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The Early Years
In the late 1800’s, the area that is now University City, Missouri was primarily farms and small farming communities like Mount Olive and Sutter Valley. Olive Street Road was a main route from the Missouri River to downtown St. Louis. Delmar Boulevard, originally called Bonhomme, was a dirt road that turned southwest east of Hanley Road and then turned northwest to join Olive.
Just after the turn of the century, All Saints Church opened north of Olive, and new homes were constructed in the surrounding area. On Delmar Boulevard, just west of the St. Louis city limit, the Delmar Race Track and the Delmar Garden Amusement Park were major attractions. Located on the south side of Delmar Boulevard were taverns, roadhouses and the occasional home. The Delmar streetcar “looped” through the southwest corner of the Delmar Garden Amusement Park before returning to downtown St. Louis.
In 1902, Edward Gardner Lewis purchased 85 acres just northwest of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair Forest Park construction site. Lewis was the publisher of the Womans’ Magazine and the Woman’s Farm Journal, which had outgrown two locations in downtown St. Louis. The 85-acre area would be the headquarters for the Lewis Publishing Company, as well the site for a “high-class residential district.” Lewis decided to develop the area as a model city, a real “City Beautiful.”
Lewis broke ground for the publishing company’s headquarters in 1903. The Magazine Building (now City Hall), an ornate octagonal tower standing 135 feet tall, dominated the view of the area. An eight ton beacon beamed from atop the building. Soon, other architecturally significant structures and developments were erected — an austere Egyptian temple, the Lion Gates and the Art Academy.
Lewis’ idea for a residential community with comfortable homes for people of an upper middle class background was realized with the development of University Heights One. University Heights One was carefully designed around the landscape park and private place movements. Varying lot sizes, a great mix of architectural style and size and price of houses were represented. Before the subdivision was fully developed, it was important to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Instead of letting the acres stand idle, Lewis built a tent city to house families visiting the Fair. The popular “Camp Lewis” offered comfortable and convenient accommodations and catered meals.