The Pullman Neighborhood is a Time Capsule – Chicago Magazine

Pullman is unlike anywhere else in Chicago, or even the Midwest. Its townhouse blocks, with American flags hanging from brackets bolted into the brick, and rose gardens blooming in the tiny courtyards, make it look like an older neighborhood in one of the old coastal and colonial cities: Boston, Philadelphia or Baltimore.

Pullman, of course, was not meant to be part of Chicago. It was one of America’s first planned industrial communities, built between 1880 and 1892 to house the workers, craftsmen, and managers of the Pullman’s Palace Car Company, which built the most lavish railcars of the railroad era. iron. Founder George Pullman was partly inspired by Saltair, a textile town near Leeds, England.

Last Labor Day, Pullman was dedicated a national monument in a ceremony attended by the Secretary of Labor, the Governor and the two Senators. The park service has opened a museum that tells the story of the company. At the end of the 19e and early 20e Over the centuries, a Pullman sleeper was the equivalent of a private jet, and the word “Pullman” was synonymous with luxury, as much as Cadillac later. The Pullman Strike of 1894, broken up by federal troops, was a bloody shirt for the labor movement. Air travel and highways have made passenger trains an anachronism; the last Pullman wagon was built in 1982.

If you visit the museum, be sure to take a walk around the neighborhood. Pullman’s motive in owning his employees’ housing was profit: he deducted rent from their paychecks. But he built houses of high quality and architectural distinction – fireplaces, woodwork, paneling, dormers. More than a century after the Illinois Supreme Court forced the Pullman Company out of the housing business, it has resulted in an unusual legacy, especially for Chicago: Pullman is an island of integration in the Otherwise secluded Far South Side. According to the latest census, the neighborhood bounded by the Illinois Central Railroad, 111th Street, Bishop Ford Expressway and 115th Street is 45% black, 32% white and 24% Latino – numbers close to those in the city as a whole, but found almost nowhere in the same place.

Last week, I strolled through the neighborhood with Mike Shymanski, who moved to Pullman in 1967 as a young, newly married architect, drawn to “the diversity of habitat.” It was on a pedestrian scale, because of the density of townhouses, you got to know the people in your block. At that time, it was a real convenient neighborhood. There were half a dozen bars, grocery stores, restaurants. Michigan Avenue was a major retail business. We actually operated for two years without a car.

Pullman almost didn’t go that far. In 1959, the city proposed to demolish it and replace it with an industrial park to serve the port of Calumet, which was booming after the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway: “at that time, the old buildings were badly seen. The Pullman buildings were 80 years old and the older buildings could be called replacements.

The Pullman Civic Organization resisted the plan. Pullman was spared and remained racially stable, although the white flight upended the demographics of nearby Roseland—another change Pullman resisted. Shymanski lives on Arcade Row, a block of houses with mansard roofs and wooden porches, which today are occupied by the same class of people that Pullman built it: white-collar workers. Every original Pullman home is a historic landmark, so residents can’t alter the exterior of their home without permission from the city, but the people who move in love it like this: “There’s has people who were drawn to the neighborhood because of the historic character,” Shymanski said. “There are all kinds of people living in these houses: educators, engineers, skilled workers.”

(south of 111e Street, 90 percent of the houses are original. North of 111e, the figure is 30%. North Pullman is almost exclusively black and low-income. It is home to the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum, currently closed for expansion. The Pullman Porters, all African American, “were the unofficial distribution arm of the Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Mailsaid director David Peterson. “That’s how people discovered the opportunities here. It was the driving force behind the Great Migration. “)

Pullmanites certainly feel like they live in a “special place,” as Shymanski puts it. They show off their neighborhood with walking tours on the first Sunday of each month. The Historic Pullman Garden Walk takes place on June 25 and the Historic Pullman House Tour on October 8 and 9. The Historic Pullman Foundation would like to see the reopening of the Hotel Florence, which served Sunday brunches until 2000, when it was closed for renovations by its owner, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. These renovations are still ongoing.

In this neighborhood of landmarks, no landmark is more striking than Greenstone United Methodist Church, designed in 1882 by the architect of Pullman’s house, Solomon Spencer Beman, and built from moss-colored stone mined in Pennsylvania. The shrine seats 600 people, but on most Sundays Reverend Luther Mason preaches to 15 to 25 mostly black parishioners and struggles to attract a cross section of the community.

“During the pandemic, we had the best time of diversity,” said Mason, who lives in the presbytery on rue Saint-Laurent. “When we were inside, it was our own little team, but when we went out on Solomon’s porch, we had blacks, whites, Latinos.”

From the back of the sanctuary, an arched stained glass window, shaped like the eye of God, casts tinted light over empty pews, peeling paint, cracked walls and a manual organ as old as the building. Many churches with such meager congregations have closed. Not Greenstone. Nothing is torn down at Pullman; this sense of permanence keeps people in the neighborhood for decades, if not generations. (Shymanski’s son and daughter live in Pullman.) Greenstone is a historic congregation, in a historic building.

“We fought for workers’ rights during the strike,” Mason said. “We organized the rescue. Round. [William H.] Carwardine, he wrote the book, Pullman’s story, which led the Illinois Supreme Court to force Pullman to divest itself of the housing. The church could be sold and turned into a recital hall and B&B, but I’ll be damned if that happens while I’m here.

Preservations will also be cursed. Over the past year and a half, Greenstone has received a $145,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to stabilize its steeple and repair its roof, and $1.08 million from the city’s Adopt-a-Landmark program to repair the steeple. . The church also needs to replace the stone, which has been broken down by decades of acid rain. The new coating will be mixed with jade-colored serpentine stone to maintain its greenish color. The stones will look “exactly like the original”, Mason promised.

That’s what Pullman wants to hear. A New York Times A columnist once wrote that no American city has changed as much in the last 30 years as Chicago. Pullman hasn’t changed much, however. George Pullman died in 1897, but he would still recognize his industrial village.

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