The memorial, which was erected in 1936 and dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, has undergone a two-year, $30 million renovation that more than doubled its exhibit space, added air conditioning, new wiring and more assembly spaces.
In World War II, more than 2,700 more local soldiers died. In Korea and Vietnam, about 400. In the wars and conflicts since, about 200.
The memorial is LEED-certified and complies with access for the disabled requirements. It’s one of only 3 percent of museums in the country accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .
“I feel like St. Louisans are going to have one more cultural institution they can brag about, and we have a lot to brag about here,” said Mark Sundlov, the new director of the museum. “One of the top goals is to become part of a dynamic downtown.”
After years of trying to improve the museum, the city in 2015 signed over control of the museum to the Missouri Historical Society but it retains ownership of the building and artifacts.
The money for the renovation and a $25 million endowment came from the Crawford Taylor Foundation and the Taylor family, which until this week had stayed anonymous. The Guth Foundation contributed $300,000. The assembly hall is named for Jack C. Taylor, who piloted an F6F Hellcat fighter in World War II before founding Enterprise Rent-A-Car, headquartered in St. Louis. Taylor died in 2016.
As visitors approach the memorial entrance and loggia, they’ll see the black granite cenotaph, inscribed with the names of those who died in World War I. The cenotaph, which resembles a tomb, is lit from its base.
Hundreds of red and gold tiles that had fallen from the Gold Star Mothers ceiling mosaic above the cenotaph were replaced.
“It looked beautiful because it was beautiful,” said Leigh Walters, director of marketing and communications for the Missouri Historical Society. “But now, it just shines.”
Storm windows were added inside to show off the unique metalwork outside. Old light fixtures were rewired and fitted with LED bulbs. Only five old-fashioned bulbs remain: four in the mahogany-lined elevator and one in a phone booth, which has been outfitted with a vintage pay telephone.
Despite years of neglect, the building was in remarkably good condition, said Karen Goering, managing director of administration and operations for the memorial.
The two main galleries on the first level will house “St. Louis in Service,” a long-term exhibit that explores local involvement in military history, from the American Revolution to today.
A bell from the cruiser St. Louis, commissioned in 1906, is the centerpiece of one wing, and a rotating collection of military uniforms stands in the middle of the other wing. An Emerson airplane turret that once sat on the nose of a B-21 bomber now rests with the uniforms. The turrets were made in a Ferguson factory that made fans and electric motors but converted during wartime.
“People think of military history as far away — it happened overseas,” Walters said. “But it happened in your community. It was a part of daily life. And the community had an impact on military warfare.”
The lower level’s first exhibit, “St. Louis and the Great War,” commemorates the centennial of the end of World War I and includes more than 200 artifacts that have never been displayed, such as a carrier pigeon message capsule, a portable reed organ and a German gas mask.
Outside, a Court of Honor that was created in 1948 as the city’s World War II memorial now includes a reflecting pool and fountain to represent the five branches of the armed forces.
Monuments to those who died in Korea and Vietnam were moved to their own spots on a walkway between the museum and Court of Honor, and names for those who died in more recent conflicts will be added.