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Muddy Waters’ Kenwood Home Clears Major Hurdle Toward Chicago Landmark Status

The city's landmarks commission enthusiastically approved protected status for Waters' home at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. It now will be reviewed by a City Council committee.

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.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

KENWOOD — Muddy Waters’ former South Side home, once an epicenter for the Chicago Blues scene, soon could be a city landmark.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks on Thursday unanimously approved landmark status for the home at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. in Kenwood. It now will be reviewed by the City Council’s committee on zoning and then the full council.

If designated a landmark, the home would be protected from demolition and its exterior, which is largely intact from when Waters resided there, could not be significantly changed.

The home was built in 1891. The Blues legend, born McKinley Morganfield, bought the home in 1954 and lived there until 1973.

Waters and his wife offered “open door hospitality,” to local and traveling musicians, providing food, drink and lodging, according to Kandalyn Hahn, project coordinator for the city’s planning and development department.

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, Hahn said. Waters and local musicians rehearsed in the basement.

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.

“From when Mr. Morganfield purchased the home in 1954, his home quickly became a gathering place for legendary musicians who would jam in his basement and visit while recording or gigging in town,” said Mary Lu Seidel of Preservation Chicago. “His list of guests would make an incredible blues hall of fame roster. The music that flowed through and around this home created a blues sound that was uniquely Chicago via the Mississippi Delta.” 

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’s mother, Amelia, 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 previously said.

Ald. Sophia King (4th), whose family also is from the Mississippi Delta as Waters is, said she and the North Kenwood community “proudly” supported landmarking the home.

“Muddy Waters has made great contributions to this city, this county and the world, and this house is an important part of this history and needs to be treated as such,” King said.

Even though the home is part of the North Kenwood Multiple Resource District, which includes historic structures built between 1875 to 1920 that have protected status, preservationists said they wanted to specifically landmark Waters’ home for its unique role in Chicago history.

“We really wanted to bring forth this individual landmark designation to make the point of the period of significance of 1954 to 1973,” said Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois. “This is really giving the building its due truly from the period of Muddy Waters’ residency there.”

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.

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