Effort to Landmark Muddy Waters’ North Kenwood Home Advances

Plans are in the works to preserve the North Kenwood house Muddy Waters bought as a museum, recording studio and more. (WTTW News)Plans are in the works to preserve the North Kenwood house Muddy Waters bought as a museum, recording studio and more. (WTTW News)

The North Kenwood two-flat where blues giant Muddy Waters lived for two decades is one step closer to becoming an official city of Chicago landmark.

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The Chicago Commission on Landmarks voted unanimously Thursday to recommend that the brick structure at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. get preliminary designation as a landmark, agreeing that it deserves to be recognized and celebrated as the epicenter of the modern musical tradition of the blues.

Chandra Cooper, the great-granddaughter of the musical legend who was born McKinley Morganfield, urged the commission to approve the landmark designation to preserve the legacy of African Americans in Chicago and ensure that future generations recognize her great-grandfather as the father of the blues.

The commission will consider a final recommendation on the landmark status for the home Cooper is working to transform into a museum this summer, sending the matter to the Chicago City Council for final action.

Read more: Legacy of Muddy Waters to Live On at MOJO Museum

If landmarked by the city, the designation would protect the structure’s exterior elevations from significant alteration or demolition, officials said.

Morganfield came to Chicago from Mississippi in 1943 as part of the Great Migration and found work in factories fueling the World War II effort.

Morganfield and his family lived in the two-flat between 1954 and 1973, the apex of his career that included top 10 hits such as “Louisiana Blues,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “I’m Ready,” “Mannish Boy” and “Close to You,” according to the report from the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

The home’s basement rehearsal space welcomed musical luminaries like Otis Spann, Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry, according to the department’s report.

The landmark designation is backed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot because the home served as “temporary lodging and rehearsal space for countless household names that defined the art form,” she said in a statement.

Maurice Cox, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said he was thrilled to help preserve a structure that was home to “extraordinary music that changed the world.”

Ald. Sophia King (4th Ward) told the commission Thursday that she favors the landmark designation for Muddy Waters’ home, even though she initially asked commissioners to delay their consideration of a preliminary recommendation until after a community meeting she plans to hold Monday.

“This is truly personal for me,” said King, whose family also migrated to Chicago from the Mississippi Delta.

However, all proposals for landmark designations must be vetted by neighbors during a community meeting, King said, adding that she was frustrated by a lack of communication between her office and the Department of Planning and Development.

King decried the “confusion and misinformation” surrounding her position on the designation.

It is unusual for the Landmarks Commission to act without the full-throated support of the local alderman, who has the final say on landmark designations under the City Council’s tradition of aldermanic prerogative.

It was not clear why commissioners declined to wait until their meeting scheduled for July 1, which would allow King to complete her community process.

King withdrew a proposal in March that would have required museums — like the one Cooper plans to open in her family’s home — to get special permission from city officials before opening in residential neighborhoods.

Lightfoot called that proposal “highly problematic,” and King withdrew it, blaming “misperceptions and false statements.”

In January, the City Council unanimously landmarked the home of Emmett Till, who lived at the house at 6427 S. St. Lawrence Ave. when he traveled with extended family from Chicago to visit relatives in Mississippi, where he was savagely murdered in 1955. The decision by his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to hold an open casket funeral to show the world the violence her son had suffered galvanized the civil rights movement in the U.S.

Plans are also in the works to transform the Till-Mobley house as a museum.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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