Chuck Berry's St. Louis Homes and Properties Before He Was Rich and Famous [Photos]

Categories: Chuck Berry

whittier.jpg
Chris Naffziger
Berry would live in this home, now vacant and owned by the city, while penning his greatest hits.
3137 Whittier Street
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.

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Wikimedia Commons
Berry in a 1957 publicity photo.
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:
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.


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21 comments
Mark Swain
Mark Swain

Because tracking the cakes is much more educational and rewarding.

Mark Alan
Mark Alan

that lil house looks to have much more charm than his current home - I mean the guitar shaped pool and all those trailers on his yard are a lil tacky in my opinion.

Stephen Mennemeyer
Stephen Mennemeyer

Hey everyone were extending an invite to come check us out for all your blues memorabilia and just having a great time. We're having an event on the 12th for all types of fun and prizes. If your a blues fan you don't want to miss this! www.facebook.com/groups/StlouisHockeyBuySellTrade/

Dan Sterkin
Dan Sterkin

Doesn't Berry have enough in his accounts to save his historic home if he wanted to?

Jesda Ulati
Jesda Ulati

Nothing says "close this tab" like a slideshow.

Tom Archer
Tom Archer

What will the city be doing with the property?

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