Fashionable Then and Now: A Look Back for Today’s Visitors to The Delmar Loop

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Does the name Edward Gardner Lewis ring a bell? Maybe not, but the publisher and land developer’s foresight brought to life many of St. Louis’ most beloved landmarks and communities, including The Delmar Loop. After relocating from Connecticut to St. Louis in the 1890s, Gardner found work as a salesman of medicinal products until he saved up enough to purchase local Winner Magazine later in the decade. After he renamed the publication Women’s Magazine, circulation skyrocketed, amassing a pretty penny for the entrepreneur.

Having had an eye on land outside of the city not yet affected by urban sprawl, Gardner purchased 85 acres near the construction site of the 1904 World’s Fair in 1902. At the time, there was little around: an amusement park, a racetrack and a quirky streetcar line that used a loop to reposition its cars for the return trip Downtown. Gardner saw the underdeveloped acreage as a prime location for the expansion of his printing presses—his publishing company was quickly outgrowing its Downtown St. Louis outpost, prompting Gardner to build a new headquarters on his recently purchased plot of county land in 1903.

Further development in the area surrounding Gardner’s operation soon followed, creating a hub of early 20th-century American publishing at the center of a bustling commercial district with banks, art academies, universities and more.

In the ensuing decades, The Delmar Loop gained a foothold as the destination for the region’s hottest fashions, and in the beginning, it was the dependable, affordable streetcar that transported citizens along the popular stretch. However, the increasing dependence upon the automobile was not kind to the streetcar, just as the rapid suburbanization of the St. Louis region was not kind to the district. Development began to trend to the western areas of the county, and on April 19, 1964, streetcar service in The Delmar Loop ceased.

Fashionable Then and Now: A Look Back for Today's Visitors to The Delmar Loop

There were various redevelopment efforts bandied about in the ’50s and ’60s, but the end of the streetcar service squashed the growth of the commercial hub, which subsequently became derelict and inactive. It wasn’t until the ’70s that The Loop began to see glimpses of its renaissance.

Future civic leaders Joe Edwards and his wife, Linda, opened the now-famous Blueberry Hill restaurant, bar and music venue in 1972, arriving on the scene at an opportune, if still a bit challenging, time. Since then, Joe Edwards has been plugging away at the forefront of revitalization and resilience efforts: working diligently as the neighborhood’s de facto influencer, encouraging others to join him in opening businesses of their own in The Loop, one by one.

Never at a loss for original ideas that inevitably evoke nostalgia, Joe Edwards has overseen many of the neighborhood’s rebirths—most notably Landmark’s Tivoli Theatre and the street-trolley system (now featuring a 1928 car from Seattle and two 1903 replicas from Portland)—and has been at the helm for other exciting creations, such as brother-and-sister music venues The Pageant and Delmar Hall, the iconic Vintage Vinyl record store and the boutique Moonrise Hotel.

As of today, the neighborhood is a bevy of cultural and artistic expression, an icon of urban renewal and frequently cited as one of the 10 best streets in America. And while Joe Edwards’ influence is evident up and down the thoroughfare, this is not a one-man job.

Fashionable Then and Now: A Look Back for Today's Visitors to The Delmar Loop

Fashion still plays an integral part in The Delmar Loop scene. For example, vintage clothing staple Avalon Exchange is one of the best places in the Midwest to buy and sell on-trend apparel, and OSO: A Style Lab goes above and beyond to source the year’s sweetest street threads.

Any trip to The Delmar Loop wouldn’t be complete without a visit—or two, or three—to the neighborhood’s wealth of restaurants. Grab quick Korean-Mexican fusion at Seoul Taco; rise above “typical” bar food at HopCat and Three Kings Public House; sample some of the region’s best barbecue and whiskey at Salt & Smoke; dine at the cozy Thai-food staple Fork & Stix; or indulge in the delectable Piccione Pastry.

Images courtesy of Carmen Troesser.

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