Historical Society takes over Soldiers Memorial

Michael Robinson and Brittany Freeman

Photographed by Michael Robinson
The St. Louis Soldiers Memorial is located at 1315 Chestnut St. in St. Louis. The memorial will close on Feb. 28, 2016, for renovations.

At the corner of Chestnut and 14th St. in downtown St. Louis, the St. Louis Soldiers Memorial stands to commemorate the St. Louis citizens who gave their lives in World War I.

Since the opening day on May 30, 1938, veterans and their families have been able to understand the lasting impact of war. It has since, however, fallen into slight disrepair.

The city is planning to fix the memorial with new renovations. In order to complete the changes, the memorial will close on Feb. 28, 2016, and reopen in 2018.

On Nov. 11, 2015, leaders of the Missouri Historical Society and the City of St. Louis signed an agreement transferring operations of the memorial and initiating construction on the building. The project is designed to create a modern museum facility that truly honors military service, veterans and their families.

Already with an estimated 10,000 people visiting the memorial each year, following the renovations, the number is only expected to grow.

In a recent press release, Mayor Francis Slay said he signed the agreement in hopes of refurbishing the memorial to honor the local veterans and their families.

Leigh Walters, assistant director of communication for the Historical Society, said the society maintains the highest professional standards of artifact care, collecting practices and exhibition creation.

“We will bring that same expertise to Soldiers Memorial, as we are charged with care of Soldiers Memorial’s collection, all permanent and special exhibitions and overall operation of Soldiers Memorial,” Walters said.

The historical society has planned a renovation effort designed to clean the exterior of the building and alter the overall display of the memorial.

“The lower level of the memorial will be refurbished for use as galleries, more than doubling the amount of exhibition space for the memorial,” Walters said.

Walters said other refurbishments will include a renovated elevator, storm windows to protect the artifacts from sunlight, and an air conditioner system.

So far, all the feedback regarding the project has been positive, Walters said.

Despite the annual $1.25 million cost of operating the museum, the costs of the renovation have already been covered by anonymous private donors for which James Sondermann, chair of the Soldiers

Memorial Military Museum Commission, said.

“I am thrilled that this public-private partnership will be able to breathe new life into Soldiers Memorial thanks to the generosity of private donors,” Sondermann said. “The Soldiers Memorial Revitalization Project will give veterans and military families the museum that they deserve.”

Scott Szevery, social studies teacher, said the fact that the Historical Society took over the maintenance of the building is a positive since they keep their properties maintained well. He often frequents the history museum when he has time and when a new exhibit is opened.

The fact that St. Louis honors the veterans is appropriate for the amount of sacrifices they have made, Szevery said.

“I think as humble as they [veterans] generally tend to be, it is still appropriate to have that kind of recognition in our society,” Szevery said.

The memorial is a way to recognize all of the support that World War I veterans gave to America.

“I think you can’t have too many memorials to soldiers,” Szevery said. “They have done so much good for this country.”