Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning…proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.
Sandburg’s Chicago – part of it at least – is about to go national. Before Thanksgiving 2014 President Obama is expected to name the historic Pullman neighborhood of Chicago as a national historic park. Though there is no such thing as political certainty these days, the President intends to use the Antiquities Act to fulfill a long-treasured dream of many preservationists in this Southside Chicago community. ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/theresa-pierno/president-obama-lets-make-history_b_5739720.html)
George Pullman for whom the neighborhood is named had a vision of a company town. As President of Pullman’s Palace Car Company, the luxury railroad passenger-car manufacturing company, he dreamed of developing a model village for his workers. By so doing he hoped to attract skilled laborers and create a healthy environment and productive workforce disinclined to strike.
Architect Solon Beman was chosen to design the planned community.Joining Beman were landscape architect Nathan F. Barrett and civil engineer, Benzette Williams. The concept was modeled on the towns of Essen, German and Saltaire, England.
The model town began on May 26, 1880, on a 4000 acre expanse of land along the western shore of Lake Calumet; Pullman paid $800,00 to buy the tract from 75 land owners. Pullman was 13 miles south of Chicago, linked to the loop by the Illinois Central Railroad and to the world by Lake Calumet’s connection to Lake Michigan and the Lawrence River.
Constructed by Pullman workers the houses of Pullman were built of brick; homes had indoor plumbing and gas lighting. There were private water and sanitary sewer systems. Houses had character, color, texture, facades and finishing touches that often reflected the status of the owner. Maintenance, even trash collection was part of the rental fee.
Like any 21st Century suburb Pullman sported parks, a shopping arcade, a library and the elegant Hotel Florence. 30,000 trees lined the streets and parks; 100,000 flowering plants graced the neighborhoods. The town was a paragon of industrial technology and mass production. In fewer than four years over 1000 homes and public buildings were constructed; by 1893 12,000 people enjoyed the good life in Pullman.
Then came the bust, ignited when Pullman cut employees’ wages, but not the cost of living in the Pullman community. The famed Pullman Rail Strike of 1894 ended the utopian dream. Pullman Palace Car Company was forced to sell its residential assets. Left to their own devices homeowners struggled to maintain their properties. In 1889 Pullman was annexed by the City of Chicago.
As a Southside Chicago neighborhood Pullman could not live up to the dreams of the founder. In time it became a less idyllic neighborhood, home of many 20th Century Pullman employees. It was the Pullman porters and waiters who, led by A. Philip Randolph, organized the historic Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.
By the 1960’s, the Pullman neighborhood was threatened with demolition to make way for construction of an industrial park near a newly constructed shipping port on Lake Calumet. Knowing the history of their neighborhood, residents moved into action. After halting the construction they moved on to form the Beman Committee, an initiative committed to preservation of the architecture of the original town.
In 1969 the Town of Pullman was designated an Illinois Historic District. The following year it was named a National Historic Landmark District and, in 1972, the southern part of the District was named one of the first Landmark Districts by the City of Chicago. That designation was later extended to the entire District.
Determined to expand the preservation efforts already underway activists formed the Historic Pullman Foundation in 1973. In 1975 the historic Hotel Florence and all of its furniture and fixtures was nearly sold off at auction; the Foundation, with the help of George Pullman’s granddaughter Florence Lowden Miller, purchased the Hotel and its contents. Restoration of the Hotel Florence took 25 years. In time, the Foundation opened a visitor center and began weekly walking tours of the neighborhood.
In the early 1990’s the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency purchased Hotel Florence, the Pullman factory and the iconic clock tower, which perished in a 1989 fire.
Today, some 4000 Chicagoans call Pullman Neighborhood home. Some are preservationists; some revel in the unique history of their town; others are fifth generation descendants of original Pullman residents and employees.
In 2011 the American Planning Association’s annual “Great Places in America” series named Pullman one of ten “Great Neighborhoods” across the country. The citation noted that
Pullman’s timeless features have contributed to the renaissance of this handsome former company town. An experiment in industrial order and community planning, the neighborhood features a design that was intelligent in 1880 and “smart” today. https://www.planning.org/greatplaces/neighborhoods/2011/
For a great visual tour of the Pullman neighborhood click here: