Chicago gets its mojo working and gives Muddy Waters’ home preliminary landmark status
Chicago’s landmarks commission has broadened its mandate in recent years by designating structures of historical as well as architectural importance. That has helped draw attention to overlooked sites within the city’s Black neighborhoods.
The late bluesman Muddy Waters — who he was and the music he created — is as much a part of Chicago as the writings of Carl Sandburg or the comedic legacy of Second City.
To that end, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks deserves a hearty blues shout for granting a preliminary designation this past week to the North Kenwood neighborhood home where Waters once lived — and jammed.
“This uniquely significant structure was an epicenter of Chicago’s contributions to modern blues, serving as Muddy Waters’ home for nearly two decades and providing temporary lodging and rehearsal space for countless household names that defined the art form,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement.
Waters, born McKinley Morganfield in 1913, owned the two-story brick Victorian home at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave., from 1954 to 1973. He created much of his best-known music while living there, including “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “I’m Ready” and “Mannish Boy.”
Musicians Otis Spann, Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry walked his home’s wooden floors.
The home was already protected from demolition, at least in theory, because it sits in the existing North Kenwood Chicago landmark district. But singling out the building for an individual designation undoubtedly adds a level of protection — the vacant and somewhat rundown home still wound up on the city’s demolition list years ago — while bringing attention to its important cultural history.
City landmarks officials now will work out a permanent designation for the home, to be presented before the City Council later this year.
The move is also a vital assist to efforts by Waters’ great-granddaughter Chandra Cooper to turn the house into the MOJO Museum, honoring the famed bluesman.
We applaud Cooper’s effort, and that of the landmarks commission and staff, which is equitably broadening its mandate by designating structures of historical as well as architectural importance. That pivot has helped draw attention to overlooked sites within Chicago’s Black neighborhoods, especially, such as the modest Woodlawn two-flat where Emmet Till and his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, lived.
“Oftentimes, our history does get erased,” landmarks commissioner Tiara Hughes told Block Club Chicago after giving Waters’ house the thumbs-up. “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.”
We couldn’t agree more.
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