Our History


Before University Heights became the gracious neighborhood it is today, it was "Camp Lewis", a tent city established by Edward Garner Lewis for visitors to the 1904 World's Fair. Lewis was an entrepreneur and visionary who founded our neighborhood and the city in which it is located, University City, MO

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, University Heights Subdivision No. 1 is nestled behind our historic City Hall and just west of the Delmar Loop, an entertainment, restaurant, and cultural district.

Below you will find more about our neighborhood's colorful history, written by a group of dedicated neighbors and complemented by historic photographs from the University City Library's Digital Collection. The collection also contains documents and publications.  All historic digital images appearing on this website have been published with permission from the University City Library. 

 

The founding of University Heights Subdivision No. 1

University Heights Subdivision No. 1 has a colorful history stretching back to the beginning of the twentieth century.  The story begins with its founder, and the founder of University City, Edward Gardner Lewis.

Born in Connecticut in 1869, Lewis was a consummate promoter and salesman.  In his early years he sold everything from watches to patent medicines and household products.  Arriving in St. Louis, by 1899 he had discovered that there was more money to be made in selling advertising space for these products than in selling the products themselves so he became a magazine publisher. His market was women, and primarily women in small towns and rural areas.  By 1904 the circulation of his Woman's Magazine and Woman's Farm Journal had grown to nearly 2 million readers  Through his magazines, subscribers could enjoy short stories; purchase a wide range of consumer products; and find tips on caring for their homes, children, pets, gardens, farm animals, and poultry.  They could read about America's great institutions, and see photographs of other countries and other cultures.  These periodicals, and other subsequent Lewis publications, also became a vehicle to develop his new community, which he called “University City,” as well as to promote other ventures.  
Realizing that St. Louis could grow only westward, in 1902 Lewis purchased 85 acres just northwest of the construction site in Forest Park for the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, popularly known as the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. This first land purchase became the nucleus for University City and University Heights No.1.  In 1903, with his publishing operation outgrowing its downtown St. Louis location, he began the construction of a new Lewis Publishing Company headquarters and Press Annex on this site.  We now know that headquarters building as the University City City Hall, which it became in 1930, and the Press Annex behind City Hall has housed the Fire and Police Departments. 

Woman's Magazine Building, Press Annex and Woman's National Daily Building, looking southeast, about 1907

Woman's Magazine Building, Press Annex and Woman's National Daily Building, looking southeast, about 1907

Lewis envisioned the remaining acreage as becoming the first subdivision, University Heights No.1, in “A City Beautiful.”  In 1903, Lewis employed an expert to survey the property to provide him with full measurements, elevations, and topographical features.  He then used this survey to construct a wax model of the landscape and to lay out the curving maze of streets we know today.  Using little tubes, he checked the dimensions for sewers and created mini-rainfalls with a sprinkler system to check drainage.  The streets were laid out so as to hug the contours of the undulating landscape.  

The subdivision would be a planned community-- an exclusive “Residence Park.”  The lots were drawn in several sizes, with the larger lots at the top of the hillside, near his new headquarters.  In addition, to maintain a standard of design and structural integrity, a certain minimum sum was required to erect a home on each lot size.  The more expensive homes were to be located on the crown of the slope, while less expensive and smaller ones were allowed downhill.  The range of lot sizes allowed for the great diversity of architectural styles of the homes in University Heights, while the varying shapes of the lots, a result of the winding streets, also influenced the type of home that could be erected to fit the space.  Only Dartmouth and Princeton offer relatively straight views down the street.  The winding inner streets, which sometimes confuse even long-time residents as well as visitors, offer ever-changing vistas that contribute greatly to the character of the neighborhood.  Lewis’s plan was almost certainly influenced by the design theories of the famous landscape engineers of Olmsted Associates, who were then working on the nearby Washington University Campus.  He later retained that firm to lay out the street design of Atascadero, California, the other planned community that Lewis developed after he left St. Louis.  However, there is no documentary proof that Olmsted Associates helped to plan University Heights No.1.

University Heights #1, about 1905

University Heights #1, about 1905

With the World’s Fair opening soon, Lewis wanted people to take notice of his new venture and to buy property in the new subdivision.  Thus he developed Camp Lewis, a tent city built on both sides of what is now Princeton.  To subscribers to his publications who wished to visit the World's Fair, it offered reasonably-priced lodging in small tents with board floors, electric lights, and comfortable beds.  A dining tent for meals, a hospital, a barbershop, a nursery, and transportation to and from the Fair were also provided.  At least 80,000 people visited University Heights that summer and fall of 1904.  They were especially attracted at night, when Lewis turned on the giant searchlight atop the 135 foot octagonal tower of his headquarters (now City Hall) and swept the fairgrounds with it.  This carbon-arc searchlight is still used by the City on special occasions today. 

University Heights #1, looking north from the Woman's Magazine Building c. 1908

University Heights #1, looking north from the Woman's Magazine Building c. 1908

University City was incorporated in 1906.   E. G. Lewis served as its first mayor, and again for two more successive terms.  In 1907 the United States Postal Service denied use of 2nd class mailing privileges for Lewis’s Woman's Magazine and the Woman's Farm Journal, claiming that the magazines were primarily advertising.  Lewis fought back, but during the intervening months he lost many of his subscribers.  

When publication resumed in 1908, he announced the formation of the American Woman's League.  This was to be a subscription gathering organization.  Instead of paying individuals a percentage of the subscription price to sell magazines, as was the common practice at the time, the percentage would go to the League.  Women selling enough subscriptions would become members of the League and be eligible for benefits of membership.  These benefits included unlimited use of the League’s correspondence school; the People's University and its Art Academy; the Woman’s National Exchange, which provided an outlet for goods produced by the women; a Postal Lending Library; and even an orphanage for children of deceased members and a retreat for the destitute and elderly.   A reported 700 local chapters of the League were organized across the country.  Chapters meeting certain membership requirements could earn chapter houses, built for them at League expense.  Five of these Arts and Crafts style chapter houses were built in Missouri.

Woman visiting People's University Art Academy in 1911

Woman visiting People's University Art Academy in 1911

In the spring of 1911, a parallel organization emerged, developed at the urging of the League members.  The purpose of the American Woman's Republic was to provide women with an understanding of working government so that they would be prepared when suffrage was granted. 

When Lewis was forced into bankruptcy at the end of 1911 and the League foundered under mis-management and financial difficulties, the American Woman's Republic became the surviving organization.  In 1912, its first convention was held, and the Declaration of the American Woman's Republic and the Constitution were adopted. University City was the capital.  

Around 1913, Lewis left the area for California, where he founded another visionary city, Atascadero.  This venture, too, ended in legal problems which ultimately resulted in Lewis serving time in federal prison.  He died in 1950. 

Lion Gates and plaza, looking north, about 1911

Lion Gates and plaza, looking north, about 1911

And what became of University Heights No.1 during this eventful time?  The oldest homes were built during this period, many by associates in Lewis’s various business ventures.  Lewis built his own home at the northwest corner of Yale and Delmar.  The lot was swampy and contained a large spring, which he turned into an asset by diverting it into a pond at the rear of his property.  His three-story Tudor style home was erected on the site and included formal gardens, a stable, several fountains, a greenhouse, and a marble swimming pool.  The Lewis house burned years later and  the majority of the site became  incorporated into what is now Lewis Park, on the southwest corner of University Heights.  

House at 700 Yale Avenue in University Heights #1 - View 2

House at 700 Yale Avenue in University Heights #1 - View 2

The Tudor style house at 700 Yale was completed in 1905 and sold to James F. Coyle, who was a director of Lewis’s Peoples’ United States Bank, the Lewis Publishing Company, and the People’s Savings and Trust Company.  Herbert C. Chivers, who designed the Woman's Magazine Building, now City Hall, designed 6975 Cornell (built 1906) which was purchased by Frank J. Cabot, Secretary of the People’s United States Bank and the Lewis Publishing Company.  Cabot also served on the first Board of Alderman of the fledgling city.  

House at 6965 Princeton Avenue in University Heights #1

House at 6965 Princeton Avenue in University Heights #1

Number 15 Princeton (formerly 6965 Princeton) was built in 1906, almost totally destroyed by fire in 2006, and reconstructed in 2008.  It was originally owned by F. V. Putnam, who was Cashier of the People’s United States Bank and Treasurer of the University Heights Realty and Development Company as well as the Lewis Publishing Company.  Mr. Putnam served as both an Alderman and as City Clerk and Street Commissioner in the early days of University City.  

The noted architectural firm of Eames and Young, who designed the pylons that support the Lion Gates, completed Number 1 Yale (now 600 Yale) for E. G. Lewis’s brother, John, in 1909.  John Lewis was Trust Officer for the People’s Savings Trust Company, Vice-President of the University Heights Realty and Development Company, and City Attorney.  But other lots remained undeveloped.  In April 1910, during Lewis’s continuing financial difficulties, many of the remaining lots were sold at auction.  

University City, and University Heights No.1, continued to grow and thrive after Lewis and many of his business associates departed for California, but his vision in many ways continues. University Heights No.1 remains a cohesive and vibrant neighborhood with a strong sense of identity. Its active neighborhood association has flourished for decades.   In 1981, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, joining the City’s Civic Plaza, which centers around City Hall, on the Register.  This initiative was undertaken by a group of neighbors seeking to protect the neighborhood’s heritage.  The complete survey supporting the nomination to the National Register of Historic Places is available in the University City Public Library’s archives, and information on many individual houses can be researched there with the help of the library’s reference staff.   A rich collection of historical photographs and documents is also available on the library’s website at http://history.ucpl.lib.mo.us/.   The majority of the photographs date from Lewis’s tenure, and many are of University Heights No.1. Photographs used in this brief history are drawn from that digitized collection.