Everything gonna be alright? Muddy Waters' historic South Side home could have date in demolition court

January 25, 2013

An historic North Kenwood home where legendary bluesman Muddy Waters once lived--and jammed--is the subject of demolition order now being sought by the city's buildings department.

The 120-year-old weathered and boarded-up two-flat, 4339 S. Lake Park Ave, has been vacant for years and its owner has been cited about the structure's condition, Department of Buildings spokesperson Susan Massel said.

Inspectors found the building open last November and the dwelling has been the subject of complaints to the city's 311 non-emergency number as far back as 2002, she said.

According to a records search, the unoccupied building is owned by a great granddaughter of Waters'.

Earlier this week, the city affixed a red "X" to the building's facade--a signal to first-responders that the home is structurally unsound. Although the building department is seeking a court order to get a permit to demolish the building, Massel said the agency would rather have the owner take better care of the property. A court date has not yet been set.

"We want compliance," she said. "Demo is not imminent."

Another factor: The home sits in a landmark district, which would require permission from the city's landmarks commission to demolish the home if the building department wins in court.

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.

And he lived there when he made this:

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:

The condition of the building and the city's latest action have worried some nearby residents such as Bob Kempa. Kempa was among a group of neighbors who noticed the "X" sign affixed to Waters former house. His wife, interior designer Yetta Starr, took the photos that accompany this story.

"Besides how important this building is to the culture of Chicago and to music lovers around the world, losing it would have an impact to the overall fabric of the neighborhood," Kempa said. "Removing one symbol of urban decay creates another, the vacant lot, and the overall character of the neighborhood is chipped away."