The Edmond Sun

February 15, 2013

Street of dreams and the dreamer who dreamed it

Elaine Warner
The Edmond Sun

Saint Louis — Delmar is a long east-west street in St. Louis with a checkered history. Around the turn of the last century, it was a street car route that ran from St. Louis to the Delmar Gardens amusement park in University City. Back in the day, when most people took public transportation to get around, areas on the “car line” prospered.  

As cars became more popular and suburbs with their own shopping areas grew up, older areas decayed. Businesses closed and buildings were boarded up or occupied by less attractive tenants.

A local boy, Joe Edwards, came back to St. Louis after graduating from Duke University.  He had a degree in psychology, he says, because “They made us pick a major. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I picked psychology.”

He taught school for a while — but mainly to finance his interest in music. He had a great love of rock and roll — eventually publishing Top 10s and “Trivia of Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues: 1950-1980.”

But back to Delmar. Joe has done so much and talks so fast — on top of which he’s modest — so it’s hard to get the whole story out of him. But the bottom line is thanks to Joe Edwards, six blocks of Delmar have a whole new lease on life.

In 1972 he opened a restaurant on the street. He says of the neighborhood just east of Washington University, “Half of the buildings were boarded up and the rents were low. And I wanted a place where I could program the juke box.”  

He called the place Blueberry Hill. “I went through 15,000 names and I didn’t find one I liked better,” he says.  

Blueberry Hill was my first introduction to Joe and to the street. The restaurant rambles from room to room and it’s full of Joe’s collections. Lots of  them are rock and roll and music record connected but he doesn’t limit himself. There are sports action figures, cartoon characters, Howdy Doody items, bobble heads, Pez dispensers — a million things that caught Joe’s fancy.

Guests can borrow board games, throw darts, play pinball or video games and, frequently, listen to great music. Chuck Berry, a good friend and St. Louis native son, plays about once a month.

I go for the atmosphere and the burgers. There are lots of other options on the menu but nothing goes better with rock and roll than a burger and fries.

Things were rough for the business at first. “We almost went out of business several times in the first two years,” he says. But Joe not only persevered, he brought the neighborhood along with him.  

The local merchants got organized and things began to happen. In 1980 they created a special business district and taxed themselves to make improvements. In 1988 they created the St. Louis Walk of Fame honoring individuals who were born in St. Louis or had spent formative or creative years there.

In 1994, the Tivoli, a 1924 movie theatre, was scheduled for demolition. Joe bought it and refurbished it to the tune of $2 million. Today it is a favorite with fans of independent and foreign films. And display cases feature more of Joe’s collections — this time movie memorabilia.

In 2000, Joe built the Pageant, which is a concert venue. This was followed by the Pin-Up Bowl, a martini bar and bowling alley.     

As far as Delmar Avenue is concerned, Joe hung the moon — literally. A giant rotating moon sits atop Joe’s pièce de résistance, the Moonrise Hotel. This uber-cool, pet-friendly hotel is out of this world — and it’s filled with more of Joe’s collection of space items. One of his favorite pieces has truly been out of this world — a patch that went with Apollo XI astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin when they flew to the moon.

If you’re still feeling spacey, take a planet walk down Delmar. Markers with information about the sun and planets of our solar system are spaced along the sidewalk giving a scale representation of the distance between planets.

While you’re walking, enjoy the 135-plus brass stars on the Walk of Fame. I found three of the four St. Louis women featured in (caution: shameless plug) my book “More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Missouri Women.” Kate Chopin, Susan Blow and Josephine Baker joined other stars like Robert Duvall, Bill Mauldin, Tina Turner, Yogi Berra and Stan Musial.

You’ll also find plenty of shops, boutiques and art galleries. Among the 52 restaurants in the six-block area, you’ll even find a soda microbrewery. Fitz’s root beer was created in St. Louis in 1947. Have a root beer float with a salad, sandwich or pizza and take a case to go.

St. Louis is a great big city with lots of attractions. This area, called the Delmar Loop, is one of them. Don’t miss it. And be looking for the next big project — the return of the trolleys!

ELAINE WARNER is a travel writer based in Edmond.