Suburban cowboy: J.C. Nichols, masculinity, landscape & memory in the shaping of an American neighborhood
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In 1903 Kansas City real estate mogul Jesse Clyde Nichols sat in a Fort Worth, Texas hotel room wondering if his failed efforts to colonize a million acres in Mexico had just ruined his future. He ultimately decided his fate would be left to a coin toss. If it came up heads, he would go home and if tails he would keep on trying. He joked in his memoirs, written in 1949, that it came up tails, so he went home. He was a mere twenty-three years old and he felt he was doomed to fail. What does any of this have to do with Kansas City's Country Club District suburb? The simple answer is everything. J.C Nichols came home from that Fort Worth, Texas hotel room and acquired the first few acres of what would become his greatest achievement: Kansas City's most remarkable and enduring suburban neighborhood. Upon returning home from this early adventure, J.C. Nichols entered the real estate business and began to utilize pioneer-centered narratives learned in his youth and his own fantasies that the American frontier was on the outskirts of Kansas City. These masculine tropes compensated for his early feelings of weakness and the result was the Country Club District of Kansas City, which became the surface manifestation of his vision. Though his vision was complex, my work focuses on the ways J.C. Nichols's philosophies were gendered and how his sense of turn-of-the-century masculinity defined the aesthetics of the district he developed. Nichols found it important to create narratives--just as his ancestors did--that highlighted struggle and masculine heroism and he applied them to the real estate business. This focus makes my work a unique reinterpretation and broadening of local history as well as a fresh take on the study of the ways environment and gender commingle. Utilizing primary sources ranging from neighborhood bulletins, newspapers and J.C. Nichols' memoirs and speeches, my work reconstructs the building of Kansas City's most prestigious suburb with a focus on the predominant masculine culture of the time. It ultimately demonstrates the ways in which J.C. Nichols, like the star of a spaghetti western, emerged from that Forth Worth hotel room and returned home to Kansas where he tamed a burgeoning suburban landscape for Kansas City's bourgeoisie.
Table of Contents
Introduction -- A new urban frontier: the early years of J.C. Nichols (1880-1905) -- Bourgeois frontier: masculinity, landscape and memory -- "Mr. next door's flowerbed": protecting the Country Club District aesthetic -- "Many near frontiers": J.C. Nichols's elaboration on frontier mythology -- "Try not to lose too much": the Depression and the end of an era