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Muddy Waters’ Kenwood Home On Its Way To Being Named A Chicago Landmark

Waters' family is working to turn the "epicenter" of Chicago blues into a museum, with space for a new generation of local musicians to jam.

Muddy Waters' Chicago home at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. in Kenwood was granted preliminary landmark status.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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KENWOOD — Blues legend Muddy Waters’ former South Side home is on its way to becoming a Chicago landmark, an honor that would protect the home from demolition as its owner prepares to open a museum on the site.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks on Thursday unanimously approved preliminary landmark status for the home at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. in Kenwood. The commission will consider a final recommendation this summer. It would then go to City Council for a vote.

If designated a landmark, the home would be protected from demolition and its exterior could not be significantly changed.

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

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

Waters and his family lived on the first floor, while Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf and Otis Spann were among the tenants and visitors in the home’s second-floor apartments, according to a landmarks commission report. The basement served as a practice room for Waters and local musicians.

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

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

Alongside other Black performers who moved north during the Great Migration, Waters’ music helped establish Chicago as the hub for a modern, electric take on Delta blues. The city’s blues scene had a major influence on the development of rock ‘n’ roll.

“This house is an important part of that story and needs to be treated as such,” Ald. Sophia King (4th) said. “To have somebody like Muddy Waters who really put the blues and rock and roll on the stage, not just here in Chicago but across the country and the world … [landmarking the home] is a no-brainer for me.”

Waters’ home has been a part of the North Kenwood landmark district since 1993, so an individual designation would acknowledge how “special and unique” the home and its owner were to the community, planning department spokesperson Peter Strazzabosco said.

Waters’ great-granddaughter, Chandra Cooper, who owns the home and supports the landmark push, intends to open the MOJO Museum there in the musician’s honor. Cooper attended Thursday’s commission meeting with her mother, Amelia, who was raised in the home.

Plans include displays of Waters’ memorabilia in a first-floor museum space 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 home.

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

Following some “confusion” about King’s support for the landmark designation, she spoke directly with Cooper, and the two are in agreement that the home should be protected, King said.

“I support landmarking the Muddy Waters house,” King said. “I think it would continue to elevate him in the way that he needs to be elevated 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 house and open a museum has received a $50,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

King drew criticism earlier this year — from Cooper, preservationists, artists and others — for her proposal to restrict museums in residential areas.

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

King will host a community meeting on landmarking the home 5 p.m. Monday. Click here to register.

Renovations to Waters’ former home have been boosted by a $50,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and $2,500 in matching funds from Landmarks Illinois.

Chicago landmarks commissioners praised Cooper and her family — as well as the ongoing restoration of the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley home in Woodlawn — for preserving Black history and culture.

“Oftentimes, our history does get erased,” commissioner Tiara Hughes said. “It means a lot to me that these modest structures are being saved and shared, so that we can educate and continue to pass our stories down.”

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