THREATENED: The Warehouse, Birthplace of House Music: A 2023 Chicago 7 Most Endangered

The Warehouse, a 2023 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. 1906 & 1917, Vernon W. Behel, 206 S. Jefferson Street. Photo Credit: Serhii Chrucky
Frankie Knuckles at the Warehouse in the 1970s, a 2023 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. 1906 & 1917, Vernon W. Behel, 206 S. Jefferson Street. Photo Credit: Frankie Knuckles Foundation
PETITION to Save the Warehouse! Landmark the Building Where DJ Frankie Knuckles Created House Music. The Warehouse, a 2023 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. 1906 & 1917, Vernon W. Behel, 206 S. Jefferson Street. Image credit: Preservation Chicago Change.org petition

In 1975, nightlife organizer Robert Williams purchased the commercial warehouse building at 206 S. Jefferson Street with hopes to transform it into a nightclub comparable to the best dancefloors in New York City. After a two year of renovation and with one of best sound system available, the Warehouse opened as a three-level nightclub. A membership-only venue, the Warehouse became wildly popular, initially with Chicago’s Gay Black community as a place of dancefloor liberation, and later become popular for a wide range of Chicagoans.

Prior to the opening of The Warehouse, Williams recruited his friend and fellow New York City nightlife figure, Frankie Knuckles, to be the club’s resident DJ. Knuckles spent the next five years honing a new style: a revolutionary dance sound that blended disco, electronic, soul, and gospel music. The Warehouse became known in Chicago as one of the best places to hear this developing sound which later took its name from the nightclub itself, and ultimately become known as “house music.”

From The Warehouse at 206 S. Jefferson Street, house music quickly spread across the globe. It emerged as one of the biggest and most successful genres in music for decades to come and became the basis for countless pop hits and revolutionizing how music sounded forever. Knuckles became a world-renowned producer due to the fame earned from his time developing house music at The Warehouse. His groundbreaking impact, as well as the overall impact of the house sound, on the world of music was deep and lasting. Outside of The Warehouse’s important place in music history, it is also a notable site of Black Gay history, a significant heritage whose commemoration that has often been overlooked within the built environment.

The Warehouse is located in the West Loop where teardowns of historic industrial structures have been occurring at a rapid pace. When the structure recently sold in December 2022, the listing noted both the building’s history and the opportunity to clear the site for new development. The new ownership has been unresponsive to persistent outreach by Preservation Chicago.

Despite its extraordinary significance to Chicago music and cultural history, The Warehouse has no protections against alteration or demolition. Preservation Chicago urges the City of Chicago to take urgent steps to initiate Chicago Landmark Designation to fully recognize and protect this highly significant site of Chicago music history. The Warehouse should be protected as a symbol of the rich history of Chicago’s Black Gay community, the incredible story of house music, and the groundbreaking impact that Frankie Knuckles had on the sound of modern music today.

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