The Pullman Neighborhood: Chicago, Illinois
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. The mix of land uses, diversity of dwellings, and proximity to schools, shops, parks, and public transportation attract those who appreciate a historic, urban community with a small-town feel — a place voted the world's most perfect town more than a century ago.
Boundaries extend from E. 115th Street to the south, E. 107th Street to the north, South Cottage Grove Avenue to the west, and parts of South Ellis Street and East 114th Street bordering the railroad tracks to the east.
The idea of a company town wasn't new 131 years ago, but George Pullman's execution of the concept was arguably the most successful. Owner of the luxury railroad passenger-car manufacturing company bearing his name, Pullman believed the built environment could contribute to a worker's productivity. He purchased 4,000 acres on the shore of Lake Calumet, 12 miles south of Chicago, and created an $8 million community with features — indoor plumbing, gas lighting, and cross ventilation — not commonly found in working-class neighborhoods.
The town was designed to resemble a suburban park, a radical notion for a blue-collar development. A winding carriage path and circular flower beds softened the town's formal street grid. Brick was used extensively for houses, which reflected Queen Anne designs. Contrasts of color and texture, as well as variations in ornamentation of facades, rooflines, chimneys, and finishing materials, were used to create architectural interest and reflect the owner's status.
A train depot separated the residential and industrial districts. The industrial complex, now a state historic site undergoing restoration, included an upscale hotel, market, shopping arcade, library, and other amenities. Several parks provided recreational opportunities. Thirty thousand trees graced the village, which was served by private water and sanitary sewer systems.
The neighborhood flourished — 12,000 people lived there in 1893 — until an 1898 court order resulting from a worker strike forced the Pullman Palace Car Co. to sell its residential assets. Home upkeep and landscaping fell to individual owners. In 1889 Pullman was annexed by the City of Chicago.
Demolition was proposed in 1960 and spurred residents to action. The area was declared a state historic district in 1969 and added to the National Register two years later. Despite setbacks, including a 1998 fire that destroyed the iconic clock tower, the state, city, and neighbors have restored much of the district and continue to make improvements, including reconstruction of the clock tower.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- Town modeled on Essen, Germany, and Saltaire, England; voted world's most perfect town at 1896 Prague International Hygienic and Pharmaceutical Exposition
- Located near Lake Calumet for proximity to major markets, railroad connection, availability of land; Pullman spent $800,000 to buy 4,000 acres from 75 land owners
- Plan guided by garden park ideal, unheard of in blue collar districts; serpentine carriage paths, circular flower beds soften street grid; two parks enhance setting
- Houses constructed from bricks using clay from Lake Calumet; contrasting colors and textures, architectural embellishments circumvent monotony, denote resident status
- Architect Solon Beman included cross ventilation, natural lighting in house designs
- Pioneering sanitary sewer, water systems; water tower fed from intakes in Lake Michigan, far from shore-side pollution. Compost from sewer system fertilizes garden used to raise produce for village's Market Hall. Pullman Urban Gardeners now operate organic community garden — built using reclaimed materials — on site of former factory
- Initial landscape design by Nathan Barrett resulted in planting of 30,000 trees and 100,000 flowering plants; significant canopy remains because of city tree replacement program
- Original town plan includes train depot; now served by Metra commuter rail, buses
- Proposed demolition of residences (1960) spurred neighborhood action; Pullman Civic Organization reactivated, led efforts to obtain historic designations conferred by state (1969), U.S. Department of the Interior (1971), City of Chicago (1972)
- Historic Pullman Foundation (1973) saved Hotel Florence; opened visitor center (1993) on site of former arcade; created self-guided walking tour and leads First Sunday Walking Tour
- First restoration projects used Federal Community Development Block Grant funds (1976)
- City restored Arcade Park, town's original central garden
- Illinois Historic Preservation Agency purchased (1991) Hotel Florence, factory, and clock tower. Reconstructed signature clock tower (2005) and restored factory administration building exterior (2007) following devastating fire in 1998
- In 2008, the City of Chicago streetscape program reconstructed Market Square sidewalks, streets, utilities, and lighting to reflect historic origins; previous city and state funds helped stabilize for phased restoration the Classical-Romanesque style Market Hall
- Pullman Civic Organization published extensive homeowner guide in 2011; documented design specifications for facade elements original to each Pullman residence.
- Numerous volunteer-driven events: candlelight house tour, garden walk, Labor Day bike ride, Victorian tea, Mexican Independence Day festival, Black History Month programs
- Neighborhood groups develop around specific interests; include The Pullman Beekeepers, Pullman Urban Gardeners, Pullman Juniors and Seniors Group, Pullman Morris Dance Team, Lady's Luncheon Group
- Historic Pullman Garden Club maintains flower beds in Arcade and Pullman Parks, local gateways, and church; club, other organizations, and city worked to develop new park on former two-acre industrial site at 114th Street and Langley Avenue