When Edward Gardner Lewis purchased the land that would become University City at the turn of the twentieth century, there wasn't much in the area beyond an amusement park, a race track and the loop of the trolley from which Delmar Loop gets its name. But he had a vision for a magazine empire and needed space to expand his printing presses. He built an iconic octagonal building for his headquarters overlooking the street car line and in view of the site of the upcoming 1904 World's Fair. From there, a bustling street of businesses grew, full of places to eat, shop and have a good time.
"West of the Loop used to be no-man's land," said Mary Costantin, author of St. Louis's Delmar Loop. "The Loop was where a lot of people waited for the next trolley. And while they waited, they shopped."
By the '30s and '40s, said Costantin, the Delmar Loop was the destination for high-end fashion in the region.
But with the advent of the age of the automobile and the expansion further west of other suburbs, Delmar Loop lost its prominence. The Loop fell into a decline, its death knell the end of the trolley line in the 1960s.
Another man of vision came on the scene in 1972. Joe Edwards and his wife Linda opened up a new restaurant called Blueberry Hill on a street better known for crime and empty buildings than good food and atmosphere.
"I quickly realized I wasn't going to make it if I didn't work to fix the area," said Edwards. "You were taking your life in your hands if you went East."
With help from the University City Council, especially councilwoman Harriet Woods, Edwards set out to revitalize the area. They changed zoning on the Loop to require the first floor of buildings to be retail, entertainment, galleries or restaurants, added dusk-to-dawn lighting, widened the sidewalks and narrowed the street. One successful business inspired other potential business-owners to open their own, creating a domino effect of success. In 1993 the MetroLink opened a stop at Delmar, opening up further access to the Loop.
Today, Edwards owns Blueberry Hill, Tivoli Theater, Moonrise Hotel, Pin-Up Bowl and the Pageant, a 2,000 seat venue for music and other performances. He also is the man behind the Walk of Fame. The American Planning Association calls Delmar Loop one of the great streets of America, crediting the success of the revitalization in large part to Joe Edwards. Mary Costantin echoes that endorsement.
"When my family first moved into the Loop, it was a desert...and it's not that way anymore, and it gives you hope," said Costantin of Edwards efforts.
But that's not to say the Loop doesn't ever have trouble anymore. Last year, a fight broke out on the corner of Delmar and Skinker, and two people were shot.
Edwards said the evening was a one-time event, and nothing of the sort has happened since. He added that they have high-quality cameras now that can zoom-in on license plates and faces, which encourages people to keep the peace because "no one wants to end their weekend in the clinker."
"We can't give up on places like this. It's important that we go to the different shops and shop...and not give in," said Edwards. "Every decade there's always a little problem, and we solve it. And we're solving this one now."