On November 3, 2018, Soldiers Memorial Military Museum will reopen under the operational leadership of the Missouri Historical Society (MHS) as a state-of-the-art museum facility honoring local military service members, veterans, and their families. MHS took the helm of Soldiers Memorial in November 2015 and began a $30 million revitalization in 2016. This cost was covered entirely by anonymous donors.
With the help of Mackey Mitchell Architects, every effort was made to maintain the architectural and historic integrity of this beautiful, classical-style building with art deco flourishes while also bringing it up to contemporary museum standards.
OVERVIEW OF THE RENOVATION
The entire Soldiers Memorial building received a face-lift. All metalwork on windows and doorways was cleaned and preserved, and the decorative plasterwork on the ceilings was restored. Interior storm windows were added to minimize artifacts’ exposure to sunlight while allowing the original windows to remain in place. The storm windows further insulate the building and maintain an ideal environment for the artifacts.
Where possible, the original art deco light fixtures were cleaned and rewired. The mahogany-lined elevator, with its art deco metal doors, was brought up to code, and several hundred missing tiles from the Gold Star Mothers mosaic on the loggia’s ceiling have been matched and replaced.
The building’s lower level, which previously wasn’t open to the public, was renovated to more than double the amount of exhibit space. New restrooms were roughed in on this level as well. Further renovations include the addition of a museum-quality HVAC system—a first for Soldiers Memorial—as well as new electrical wiring, a fire-suppression system, and a state-of-the-art security system.
Outside, years of coal dust and embedded dirt were removed from the four iconic Walker Hancock sculptures framing the entrances.
Throughout the revitalization of Soldiers Memorial, MHS worked to achieve LEED certification, a globally recognized symbol for sustainability achievement. It’s particularly difficult to achieve LEED certification when renovating a historic building—the revitalized Soldiers Memorial is expected to receive bronze-level certification.
In order to meet LEED-certification requirements, the team at BSI Constructors used environmentally friendly construction materials, such as cork flooring, and updated the original fixtures with LED lights. Original materials were reused wherever possible, including the granite steps, marble walls, and the original bathroom Vitrolite panels. Additionally, waste was recycled, and a charging station for electric vehicles was installed on the north side of the building.
The revitalized Soldiers Memorial meets ADA compliance for the first time in the building’s history. Outside, a ramped sidewalk creates an accessible pathway on the east end of the Court of Honor, and a new ramp at the intersection of Chestnut and 13th Streets makes the building accessible to all visitors. Power-assist automatic openers provide easy entry from the loggia and into the exhibit galleries on the main level.
A new elevator in the east wing ensures all three levels of the Soldiers Memorial building are accessible to visitors and staff, and a new wheelchair lift on the second level makes programming spaces on the upper level easier to access than ever before.
The original restrooms on the upper level and the new restrooms on the lower level were designed according to accessible standards. Family-assist restrooms were also added on the lower and upper levels.
Even the new exhibits were designed with accessibility in mind. They feature closed captioning on video elements, a high level of contrast on labels for visitors with low vision, and gallery space that is wheelchair accessible.
ADDITIONS TO THE COURT OF HONOR
The Court of Honor was revitalized with the addition of a Five Branches Fountains and a reflecting pool. Exposed aggregate pavement was installed, and the stone planter on the east side of the Court of Honor was rebuilt using the original stone.
To better integrate Soldiers Memorial with the Court of Honor, Chestnut St. was narrowed to a single vehicular lane and a protected bike lane, and a grassy area was established for programming space and outfitted with lighting and a sound system.
Monuments to those who lost their lives in the Korea and Vietnam Wars were moved to their own spaces along the walkway between Soldiers Memorial and the Court of Honor. New memorials to St. Louisans who lost their lives in more recent conflicts were also added to that space, which remains a place of reflection.