Kenwood Home by Muddy Waters set to be named Chicago landmark

KENWOOD – The former home of blues legend Muddy Waters is set to become a Chicago landmark, an honor that would protect the home from demolition as its owner prepares to open a museum on the site.

The Chicago Monuments Commission unanimously approved preliminary monument status for the house at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. in Kenwood. The commission will consider a final recommendation this summer, which will then go to city council for a vote.

If designated as a landmark, the house would be protected from demolition and its exterior could not be significantly altered.

“This uniquely important structure was an epicenter of Chicago’s contributions to the modern blues,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. The house has served as “home to Muddy Waters for nearly two decades … providing temporary accommodation and rehearsal space for countless familiar names that have defined the art form.”

Waters, whose birth name was McKinley Morganfield, moved from Mississippi to Chicago in 1943. He bought and moved into the Lake Park Avenue home in 1954 and lived there until 1973.

He and his family lived on the first floor, while Chuck Berry, Howlin ‘Wolf and Otis Spann were among the tenants and visitors to the apartments on the second floor of the house, according to a report from the Monuments Commission. The basement served as a rehearsal room for Waters and local musicians.

Muddy Waters with James Cotton at Ontario Place, Toronto, June 1978.

During his 19 years as a resident of North Kenwood, Waters recorded the Chicago blues classics “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Mannish Boy” and other hit songs.

Along with other black artists who moved north during the Great Migration, Waters’ music helped make Chicago the hub for a modern and electric approach to Delta blues. The city’s blues scene has had a major influence on the development of rock ‘n’ roll.

“This house is an important part of this story and should be treated as such,” Ald said. said Sophia King (4th). “To have someone like Muddy Waters who really brought blues and rock and roll to the stage, not just here in Chicago but across the country and the world… [landmarking the home] is obvious to me.

The Waters house has been part of the iconic North Kenwood neighborhood since 1993, so an individual designation would recognize how “special and unique” the house and its owner were to the community, the Planning Department spokesperson said, Peter Strazzabosco.

Waters’ great-granddaughter Chandra Cooper, who owns the house and supports the historic campaign, intends to open the MOJO Museum there in honor of the musician. Cooper attended Thursday’s commission meeting with his mother Amelia, who grew up in the house.

Plans include displays of Waters memorabilia in a museum space on the first floor and a revived space for jam sessions and a recording studio in the basement. A community garden will fill a vacant lot next to the house.

“We believe it is essential – culturally and for the legacy of African American history – that this house be designated as a landmark for the city of Chicago,” said Chandra Cooper.

After some “Confusion” about King’s support for the landmark designation, she spoke directly with Cooper, and the two agree the house needs to be protected, King said.

“I support the development of the Muddy Waters house,” King said. “I think that would continue to raise him the way he needs to be raised in our city.”

Credit: Maxwell Evans / Block Club Chicago
The former Kenwood home of blues legend Muddy Waters in September 2019. Since then, an effort to restore the home and open a museum has received a $ 50,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

King drew criticism earlier this year – by Cooper, curators, artists and others – for his proposal to restrict museums to residential areas.

The alderman withdrew the proposal in March, criticizing a “highly coordinated campaign” against it and pledging to discuss the issue further with the community.

King will host a community meeting at the landmark of the house at 5 p.m. Monday. Click here to sign up.

The renovations to the old Waters house were spurred on by a $ 50,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and $ 2,500 in matching funds from Landmarks Illinois.

Chicago’s monument commissioners praised Cooper and his family – as well as the ongoing restoration of the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley House in Woodlawn – for preserving black history and culture.

“Often our history is erased,” said Commissioner Tiara Hughes. “It means a lot to me that these modest structures are saved and shared, so that we can educate and continue to pass on our stories.”

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