WEST LOOP — The Warehouse received key backing toward becoming a Chicago landmark after thousands of supporters petitioned to preserve the building where house music originated.
The Warehouse, a three-story industrial building at 206 S. Jefferson St. in the West Loop, received preliminary support from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks on Thursday to pursue landmark status.
That early recommendation kicks off a lengthy series of approvals, including getting consent from the building owner, hosting a public hearing and another vote before the landmarks commission, before moving to the zoning committee and then City Council for a vote by all 50 alderpeople.
If approved by City Council, the landmark protections would be applied to the building’s facade and the elevations in the roofline, according to commission officials.
Thursday’s vote comes after more than 13,000 people petitioned online and 100 people around the world sent in letters pushing to preserve the building.
The building was a dance club in the late ’70s to early ’80s, featuring the legendary DJ Frankie Knuckles who is known for taking Chicago’s music scene to the next level with the creation of house music.
The Warehouse was a membership club and safe space for Black, queer communities to freely dance, congregate and enjoy a night out, said Frederick Dunson, executive director of the Frankie Knuckles Foundation.
“To us who frequent[ed] the place it was just a Saturday night, but to some people it was an eye opening experience for them because of the diversity,” Dunson said.
Guests would walk up a long flight of stairs through the building and down another long flight of stairs to the dance floor.
“You just saw all of these bodies dancing and gyrating to this music. It could have been a daunting experience for some but for others it was euphoria,” Dunson said.
Knuckles won a Grammy Award in 1997 for remixer of the year and was inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2005. He died in 2014 from complications with Type II Diabetes.
In March, Preservation Chicago listed The Warehouse as one of Chicago’s seven most endangered buildings.
The building has no historical protections, putting at risk of being demolished after being sold in December to lawyers Shneur Nathan and Avi Kamionski, according to Cook County records.
Nathan and Kamionski did not respond to the preservation group’s attempt to contact them, group leaders said.
As a result, Preservation Chicago and the Frankie Knuckles Foundation launched a petition to save the building.
People from all over the world sprung into action; signatures were collected from several countries including, Argentina, Japan, Mongolia and South Africa, according to Preservation Chicago officials.
Kamionski appeared at Thursday’s virtual meeting to ensure the city and others that the he and Nathan had no intentions of demolishing the building. He said they planned on renovating the interior in order to move their law firm, Nathan & Kamionski LLP, into the building.
“We’ve recently come to learn about the history of the building and are continuing to learn about it, and we’d like to work with the Commission on this issue, and we are not looking to impede anything of cultural significance,” Kamionski said.
The commission’s recommendation for landmark status falls under two criteria: the connection of the building to Knuckles and the building’s association with the creation of house music. Both are considered significant to city’s cultural and social development, officials said.
Numerous people echoed the need for the building’s preservation, citing its historical significance to Chicago’s music, Black and queer communities.
“It was the place of freedom and release for thousands of people over the years…and birthed a musical genre recognized all over the world. When the world rejoices in house music, it looks to Chicago for its history … Chicago would do a great disservice to itself by not honoring honoring it as well,” said DJ Celeste Alexander, a mentee of Knuckles.
“From Colombia, I express my greatest support to preserve this historic place, The Warehouse, [which] has become part of the cultural context that House music lives around the world,” said Brian Bran Palacio in a letter emailed to the commission.
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