Renovation of the Soldiers Memorial in downtown St. Louis is on schedule, and the monument will reopen just before Veterans Day 2018 — the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I, according to project leaders with the Missouri Historical Society.
“Reopening the Soldiers Memorial on the hundredth anniversary of the armistice gives us an opportunity to explore St. Louis’ role in the Great War,’’ said Karen Goering, project coordinator, as she led a tour of the site on Tuesday. “Even though the monument originally honored those that made the ultimate sacrifice during World War I, it’s going to interpret all conflicts and battles.”
The monument was constructed during the Great Depression to honor 1,075 soldiers from St. Louis who died during the first world war. The $30 million renovation includes refurbishing the memorial, inside and out, plus a major transformation of the Court of Honor that was added in 1948 to honor military who died in World War II. Chestnut Street is being narrowed to a single lane for vehicular traffic, so the memorial and court will no longer feel so separated.
“The Court of Honor is going to be really transformed with a new reflecting pool, a Five Branches Fountain, flag poles that will fly the flags of each of the branches of service. It will also include an accessible pathway. I think it will be a very contemplative, almost sacred space,’’ Goering said.
The historical society, which operates the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park, took over operation of the Soldiers Memorial from the city in November 2015. The renovation, which began in 2016, is being funded by anonymous private donors.
“Quite frankly, the city didn’t have the funds to bring the institution up to contemporary museum standards,’’ Goering said. “Because of the generosity of these donors, we are able to restore many of the beautiful features that were originally part of this art deco building, but we’re also able to bring it up to contemporary standards.’’
The structure will also comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, thanks to new exterior ramps and an elevator in the east wing that will serve all floors.
“It’s very important that all visitors be able to enter through the front door. So the ramps from 13th and Chestnut are an important part of our accessibility renovations,’’ Goering said.
Major construction will be completed over the next three months, with work on exhibitions beginning in late spring. Goering believes the memorial’s new rotating exhibits and programs will attract more visitors.
“It’s going to be a different experience,’’ she said. “It’s going to honor the St. Louisans and their families who have served in the military, but we also believe it will be a story of interest to all visitors.’’
Another change: The memorial site will no longer host entertainment festivals, such as St. Louis Ribfest, that are unrelated to its mission of honoring military service and history.
“Part of the agreement when the historical society entered into the operations agreement with the city of St. Louis was that the historical society would control the two blocks from Market to Pine and from 13th to 14th,” Goering said. “We want to be sure that activities on these two blocks of the Soldiers Memorial and Court of Honor are mission-related — that they honor the service of those in the military. So completely unrelated activities will no longer be taking place here.’’
A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the renovated memorial is planned for Nov. 3, 2018.
Follow Mary Delach Leonard on Twitter: @marydleonard