New apartments for building where Lennon bought his first guitar

City planners have given the go-ahead for new apartments at the Liverpool building where John Lennon bought his first guitar and was told ‘you’ll never make a living out of it’. Tony McDonough reports

The Beatles
The Beatles bought their instruments on hire purchase from Hessy’s Music centre


A Liverpool city centre building where Beatle John Lennon bought his first guitar is to be converted into apartments.

City planners have given the go-head for the conversion of the Chicago Buildings in Whitechapel into 24 apartments. Blacks’ Liverpool store vacated the building in May 2019.

From 1934 to 1995 it housed Hessy’s music store. Lennon went to the shop in the 1950s when he was trying to form a band with fellow art student and early Beatles member, Stuart Sutcliffe. He persuaded his Aunt Mimi to buy him a guitar.

Lennon would later recall that as they walked out of the store with the instrument, Aunt Mimi turned to him and said: “You might have the guitar, but you’ll never make a living out of it.”

Peter Hepworth, who was manager of Hessy’s when it closed in 1995 said: “We helped the Beatles out by selling them their instruments on hire purchase – but they had to pay for them in the end.”

Now Mahmoud Shahi from Sara and Hossein Asset Holdings have has had his conversion plans approved by Liverpool City Council. The scheme will comprise five studio, 12 one-bedroom and seven two-bedroom apartments across four floors, all located around an existing atrium.

Mr Shahi said: “We are delighted that the commercially-minded council has approved and worked with us very positively to secure planning for a site which had no other real use. We look forward to bringing the 24 much-needed flats to this central location.”

Liverpool-based architectural design firm, ArchiPhonic, is behind the design of the project. The building is located in the heart of the city’s retail quarter and just around the corner from Mathew Street, also made world famous by the Beatles.

The retail units on the current ground floor – Holland & Barrett and Wong’s Jewellers – will remain and access into the apartments will be via existing entrances off Whitechapel and Stanley Street.

Chicago Buildings
The Chicago Buildings in Whitechapel in Liverpool


It will also feature a new staircase at the Whitechapel entrance and an accessible entrance and lift to a new resident’s gym on the lower ground floor. Sara and Hossein Asset Holdings intends the units to be let, with the scheme featuring a combination of assured shorthold tenancies and Airbnb rentals.

The work will be predominantly internal, with the facade of the building being retained to maintain the building’s heritage and preserve the area’s character and appearance. ArchiPhonic will also work to maintain the architectural quality inside the building, keeping features such as the building’s climbing wall, left over from Blacks.

Adam Mokhtar, co-director at ArchiPhonic, said: “The Chicago Buildings are a part of our city’s heritage, known not only for being home to the former Blacks’ store, but also being the location of Hessy’s Music Centre, where The Beatles once bought their instruments.

“Our plans focus on maintaining this heritage, while also ensuring a positive end user experience, offering a bigger mix of unit types, better circulation and far more natural light, as a result of the number of windows included in the scheme.

“It has been a fantastic project to work on. Lead architect, Harriet Powell-Hall, and the rest of the team have relished the challenge of transforming this derelict city centre space into a considered scheme that will bring an excellent mix of rental accommodation to the retail quarter.”

ArchiPhonic has been appointed to manage the tender process and the project, which will be led by one of its architects, Harriet Powell-Hall, is expected to go on site in early spring 2021.

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