Delmar Boulevard, 1925

Delmar Boulevard begins in downtown St. Louis at Convention Plaza, although it probably originally began at the Mississippi River. It continues almost 10 miles to the western University City city limit. Just west of Skinker Boulevard, Delmar crosses the St. Louis City boundary and enters the six block-long University City portion of what is commonly known as “the Delmar Loop.”

The Delmar Loop acquired its name around the turn of the twentieth century from the streetcar line which ran west on Delmar and looped around the corner of the Delmar Garden Amusement Park to return to downtown St. Louis. Even before the St. Louis World’s Fair dominated the area in 1904, the Delmar streetcar came west bringing visitors to Delmar Garden to escape the heat of the City and to enjoy an afternoon or evening of theatre, dining and amusement park entertainment. By 1901, the Delmar Race Track offered horse racing, and with the Track, new attractions such as a swimming pool and roller rink along with restaurants and taverns opened along the south side of the street.

In 1906, University City was incorporated under the leadership of Edward Gardner Lewis, who had moved his publishing company to a location on Delmar in 1903. Following incorporation, and with the implementation of new ordinances, the Delmar Loop began to change. The Race Track closed, as did some of the less desirable establishments. Benoist Aircraft took over a former dance hall building and began to construct airplanes. The City acquired several parcels of land on the south side of the street and constructed the first City Hall. Lewis was the City’s first mayor and his financial problems in the early teens caused financial problems for the City as well, but under the City’s next mayor, August Heman, the fortunes of University City improved. By the 1920’s, Delmar Boulevard was a bustling commercial district with new multi-family housing attracting new residents. Streetcars provided the primary transportation for shoppers and residents alike. As automobiles became more prevalent, parking lots and filling stations also appeared. At one time, there were five filling stations within the business district.

In the 1950’s, as major St. Louis retailers opened their early suburban stores and improved roads provided easier access to new subdivisions being developed further west, neighborhood shopping districts like the Delmar Loop, Wellston Loop and Maplewood Loop that had once served streetcar riders began to suffer. In fact, the streetcars themselves had completely disappeared by the early 1960’s. In the late 1950’s University City’s City Council began to study ways to revitalize the Loop. By the 1960’s, a redevelopment plan had been adopted and work began – removal of old buildings to make way for new development and rehabilitation of viable structures. But physical revitalization was no guarantee of success. It took dedication on the part of many to begin to turn life in the Loop around. A few long-time business owners stayed, and new businesses began to open. A business association was formed. Street level space was strictly reserved for retail stores and restaurants which encouraged shopping and foot traffic. In 1981 the Loop Special Benefit Tax District was created and the extra revenue it generates pays for projects that enhance the entire area…trees, planters, signs, lighting. In 1984, the Delmar Loop Parkview Gardens District was listed on the National Register, making building owners eligible for historic tax credits. In 1988, the St. Louis Walk of Fame was created to honor St. Louisians who have made a national impact on our cultural heritage. Today, the Delmar Loop, recently designated as one of the Ten Great Streets in America by the American Planning Association, is the vital shopping, dining, cultural, and entertainment destination in St. Louis.

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