Pullman, the model industrial town that had its beginning in 1880, is located on Chicago’s south side approximately 13 miles from downtown Chicago. The landmark neighborhood is the physical expression of the vision of George Pullman, president of the Pullman’s Palace Car Company. By developing a total environment where his employees and their families could live, work, and play, he believed his company could attain greater productivity as the result of the better health and spirit of his employees. By 1884, the factory shops, Clock Tower and Administration Building, hotel, and more than 1,000 homes were constructed on the 4,000-acre tract.
Much has happened since the town of Pullman was conceived and thousands of rail cars produced. The factory closed in 1955 and the neighborhood south of 111th Street was threatened with demolition for an industrial park. Efforts to stop the redevelopment were successful and attention was placed on saving the neighborhood’s buildings. Local landmark status was attained to help protect the neighborhood. The Pullman State Historic Site was designated in 1969. The Historic Pullman Foundation was formed in 1973 to further the preservation of the neighborhood. The A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum was founded in 1995. Fire damaged significant portions of the factory site in 1998 resulting in significant damage to the clock tower and administration building and the demolition of a 1910 factory building. In 2015, the Pullman National Monument was designated by President Barack Obama. The National Monument, with its visitor’s center as the centerpiece of the rehabilitation of the Clock Tower and Administration Building opened on Labor Day, 2021.
Opening the national monument has had a significant impact on the neighborhood and provided a focal point for new projects. The founder of the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum recently announced a $30 million campaign to expand the museum and create more attractions on the 10400 block of South Maryland. The Pullman House Project, a program of the Bielenberg Historic Pullman House Foundation, will introduce visitors to several early Pullman resident families by interpreting their homes. Visitors will learn family stories from around the world and migrants from various places in the United States. Visitors will tour the interiors of residences including an executive’s single-family home and a 450 square foot tenement flat all staged to tell the stories of families who called these places home. The Historic Pullman Foundation is increasing its staff capacity to fully actualize its role as the “friends” organization to the Pullman National Monument. This provides for increased tour capabilities, new and improved exhibitions at the foundation’s Exhibit Hall, rehabilitation of Market Hall, and expanded attractions and events to increase tourism and investment in the neighborhood.
On Front Street, just west of Cottage Grove and the adjacent Metra railroad tracks on a block that once housed breweries, bars, and associated uses frequented by employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company, Pullman Tech Workshop has partnered with Revolution Workshop to provide training in the building trades. Pullman Tech will focus on augmenting the building trade skills by providing expertise and training in heritage trades. Once fully staffed and programmed, Pullman Tech will be creating a pipeline of tradespeople who have special expertise in restoring historic homes in Pullman and across the city in a manner that is consistent with the workmanship of earlier tradespeople.
The work of these organizations continues more than a decade of efforts by Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives to bring jobs, retail and commercial businesses, housing, and other amenities to the area. These include Method Products and its parent company SC Johnson, two Gotham Greens commercial greenhouses, a Whole Foods Midwest Distribution Center, Amazon fulfillment center, and Pullman Community Center, as well as nearby restaurants and the Artspace Artists Lofts.
As Julian Jackson, executive director of the Historic Pullman Foundation observes, “The development of the cultural backbone of Pullman, exemplified by the opening Pullman National Monument, is bearing fruit in attracting businesses and resources to the far-south side neighborhood of Pullman.”