Gateway Mall:

            “Running due west from the river, the leafy Gateway Mall, a 17-block green space through the middle of downtown, provides a journey through the history of American architecture over the past 150 years.

            Post-modern, Art Deco, Neo-Classical, Victorian and German Gothic are just a few of the styles found along the 1.5-mile stretch of historic buildings turned into hotels, condos, eateries and shopping spaces”.


          • STLEnginerd

            For the record I didn’t suggest they should get rid of the mall altogether. I understand that perspective but I would be hard pressed to support it. But Eternal Flame a Kaufman aren’t utilized in any significant way and their development would not IMHO be missed by many, nor would it detract from what the mall is and could be.

          • jhoff1257

            Yeah I read that. Don’t agree with it. The City does nothing to promote the Gateway Mall or the architecture around it. In fact we lost far more architecturally when they built the Mall then what’s been left behind. I wonder if “outsiders” knew about Real Estate Row and the thousands of other historically significant buildings, like the Chestnut District, if they’d feel the same way.

            And, not to belabor my original point here, I never said we should fill the whole thing in. Of the 17 blocks I’m talking about filling in 5, 2 of those 5 aren’t even on the main stretch of the Mall.