Women architects aren’t news today, but in the 1920s, they were. Yet, few people realize one of the state’s first women architects designed two well-known apartment buildings here in Columbia, the Belvedere at 206 Hitt St., and the Beverly at 211 Hitt St.
Nelle E. Peters was the architect of the both of these 1927 buildings, according to this State Historical Society of Missouri report on her.
Women were indeed rare in the profession at that time. Peters herself is quoted in a Nov. 21, 1925 Kansas City Journal article as saying “There are not many women who have the mechanical mind to follow architecture,” Mrs. Peters says. “They cannot ‘see’ the mechanical part. They either aren’t interested or they don’t do it.”
Peters, however, did, and was one of Kansas City’s most productive architects, and was one of the few to have her own independent architectural firm, the SHS report notes. She specialized in designing apartment buildings and hotels and went on to design nearly 1,000 buildings. While most of them were in the Kansas City, area, at least two were in Columbia.
According to the State Historical Society of Missouri accounts, in 1927 a group of Columbia businessmen used her design for an apartment building near the university, an English-style building with three floor of eight apartments each. That building is the Beverly Apartments at 211 Hitt St. The same group of investors turned to her again and used her designs to build the Belvedere at 206 Hitt St.
Peters lived from 1884 until 1974, dying at age 89.
Yet this kind of history can easily be forgotten. In 2008, when the two apartment buildings were added to Columbia’s Notable Properties List, no mention of this link to women’s history was mentioned. Nor was it spotlighted in the 2009 Final Survey Report Locust Historic Study Area, Columbia (Boone County), Missouri, which did state the apartment buildings were among five in the area individually eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
In the 1925 interview with the Kansas City Journal, Peters also said, “I want each building to be a perfect, as economical and practical, as if I were building it for myself.”
You can take a peek and see inside the buildings to see how she did here, on this website for apartments by the current owners, the Richardsons. They own the Belvedere, Beverly, Frances and Dumas apartment buildings, combined under the name of Dumas Apartments.
Perhaps the proof of her success in creating practical buildings comes from the fact that 86 years after the buildings were put up, they are still in use and in demand, as demonstrated by a quote from the managers on the About page of the site:
“The best part of our job is when we have the opportunity to renovate an apartment. Since they are nearly always occupied those chances don’t come as often as we’d like.”
Do you know about any hidden women’s history in Columbia? Can you name any places that mark the accomplishments of women’s history? Let me know. I love to learn about Columbia’s hidden in plain sight history!