Muddy Waters’ House: an Uncertain Future4 comments
About two weeks ago, a big red X appeared on the 120 year old former home of blues legend Muddy Waters, indicating that the building is structurally unsound. The Department of Buildings is currently seeking a court order to get a permit to raze the building, which lies in the North Kenwood landmark district. This location means that demolition would need approval from the landmarks commission.
Although the Department of Buildings is seeking a demolition permit, a spokesperson told Lee Bey of WBEZ that they want compliance and would prefer the owner bring the property up to code.
Mr. Bey gave the following historic context on the house and its significance to the neighborhood:
Waters, born McKinley Morganfield, bought the house in 1954 and lived there until he moved to Westmont in 1973. At his creative peak while living in the Lake Park, Waters built a rehearsal room in the basement and held impromptu jam sessions there with the likes of Chuck Berry and fellow bluesman Howlin’ Wolf.
Waters died in 1983 and by the 1990s, his old home had fallen into disrepair and was threatened with demolition. Preservationists and blues enthusiasts successfully rallied around the building and the Department of Cultural Affairs erected a sign in front of the home honoring the location and Waters in 1999.
As I was taking pictures of the house, several neighborhood residents came up to chat with me. Pictured above is Anthony, one such resident who beamed with pride as he described the famous one time resident, and what the house means to his neighborhood.
About 12 or 13 years ago, artists and community activists cleaned up the property and painted murals on the door and window coverings, as seen above. After that, it enjoyed a brief period of occupancy and upkeep. That has since faded away, and the house is once again in trouble.
- Muddy Waters’ historic South Side home could have date in demolition court (WBEZ)
- Vacant Muddy Waters house found to be ‘dangerous’ in city inspection (Chicago Tribune)
[…] and left-handed Francis Clay on drums (note the bite out of the edge of his big ride cymbal). Here’s the link to the story. To me, they still look and sound exactly like a band should. Oh yes, I like the Delta blues, and […]
That is what’s wrong with Chicago, razing instead of restoration.
In 1987 or so, Tim Samuelson & I went to Muddy Water’s House in anticipation of an effort to pursue landmark designation for the building. TS was going to write the report, and I was handling the photography. As we set up the tripod for the shoot, a man walked out of the house and asked us just what we thought we were doing. “Well, this was the home of Muddy Waters, the famous blues musician, and we work for the Landmarks Commission. We’re interested in trying to preserve it.” He gave us a look of amused disbelief and said, “If you’ll give me $10 for beer, I’ll invite you in to have a talk about my daddy, called Muddy Waters.”
We didn’t think twice; we forked over the cash and he disappeared down the block. “Do you think he’s coming back?” “Who knows; we already have a great story!” But he did come back, and he invited us in, and we sat on a sofa listening to McKinley Morganfield, Junior. He talked about Muddy Waters for nearly two hours, including showing us a few photos of the band practicing in the basement. What a day!
Here is a memorable story from that encounter: “One day, only a few weeks after we moved into this house, when I was only about 8 years old, daddy came home from the Chess Records studio. He said ‘there’s this new musician Mr. Chess has brought up from Saint Louis, and he’s recording his first record. But he’s so poor he can’t afford a hotel. So Mr. Chess, he was looking for a place for this poor guy to stay. I told him we could put him up here. So, son, the only bed for him to sleep in is yours. You can sleep on the sofa, or move over and share your bed with him, it’s up to you, but he’ll be here tomorrow.’ So that was the start of the 8 nights I slept in the same bed with Chuck Berry!” Like I said, what a day!
The individual landmark designation proposal never went forward; several years later, when I wrote the proposal for the North Kenwood Multiple Resource District, I made sure that this building was one of the many included in the district. When we visited in 1987, and again during the designation process in 1992, the original pink flamingo screen doors were still there. The paintings replicating them is a nice touch.
Thanks for keeping the flame burning for this building and so many others.
Tim, what a treat to learn that hidden slice of history of this landmark. A great example of how the people woven into the built environment establish a landmark.
And thank you as well for the kind words, but most importantly for the work you’ve put in to document architectural treasures lost and saved.