Plaza apartment demolition: “A line in the sand?”

The buildings at 4728-4734 Summit, just behind the Bloch Cancer Survivors Park, have been granted pre-demolition permits.

Originally constructed as the Green Gable Apartments, these three vacant buildings have become the subject of a fight between a developer who proposed to demolish them and preservationists who say the are essential to the fabric of the Country Club Plaza.

The Historic Preservation Commission has lent its support to an attempt to save three Plaza apartment buildings that may have been designed by architect Nelle Peters.

A developer recently applied for pre-demolition and utility shutdown permits, but preservationists have rallied to save what they say are important Plaza landmarks. The buildings are at 4728, 4730 and 4734 Summit.

Historic Kansas City today petitioned the commission to expand the current local Nelle Peters Thematic Historic District to include the three  buildings that front Summit Street and back up to the Bloch Cancer Survivors Park.

Nelle Peters designed numerous apartments and other buildings and some argue her work gives Midtown much of its signature style. The “poet buildings” on the Plaza, which are named after famous writers and part of the historic district, are regarded as important works of the architect.

“Her work was so prolific and important that it has come to define the visual language of our city,” Historic Kansas City Director Amanda Crawley told the commission.

She argued that part of J.C. Nichol’s vision for the Country Club Plaza included a residential component, and several other historic buildings have already been lost.

President of Historic Kansas City, Greg Allen, cited examples of numerous older buildings in Midtown that have been put to reuse rather than being demolished, including the Chatham and the Valentine on Broadway and apartment buildings on Armour Boulevard.

The current owner of the building, Doug Price of Price Brothers, told the commission his family business has done projects on the Plaza for 50 years. While Price Brothers has rehabbed some historic buildings, he said black mold, asbestos and lead windows were just some of the reasons the renovation of these three did not make financial sense.

“The bones are rotten,” he said, arguing that the floor plate of the buildings would not allow walk-in closets, washers and dryers, dishwashers, and other amenities prospective Plaza residents demand. “The property is cute and quaint but inside it is rotten.”

Price also said that the Plaza has declined in the last 20 years while other parts of the city have flourished. He said his company bought the property without a plan for what to do with it, but decided to demolish the apartments for safety reasons.

During public testimony, several developers said they thought there was a way to rehab the buildings and make them financially viable.

“They have a beautiful tactile human scale – something that is very difficult to accomplish today,” Eddie Tapper told the commission.

Another developer, Butch Rigby, said he also had no doubt the buildings could be renovated. And he said they were a part of the overall fabric of the Plaza.

“We won’t be here (in front of the Historic Preservation Commission) in 100 years arguing to save anything at 119th and Roe. The Plaza is special,” he said.

Marilyn Carpenter, who lives in a neighboring Nelle Peters building, called the demolition “a line in the sand.”

“We have all these high rise buildings encroaching on the Plaza and I think these buildings should stay,” she said.

Another Plaza resident, Donovan Mouton, echoed her concern, likening demolition of the buildings with “pulling a tooth out of the mouth of this historic district.”

But another adjacent neighbor, Mark Untersee, said he lives directly across the street and he would prefer to see the buildings demolished.

“There was a day when these buildings were usable and quaint and maybe significant,” he said. “Over the past fifteen years they have deteriorated.”

Unterse said the buildings were subject to a “constant stream of police and fire calls” and called them an eyesore to people who have to look at them every day. He said had tried himself to find a way to save them, but could not find a plan that made financial sense.

When it came time for the vote, Commissioners Patrick Bustos said he favored adding the buildings to the historic district.

“Historic buildings are historic because of what they represent to a community. There is a strong sense of community here and these buildings are part of the community fabric,” Bustos said.

But Commissioner Doug Stone said he was troubled by conflicting testimony about whether Nelle Peters had, indeed, been the architect of all three buildings. He also said that although other developers and residents said the buildings could be successfully reused, he wasn’t sure.

“I have to give greater weight to the owner of the property regarding the condition inside the building.,” Stone said.

Price had indicated that, in his professional opinion, the rehab of the buildings would be too expensive to justify the rent they could be expected to generate.

In the end, the commission voted to recommend adding the buildings to the Nelle Peters local district. The proposal will now go to the City Plan Commission for its recommendation before being heard by the city council.

If the council approves adding the buildings to the historic district, the developer could be required to wait three years before demolishing them.


  1. KC Resident says:

    If those other developers really think the apartments are financially viable, why don’t they buy them from the Price Brothers? Have them put their money where their mouths are.

  2. Luann Heshion says:

    Let me congratulate the “MidTown KC Post” photographer on his excellent view of the Green Gable Apartments and overall view of their exact location and structures in question and how they relate to the “Plaza” and surrounding territory. It gives we readers an excellent base for consideration of the problems involved.

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