Chuck Berry's St. Louis Homes and Properties Before He Was Rich and Famous [Photos]
|Berry would live in this home, now vacant and owned by the city, while penning his greatest hits.|
In 1950 an expecting Chuck and Themetta purchased their first home at 3137 Whittier Street. It was around this same time that Berry bought his first electric guitar, a second-hand instrument purchased for $30 in $5 installments. Soon an old friend who sang with Berry at the Sumner High School choir called Berry and invited him to play with his hand. After a several gigs, Berry caught the attention of boogie-woogie keyboardist Johnnie Johnson, who asked him to perform with his band at the Cosmo Club in East St. Louis, Illinois. The group soon became known as the Chuck Berry Combo, and by 1955, an enterprising Berry stopped by unannounced at Chess Records in Chicago and signed a contract.
It was while living at the Whittier home from 1950 to 1958 that Berry recorded his biggest hits, including "Maybelline," "Rock and Roll Music," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Johnny B. Goode," "Reelin' and Rockin'," and "Roll Over Beethoven." In 1956 Berry's growing family (he and Themetta would eventually have four children) led him to build a two-room addition onto the back of the Whittier home. In 2012 the house was added the National Register of Historic Places, and today the badly deteriorating home is one of thousands of vacant properties owned by the city's LRA. Still visible (though faded) is the "B" on the home's metal awning that stands for "Berry." In his autobiography, Berry writes of his home on Whittier:
Wikimedia Commons Berry in a 1957 publicity photo.
Savings were really accumulating in our joint account, and we finally found a house we were able to buy. We chose a small three-room brick cottage with a bath and full basement at 3137 Whittier Street, only five blocks from 4319 Labadie. Four-hundred and fifty cold cash dollars at one counting was the sweaty down payment on the $4,500 home. The white family of Dimottios who lived next door welcomed us with open arms, giving us a pot of spaghetti over the backyard fence. I remodeled the house, adding a half bath and bedroom in the basement, where we moved so we could rent out the upper three rooms for additional income.
Next: Berry buys a building to serve as headquarters for his budding music business and fan club.