At 4 p.m. Sunday, Donovan Mouton stooped in front of a historic Country Club Plaza apartment building, hammering croquet hoops into the green lawn with a rubber mallet. A banner hanging from the lush bushes in front of the red brick building read, “Save the Nelle Peters homes.”
Nelle Peters, a prolific Kansas City architect who died in 1974, designed several apartment buildings in the Plaza area, including the Vanity Fair building at 700 W. 48th St. where Mouton resides. On Sunday, Mouton and his girlfriend, Marilyn Carpenter, who also lives at Vanity Fair, celebrated the architect and her life’s work by throwing a white-dress lawn party complete with croquet.
Mouton and Carpenter initially planned the party as a toast to the first day of summer. When they found out that three nearby apartment buildings designed by Peters were potentially going to be torn down, they found an even greater cause to unite their neighborhood.
Earlier this month, the Historic Kansas City Foundation filed an application for historic designation for three 1920s Tudor revival-style buildings on nearby Summit Street after discovering that the owner of the properties had obtained pre-demolition permits from the city. The filing put a temporary hold on the potential demolition; the City Council will ultimately decide the buildings’ fate.
On Sunday, Carpenter stood across the street from the Summit Street buildings and pointed out architectural details such as sleeping porches and stone at the base of the brick facades.
“They’re a treasure,” she said of the neglected structures, which were surrounded by a chain link fence and partly shrouded with ivy.
Carpenter, a retired English professor, moved back to Kansas City from Alaska three years ago. She found her 750-square-foot Vanity Fair condo online and immediately fell in love with the location and charming details, which include arched doorways, crown molding and a nook designed for a pull-down wall bed.
Peters’ plans for the Vanity Fair building included 18 units, each with its own screened-in sleeping porch. Most of the porches have since been enclosed; Carpenter uses hers as a living room.
At the lawn party, guests wore white and mingled over wine, juice, chips and salsa. Rose Williams, a friend of Carpenter’s who lives in Lee’s Summit, was among the first to arrive.
“The Plaza is so beautiful,” said Williams. “You don’t want to destroy anything that isn’t falling down.”
Eric Youngberg, a Historic Kansas City Foundation board member, also attended the lawn party. Youngberg said Vanity Fair and other apartment buildings designed by Peters are an essential part of the vision that J.C. Nichols had for the Plaza.
“The balance of residential and retail is extremely important,” Youngberg said. “It’s part of the fabric of the Plaza, and we have to protect it.”