Sitting at the kitchen table, Henderson resident Jean Bowles Jenkins studies a photo taken almost 50 years ago.
It depicts her posing outside her first real estate office on the corner of Charleston and Las Vegas boulevards in 1968.
“Back then, I was the little kid on the block when it came to real estate,” Bowles Jenkins said, “but it never stopped me from getting my way.”
The 99-year-old was a pioneer in the real estate industry in Southern California and the Las Vegas Valley, from designing open-kitchen floor plans to convincing home builders to offer sales commissions to real estate agents.
“I developed a love for the land when I was young,” Bowles Jenkins said. “My family owned a lot of land. That was all I heard about as a child.”
Born in 1915, Bowles Jenkins grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland. She said she felt a tremendous responsibility because her mother was a descendant of Josiah Bartlett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
“Consequently, I was a daughter of the Revolution, so my whole life I was a patriot,” Bowles Jenkins said. “All I did was think about the welfare of the town and making houses better like a pioneer.”
Because of the Great Depression, Bowles Jenkins couldn’t accept a four-year scholarship to an eastern college. She moved to California shortly after graduating from high school.
“I knew as a kid that if I was going to have a job, I was going to have to sell something,” Bowles Jenkins said. “I wanted to own a dress shop, but when I got to California, I found that you don’t have to buy your inventory if you’re in real estate. It changed my whole thinking pattern.”
While in California, Bowles Jenkins helped to design what she believes was the first open-kitchen floor plan despite receiving backlash from the Federal Housing Administration.
“My reasoning was that women didn’t want to be penned in the kitchen while everyone was watching television in the front room. They wanted to be part of the family gathering,” Bowles Jenkins said. “The FHA kept rejecting the plans saying, ‘Absolutely not. You’ll burn the house down.’ ”
The FHA refused to approve the design until Bowles Jenkins and her husband, Ray, could guarantee the loans. To start, the couple built 18 new houses in one tract.
“When we opened the tract, my husband and I went to Honolulu for the weekend because he was having a nervous breakdown,” Bowles Jenkins said. “When we came back that Sunday, we found out the tract was sold out with three offers on each house.”
Bowles Jenkins’ tenacity didn’t stop when she moved to Las Vegas in 1961. She joined the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors as the state’s 45th broker and she said she was the first woman to serve its commercial division.
“I was the (chairwoman) of the division when I also became the broker for U.S. Home Corporation,” she said. “The corporation had a hard time selling new houses because brokers wouldn’t go near them, so they asked for my help.”
In 1979, she said she convinced the home builder to be the first to list new homes through GLVAR’s multiple listings system and consequently offer brokers sales commissions.
“They started going wild building, and people were flocking to the city because we could finally sell the houses,” Bowles Jenkins said. “The building boom back then, I caused it. It was pretty revolutionary.”
Susan Houston became friends with Bowles Jenkins while they were working as Realtors about 20 years ago.
Although Bowles Jenkins retired at 83, she still mentors Houston and others in the industry.
“I was born in Cleveland not too far from where she lived, and her stories just fascinated me,” Houston said. “She was fearless and never questioned where she was going. I’ve always turned to her for guidance because she still has it all together. She’s amazing.”
Contact Henderson View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0403.