History of the Soldiers' Memorial
The initiative to construct a memorial plaza and memorial building to honor the gallant sons and daughters of Missouri, and of our city, who "made the supreme sacrifice in the World War", began in 1923. Over the course of several years, the City of St. Louis and its citizens raised money for the project. Under the leadership of Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann, and with some funds coming from the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (Project No. 5098), the construction of the building, development of the memorial plaza, and improvements to the parks began on October 21, 1935 and the memorial and museum officially opened on Memorial Day, May 30, 1938.
"This magnificent edifice, erected as a perpetual reminder of the valor and sacrifice that has enabled America to live, will spur us on as a people to make America greater. We, who live, because others have died, should make of this shrine a place of love and a monument of peace."
- Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann, May 30, 1938
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came to St. Louis to dedicate the site for the Soldiers Memorial building on October 14, 1936.
“…Here will rise a fitting structure—a symbol of devoted patriotism and unselfish service. We in America do not build monuments to war: we do not build monuments to conquests; we build monuments to commemorate the spirit of sacrifice in war—reminders of our desire for peace. The memory of those, whom the war called to the Beyond, urges us to consecrate the best that is in us to the service of country in times of peace. We best honor the memory of those dead by striving for Peace, that the terror of the days of war will be with us no more. May the beauty of this monument, which will rise on this site, cast a beneficent light on the memories of our comrades, may a substantial structure typify the strength of their purpose, and may it inspire future generations with a desire to be of service to their fellows and their country.”
Seemingly, the poignancy of the President’s words were not lost on his audience: The quality and pride of craftsmanship, the careful attention to detail and design, confirm the depth of commitment and steadfast appreciation of Great Depression-era St. Louisans for those who served in the armed forces—veterans—and for those who served to the last measure of their lives—who made “The Supreme Sacrifice.” Further, these St. Louisans did not forget the families, understanding that war reaches beyond the battlefield, to the American home, with lasting effect long after peace treaties are signed.
Here are a few architectural features to notice the next time you visit Soldiers Memorial. The quoted material is as described in a very early guide book, published by Mason Printing Company, St. Louis:
- Exterior walls of the building itself: Of Bedford limestone, from Bedford Indiana.
- Outside, looking up, trimming the building just below the second floor balcony: “On the facing of the parapet, surrounding the upper promenade, are carved medallions representing infantrymen, marines, tank operators, sailors and the other divisions of service.” (p. 14)
- Outside, large sculptured, limestone figures flanking the stairs: “Four magnificent sculptured stone figures, two on the south side [Chestnut street side], representing Courage [male figure] and Vision [female figure]; two on the north side [Pine street side], representing Loyalty [male figure] and Sacrifice [female figure]. These massive, beautiful figures are the work of Walker Hancock, a native St. Louisan.” (p. 14)
- Going up the stairs to the entrance and under the covered atrium area, the Cenotaph: “Of black granite resting upon a base of Bedford stone. Carved upon [the cenotaph] are 1075 names of soldiers and nurses from our city, who made the supreme sacrifice [referring to WWI].” (p.11)
- In the covered atrium area, looking up: Gold Star Mother mosaic ceiling: Probably designed and installed by the Ravenna Mosaic Company, St. Louis—the same company that did the mosaics at the Cathedral Basilica on Lindell. Note that lights embedded inside the cenotaph shine upwards onto the ceiling at night—to highlight the detail and color of the tiles. As stated in the Mason Printing guide book: “Large flood lights in the hollowed center of the Cenotaph illuminate the ceiling which is of glass mosaic in red, gold and silver. Centered in the ceiling is a large gold star, dedicated to the mothers of St. Louisans who died in the war.” (p. 11)
- Elevator and stairway, located in the west museum lobby, north end and south end, respectively: “Access to the upper part [second floor] of the Memorial is by automatic elevator, which is completely paneled in American Walnut [probably from Missouri]. There is also a magnificent modernistic stairway, the walls of which are napoleon gray marble from Phoenix, MO. The treads and risers are of terrazzo. Modernistic aluminum rails and lighting fixtures create a pleasing and entrancing atmosphere.” (p.17)
- Entrance doors and museums: “There are two museums, east and west sides, at the entrance to which are modernistic aluminum light standards. The doors to the museums are made of heavy plate glass, encased in frames of aluminum and alloys that produce a soft, satin silver finish. The floors of the museum[s] are of terrazzo, while the nine-foot wainscoating [in the museums] is of St. Genevieve [Missouri] rose marble, with Belgian blue marble as a trim. The grill work over the doors and the 28-foot windows in the museums is of aluminum.” (p. 15)
- Basement area where CEMA offices are currently located: “On the ground floor is the assembly room used by the Gold Star Mothers and other war organizations of women. The assembly room accommodates 300 persons.” (p. 18) Note also that the U.S.O. held events in the basement area before CEMA and before the U.S.O. moved to Lambert Airport.
The Soldiers' Memorial was designed by St. Louis architectural firm Mauran, Russell & Crowell, in the Classical style, but with limited ornamentation. Its entrances are flanked by four monumental sculptural groups carved in Bedford stone, representing figures of Loyalty, Vision, Courage and Sacrifice. Created by sculptor Walker Hancock they stand, with their horses, on the North and South sides of the building.
Ornamental pylons on the terrace level name major World War I battles in which St. Louisans participated. Inside the building, a 38-foot high ceiling of mosaic tile tops the loggia area. The tiles form a large gold star dedicated to the mothers of St. Louisans who died in wars. A black granite cenotaph in the center of the loggia is inscribed with the names of 1,075 St. Louisans who lost their lives in World War I.
Inside Our Museums...
Two museum galleries contain a collection of military-related objects of both local and national historical significance, such as photographs, posters and printed materials, uniforms, flags, medals, firearms, edged weapons, and a range of war-time memorabilia from both the battlefront and the homefront.
Current exhibits include:
- Montford Point Marines: Black Marines of WWII;
- Hometown Heroes: Honoring local Veterans who made it home to tell us their story;
- POW-MIA recognition
Watch for special programs, events, and regularly-changing exhibits.
To schedule a group tour, call (314) 622-4550.