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01.22.2014
All Aboard?
Chicago's Pullman neighborhood eyed for National Park.
The 12000 block of South Champlain Avenue and the 11200 block of South Forestville Avenue feature some of Pullman's historic homes and hotels.
HPF / Robert Shymanski

The Pullman neighborhood in Chicago has for years been part of the city’s living history, and a reminder of the nation’s past labor struggles. Now, a national landmark designation could bring increased recognition for this once-tumultuous section of the South Side.

The National Park Service (NPS) recently released a study assessing the 300-acre Pullman Historic District for possible inclusion into the agency’s National Park System, a registry that includes approximately 400 sites across the country. Looking at the historic significance of the neighborhood—originally developed as a company town for employees of 19th century railcar tycoon George Pullman—as well as the need for management oversight, NPS concluded that the district “appears likely to meet the national significance and suitability criteria” needed to warrant an additional “special resource study.”

Ian Freimuth
 

Natalie Franz, Midwest region planner for NPS, described the bureaucratic protocol for determining Pullman’s eligibility. Such an assessment would be conducted by the NPS only after receiving congressional and presidential approval, and could take as many as three years to complete once funding is in place, she said.

Located 12 miles south of downtown, Pullman offers a detour for Chicago sightseers. Boasting historic buildings designed by architect Solon Spencer Beman—including the Hotel Florence, the Romanesque Market Square, and the fire-damaged Administration Buildings, which served as the executive offices of Pullman’s Palace Car Company—the area is already recognized by local and state historic landmark bodies.

HPF / Robert Shymanski
 

“The historical significance of Pullman has been acknowledged for over 40 years,” said Michael Shymanski, president of the Historic Pullman Foundation. About 90 percent of the neighborhood’s original homes, most in the Queen Anne style, have been preserved.

Completed in 1880 on what had previously been prairie land, the neighborhood is known for the labor strike born on its streets in response to wage decreases instated by Pullman, whose profits in the luxury railroad car industry began shrinking shortly after he finished building the town. The area was annexed to the city in 1907.

 
HPF / Robert Shymanski
 

Today, the racially diverse neighborhood is served by a handful of Metra commuter rail stops. A proposal currently being vetted for the Chicago Transportation Authority’s Red Line train extension project foretells more transit access. CTA previously announced plans to expand the Red Line as far south as 130th street, but no timeline for the project has been set.

Asked what an NPS designation would mean for the residents, Franz said, “It depends.” How legislators draw the boundaries of the potential park site, for example, could affect the way resources are administered and what kind of assistance would be given to property owners within the proposed borders. Whether the site will be established at all is also a long shot. Franz said that “not a huge amount” of sites that receive preliminary studies go on to achieve National Park status. “I think that reflects the rigorous analysis needed to determine whether or not something should be included in the system,” she said.

Ian Fullerton