Joe Edwards: The Duke of Delmar

    If you ask Joe Edwards what to call him, he’s not quite sure. He’s a business owner, developer, entrepreneur, and these days, a community icon.

    Some call him the “Duke of Delmar,” and he was recently honored by the St. Louis International Film Festival for one project in particular: The Landmark Tivoli Theater, or just The Tivoli as referred to by locals. The funny thing is, when you ask Edwards about things he did, he almost reflexively shifts to what they have accomplished at the festival.

    “It’s a wonderful honor,” Edwards said before making the shift. “The St. Louis International film festival is spectacular. It’s known around the country and around the world.”

    But the folks from the festival are happy to sing Edwards’ praises if he won’t. They’ll tell you their festival simply wouldn’t be what it is today with Joe Edwards and his revival of the Tivoli back in the 90s.

    “The Tivoli is sort of ‘Fest-Central’ for us. It is the most beautiful movie theater in St. Louis,” Cinema St. Louis Director Cliff Froehlich said. “Joe was the rescuer of the Tivoli. It was threatened with extinction. Not only was it not going to necessarily be a movie house, but that whole building was teetering on the brink as to whether it was going to survive at all.”

    “When the sign got hung up in the box office saying, ‘Closed forever,’ Joe saw it and said, ‘This will not stand,’ to quote The Big Labowski,” Froehlich said. “He negotiated and it was a hard negotiation because the owner of the building was not inclined to give it up at the time.”

    What Edwards is always happy to discuss is his work. The projects and the stories behind them seem to make him light up. The Tivoli’s story is certainly one for the books. This piece of St. Louis cinematic history was basically a dump when Edwards bought it.

    “I did not realize there were 3 ½ feet of standing water in the basement,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t realize that there was a hole in the roof over the stage where pigeons would fly in and out and there were 8-10 inches of pigeon droppings on the stage. That was a surprise.”

    Reviving it required immense attention to detail, including more than 200 molds of the medallions and lattice work that had been damaged over the years, replicating the 29-foot vertical landmark sign based on old photographs, repairing the marquee, and building a box office.

    Edwards also uncovered and repaired the ceiling centerpieces that were covered by duct work.

    “It’s really a classy 1924 movie theater,” Edwards said.

    Of course, that Tivoli was only part of the revival of what was a run-down Delmar Loop when Edwards opened Blueberry Hill in the 1970s.

    Now, his fingerprints are on almost every major development along the stretch. There’s the new trolley system that elicited some controversy before opening. Music fans have the Pageant theater and Delmar Hall. The Moonrise Hotel is one of the area’s top attractions. Bowlers have a spot to gravitate toward, and the popular St. Louis Walk of Fame connects them all.

    “It gives me a joyful feeling seeing the Delmar Loop coming back like it’s come back,” Edwards says.

    And this man who always seems to have a project isn’t done. A new miniature golf facility with a Ferris wheel inside is next on tap.

    “About a year from now the Magic Mini Golf will open across from the Moonrise and across from the Pageant,” he says. “I always try to create places that people can have fun and put their troubles behind them for a couple of hours and enjoy life and play games for a couple of hours that you don’t have to be good at to play. They may be difficult but you don’t have to be good to enjoy them.”

    Edwards has made a living, and a legacy, by keeping St. Louis entertained. That legacy was bolstered the night he was honored. His acceptance prior to a question and answer session was simple, one that got him to talk at least a little bit about himself.

    “I just thank you. My heart is big tonight,” he said.