Architect Nellie Peters
Nellie Peters (b. Dec. 11, 1884, d. Oct. 7, 1974) was 89 at her passing. At birth, she was Nellie Elizabeth Nichols. Born in Niagra, North Dakota, and raised on a prairie farm, she had been interested in drawing early on. Since I used to live in South Dakota, it wasn't hard to imagine the landscape she lived on.
From 1899 to 1902, Nelle attended Buena Vista College in Storm Lake, Iowa. Her first job was with Eisentrout, Colby, and Pottenger when she was hired in 1903 by Frank Colby earning $3 a week as a drafter. After four years of training, the firm sent her to their Kansas City office.
Nichols’s first works as an independent architect were three small houses, and she charged $15 for each design. Not wanting to appear as a beginner, however, she labeled her first plan No. 25. (Source.)
In 1911, Nelle married William H. Peters. He worked with the Kansas City Terminal Railroad as a design engineer. They divorced in 1923. During this time, she was a more productive architect and she began going by Nelle. Her business relationship with a local developer, Charles E. Phillips, helped to build her career. She designed hotels and apartment buildings for the Phillips Building Company establishing her trademark of large apartment complexes.
Nelle was definitely working in a man's profession at the time including the fact she had an independent practice. Most of the nearly thousand buildings she designed were in the Kansas City area. A few of her Kansas City projects include:
- Madrid and Granada apartments, Kansas City, Mo., 1922
- Ambassador Hotel, Kansas City, 1924
- Charles Phillips residence, Kansas City, 1925
- “Literary Block” apartments, Kansas City, 1927–29
The Literary Block of apartments listed above included seven apartment buildings, each named after a famous author. These are located west of the Country Club Plaza.
Sadly, her career declined especially with the effects of the Depression in the 1930s. She suffered a breakdown during that time also. Still in all, she worked as an architect for nearly 60 years. She retired in 1965 and died on October 7, 1974, of heart disease at the age of 89 while a resident at the Fairview Nursing Home in Sedalia, Missouri. Nelle's ashes were buried at the Elmwood Cemetery in Kansas City.
Nelle went from being born in a sod house on a prairie to establishing herself as a talented architect. Her work wasn't just exclusive to Kansas City.
In Nelle's honor, there are two districts in Kansas City carrying her name. One was dedicated in 1982 that includes the corner of Summit Avenue and 37th Street in a section of buildings and is called the Nelle E. Peters Historic District. The other came in 1989 called the Nelle E. Peters Thematic Historic District which are the buildings by the Country Club Plaza.
On July 23, 2009, six apartment buildings within the 2700 Troost Avenue block were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That's the Nelle E. Peters Troost Avenue Historic District.
In March 2021, she was celebrated in KSHB's reporting entitled, Nelle Peters: The groundbreaking Kansas City architect. The video in that article also shows some of her buildings.
The below video provides a glimpse into her career as well as images of her designs to coincide with her induction into the 2021 Starr Women's Hall of Fame. If you're a Kansas Citian, you just might take more notice of some of her buildings now and probably have driven by some many times.
Thank you for reading.