Nelle E. Peters and her architectural sensibilities weren’t fully appreciated during her lifetime. Not much has changed in the ensuing years.
Peters (1884-1974) amassed a substantial portfolio of brick-and-mortar achievements when few women worked in her field. She is credited with designing nearly 1,000 buildings, often signing construction permits with her initials so as not to upset male egos.
Temporarily, the wrecking ball has been halted for three of Peters’ trademark Tudor-style buildings — prominently placed near the Country Club Plaza. The Historic Kansas City Foundation got busy last week and filed the necessary paperwork to hold off the crews.
That’s laudable, but the preservationists’ efforts will probably be too little, too late.
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And that’s even considering that the current owners, an arm of Price Development Group, likely loathe the possibility of being labeled spoilers of significant Kansas City history. They wisely saw a deal for prime real estate and jumped.
For those who are upset by this: Where were your voices for historic recognition during the past two decades, when the longtime owner, a woman well known in Kansas City real estate circles, kept the units rented but didn’t perform costly and massive upgrades that might have staved off eventual demolition? That was her prerogative, as was selling.
The buildings should have been included in historic protections given to other Peters buildings on the Plaza in the late 1980s. Now the City Council will be forced into catch-up mode.
In a perfect world, people who own architecturally or historically significant buildings, whether they’re known for artwork or lathe and plaster, would be motivated by civic altruism to keep the property in top shape. Spoiler alert: We don’t live in a perfect world, much less a perfect city.
When Historic Kansas City issued its annual listing of the area’s most endangered properties in late May, these three Peters buildings were not on the list. Some of the usual suspects were, all worthy of inclusion.
Kansas City is rich with historically significant buildings. Some are well cared for, in stable hands, safely protected. Many are not. Keeping ahead of that means being mindful and vigilant.
The Nelle E. Peters situation did not form overnight. The problem is, a solution that doesn’t involve a wrecking crew likely won’t either.