J. C. Nichols

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J. C. Nichols
Portrait of J.C. Nichols.jpg
BornAugust 23, 1880
DiedFebruary 16, 1950
Resting placeForest Hill Cemetery
Occupationreal estate developer

Jesse Clyde "J. C." Nichols (August 23, 1880 - February 16, 1950) was an American developer of commercial and residential real estate in Kansas City, Missouri. Born in Olathe, Kansas, and a student at the University of Kansas and Harvard University, his most notable developments are the Country Club District and Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, which influenced suburban developments in other parts of the United States. He served leadership roles in local and national real estate and organizations. Through these organizations, his ideas about real estate and planning helped to shape methods for racist and anti-Semitic restrictive covenants and zoning. His legacy has come under increasing scrutiny for these covenants, which prohibited blacks, Jews, and other minorities from living in these neighborhoods.[1]

Early life[edit]

Jesse Clyde Nichols was born in 1880, a son of farmers living near Olathe, Kansas. He worked various jobs while attending high school, and worked for a year after graduation selling wholesale meat.[2] While he matriculated at the University of Kansas, he managed the college football team, reported for a newspaper, and served as class president.[2] Graduating at the top of his class with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1902, he accepted a one-year scholarship at Harvard University, and earned a second Bachelor of Arts degree there in 1903. Nichols returned to Kansas City and joined some college friends to establish Reed, Nichols & Company, operating as real estate developers. In 1905, he married Jessie Miller, a woman from Olathe, Kansas.[3]

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.[4]

Nichols advocated preservation of trees and natural contours, while proscribing gridiron street networks.[5] 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.[6] 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 covenants on all properties in the Country Club District.[5]

The Country Club District, Nichols' master-planned community in Kansas City, Missouri, was the inspiration for 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.[4]

Innovations and Leadership Positions[edit]

Nichols invented the percentage lease, where rents are based on tenants' gross receipts.[7] 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 is named in his honor.[8]

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.[9][citation needed]

Nichols served in leadership positions of local and national real estate and planning organizations. He was a member of the General Committee of the National Conference on City Planning.[10] He headed the Kansas City Real Estate Board and the National Conference of Subdividers.[11] He was a founder of the Urban Land Institute[12] and chaired its Community Builders’ Council .[13] He chaired the Home Builders and Subdividers Division of the National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB),[14] chaired NAREB's War Service Board,[15] and served as NAREB director.[16]

Deed Restrictions under the Guise of HOAs[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 blacks from owning or occupying the homes.[17] 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.[6] 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.[18]


In 1970, members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were charged with pipe bombing the home of his son Miller Nichols, then president of the J.C. Nichols company,[19] 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.


Nichols died of cancer in 1950 at age 69.[20] His home, still stands on Ward Parkway in Kansas City.


  1. ^ Moxley, Elle (2020). "Who Was J.C. Nichols? The Mixed Legacy Of The Man Whose Name Could Be Taken Off Kansas City's Most Famous Fountain". KCUR. Retrieved July 5, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Ford, Susan Jezak (2003). "Biography of J. C. Nichols (1880-1950), Developer". Kansas City Public Library. Retrieved December 18, 2014.
  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. xiii. ISBN 9780826209269.
  4. ^ a b Ferguson, Cheryl Caldwell (Oct 2000). "River Oaks:1920s Suburban Planning and Development in Houston". Southwestern Historical Quarterly. Vol. 104. p. 201.
  5. ^ a b Jackson, Kenneth T. (1985), Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-504983-7, p.178.
  6. ^ a b Worley, p.196.
  7. ^ Morton, LaDene (2010). The Brookside Story: shops of every necessary character. Charleston, South Carolina: History Press. p. 36. ISBN 9781596293007.
  8. ^ "J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development". Urban Land Institute. Retrieved December 18, 2015.
  9. ^ Kimball, Charles N. (1985). Midwest Research Institute: Some Recollections of the First 30 Years, 1945-1975. Kansas City: Midwest Research Institute. LCCN 85-61137.
  10. ^ Weiss, Marc (1987). The Rise of the Community Builders. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-231-06505-1.
  11. ^ Weiss, p.48
  12. ^ Jackson, p.178
  13. ^ Weiss, p.68.
  14. ^ Weiss, p.45. Not to be confused with the National Association of Real Estate Brokers.
  15. ^ Weiss, p.59
  16. ^ Weiss, p.48.
  17. ^ Worley, pp.145-146.
  18. ^ Worley, Chapter 5
  19. ^ "The Kansas City Times from Kansas City, Missouri · Page 4". Archived from the original on 2015-04-02.
  20. ^ Worley, p.xxv.

Further reading[edit]

  • McKenzie, Evan. Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government. Yale University Press, 1996.
  • Pearson, Robert and Pearson, Brad. The J. C. Nichols Chronicle: The Authorized Story of the Man and His Company, 1880–1994. Lawrence, Kansas: Country Club Plaza Press—distributed by the University Press of Kansas, 1994.
  • Schirmer, Sherry Lamb. A City Divided: The Racial Landscape of Kansas City, 1900-1960. Columbia, Missouri : University of Missouri Press, 2002.

External links[edit]