In the late 1800s, 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 on the Mississippi River. Delmar Boulevard, originally called Bonhomme, was a dirt road that turned southwest somewhere east of Hanley and then turned northwest to join Olive.
Just after the turn of the century All Saints Church opened north of Olive and new houses were built in the area around it. On Delmar, just west of the St. Louis city limit, the Delmar Race Track and the Delmar Garden Amusement Park were major attractions. The south side of Delmar was home to taverns and roadhouses, along with the occasional house. 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, University City's flamboyant and often controversial founder and first mayor, purchased his first 85 acres just northwest of the construction site in Forest Park for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. He was the publisher of the Woman's Magazine and the Woman's Farm Journal, and the publishing company had already outgrown two locations in downtown St. Louis. In 1903 he broke ground on Delmar for his magnificent Lewis Publishing Company headquarters and Press Annex to house his rapidly expanding publishing enterprises.
Over the next ten years he would acquire more land and develop subdivisions; publish two daily newspapers and several magazines; found the American Woman's League, the People's University and the American Woman's Republic; build the Woman's Magazine Building, Press Annex, University City's Lion Gates, an Egyptian temple and the Art Academy; open two banks; incorporate University City; help establish the University City School District and serve three terms as mayor. He would be indicted on charges several times by the federal government and be acquitted of all of them. He would make and lose fortunes, and then borrow enough money to make fortunes again.
In 1913 he declined to run for a 4th term as mayor so that he could devote his efforts to establishing a colony for the American Woman's Republic in California. In late 1914, Atascadero, California became his personal base of operations. By 1916, all of the American Woman’s Republic business ventures and activities were moved to Atascadero as well.
Edward Gardner Lewis may have left University City, but he left the city with a remarkable legacy.