Jesse Clyde Nichols

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Portrait of J.C. Nichols

Jesse Clyde Nichols (August 23, 1880 - February 16, 1950), better known as J. C. Nichols, was an American developer of commercial and residential real estate in Kansas City. He was born in Olathe, Kansas, attended the University of Kansas and Harvard University. His developments include the Country Club Plaza, the first suburban shopping center in the United States and the Country Club District, the largest contiguous master-planned community in the United States.

Subdivision Development[edit]

Nichols called his method for establishing residential subdivisions "planning for permanence," for his objective was to "develop whole residential neighborhoods that would attract an element of people who desired a better way of life, a nicer place to live and would be willing to work in order to keep it better." His philosophy about subdivision planning greatly influenced other developments in the United States, including Beverly Hills and the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, as well as Highland Park, Texas and the River Oaks neighborhood in Houston, Texas. [1]

Nichols advocated preservation of trees and natural contours, while proscribing gridiron street networks.[2] His Country Club District in Kansas City placed many restrictions on the use of property within the subdivision, which Nichols believed made the lots more valuable to potential homeowners. His advertisements promoted permanence. [3] All homeowners were required to belong to the Country Club District's homeowners association, which monitored how well homeowners maintained their lawns, but also provided services like garbage collection and street cleaning. Builders were required to observe large minimum lot sizes and large setbacks from the street. Nichols also imposed racially based convenants on all properties in the Country Club District. [4]

The Country Club District, Nichols' master-planned community in Kansas City, Missouri, was the inspiration of River Oaks in Houston, Texas. Will Hogg, his brother Mike, and Hugh Potter visited the area and sought the advice of Nichols while they were planning River Oaks. Nichols had a short list of what he considered to be exemplary communities, and urged Potter to visit them. These included Forest Hill Gardens in Queens, New York; Palos Verdes Estates in Los Angeles County; Roland Park in Baltimore, Maryland; and Shaker Heights in Cleveland, Ohio. Potter eventually was appointed President of the River Oaks Corporation, and continued to seek the advice of Nichols during his tenure.[5]

Innovations and Leadership Positions[edit]

Nichols invented the percentage lease, where rents are based on tenants' gross receipts. The percentage lease is now a standard practice in commercial leasing across the United States. Modern outdoor shopping centers, now common in the United States, share a common ancestor in the Country Club Plaza, which opened in Kansas City in 1923. The Urban Land Institute's J. C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development[6] is named after him. Moreover, the New Urbanists, developers who design to combat suburban sprawl, look to the Country Club District as a model for modern developments.[citation needed]

Nichols was prominent in Kansas City civic life, being involved in the creation of the Liberty Memorial, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, MRIGlobal, as well as the development of Kansas City University, now the University of Missouri-Kansas City.[7][citation needed] Nichols served in leadership positions of local and national real estate and planning organizations. He was a member of the Kansas City Real Estate Board, was director of National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), headed the National Conference of Subdividers, chaired the Community Builders’ Council of the Urban Land Institute, and was a member of the General Committee of the National Conference on City Planning.[8]

Controversial restrictive covenants[edit]

J.C. Nichols relied on restrictive covenants to control the uses of the lands in the neighborhoods he developed. Most of the covenants restricted the lands to residential uses, and contained other features such as setback and free space requirements. However, homes in the Country Club District were restricted with covenants that prohibited African Americans and Jews from owning or occupying the homes, unless they were servants. Nichols did not invent the practice, but he used it to effectively bar ethnic minorities from living in his properties during the first half of the century. His restrictive covenant model was later adopted by the federal government to help implement similar policies in other regions of the United States. Ultimately, the 1948 Supreme Court decision Shelley v. Kraemer made such covenants unenforceable. Nevertheless, language referencing these covenants remained on the deed documents for decades after the Supreme Court decision because of the practical difficulty of revising them. (The deed restrictions in most neighborhoods renew automatically every twenty to twenty-five years unless a majority of the homeowners agree to change them with notarized votes.) In 2005, Missouri passed a law allowing the governing bodies of homeowner's associations to delete restrictive covenants from deed restrictions without a vote of the members. To this day, the Country Club District is predominantly white, and it is among the wealthiest, most sought-after neighborhoods in the United States, and has continued been plagued with numerous accusations of racial profiling against minorities by police and security officers.


In 1970, members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were charged with pipe bombing the home of J.C. Nichols, among other places in Kansas City. Three SDS members were convicted. See United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Western Division (Kansas City), Criminal Case Files (1879- 1972), Case 23498.

He is mentioned briefly in Robert A. Heinlein's novel To Sail Beyond the Sunset.



  1. ^ Ferguson, Cheryl Caldwell (Oct 2000). "River Oaks:1920s Suburban Planning and Development in Houston". Southwestern Historical Quarterly 104,p.201.
  2. ^ Jackson, Kenneth T. (1985). Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504983-7. , p.178.
  3. ^ Worley, William S. (1993) J.C. Nichols and the Shaping of Kansas City : innovation in planned residential communities. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, p. 196
  4. ^ Jackson, Kenneth T. (1985). Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-504983-7. , p.178.
  5. ^ Ferguson, Cheryl Caldwell (Oct 2000). "River Oaks:1920s Suburban Planning and Development in Houston". Southwestern Historical Quarterly 104,p.201.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Kimball, Charles N. (1985). Midwest Research Institute: Some Recollections of the First 30 Years, 1945-1975. Kansas City: Midwest Research Institute. LCCN 85-61137. 
  8. ^ Weiss, Marc (1987). ‘’The Rise of the Community Builders’’. New York: Columbia University Press, p.48,58,68. ISBN 0-231-06505-1.

Further reading

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