CHICAGO — The Pullman National Monument and nearby infrastructure have seen $56 million in investment since President Barack Obama designated it a national monument nearly five years ago, and supporters hope to keep that momentum going with new goals detailed in a recently published plan titled "Positioning Pullman 2.0."
President Obama’s designation of the Pullman National Monument on a frigid February day in 2015 brought National Park Service prestige and resources to the effort to preserve the old Pullman industrial community, and to make its revitalization a catalyst for broader South Side growth.
Last month, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects published "Positioning Pullman 2.0," a plan that builds on their original "Positioning Pullman" document that described 33 projects that residents, business owners and supporters hoped to accomplish.
“In four short years, more than $56 million has been invested within Pullman National Monument — that’s just incredible,” said Lynn McClure, senior regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Since its launch, 'Positioning Pullman' has become a guide for collaboration in urban national parks across the country. With the commitment of so many people who live in and support Pullman, we are seeing results quickly and that demonstrates the power that this national park brings to Chicago and the region.”
Richard Wilson, who leads the city design practice at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture and has been involved in Pullman since development of the original Positioning Pullman plan, said the work going on now builds upon preservation efforts by neighborhood residents since the 1960s.
“Residents banded together and for 50 years have been out there doing the fight to preserve this American story,” he said. “All of this is in a working, residential Chicago neighborhood.”
More than half of the 33 projects in the original plan have been completed or are underway, including work to transform the old clock tower building into a visitor center, renovation of the neighborhood’s Metra train station and various streetscape and bicycle access projects.
Completion of the visitors center in the old Pullman administration building is considered key. Public and private commitments to it total $34 million, and plans call for it to open in spring 2021.
The center will include exhibits about George Pullman and his Pullman Palace Car Co., the planning and design of his model town, the history of often strife-ridden labor relations and the story of the Pullman porters who worked in sleeper train cars across the country.
Restoration of the workers’ gate between the neighborhood and factory, and renovation of the remaining factory building itself, also are considered key.
“It’s the place they went in good times and bad times,” Wilson said of the gate. “Visitors to Pullman in the near future will be able to visit the gate, tour the factory.”
Neighborhood investment has included five new restaurants and cafes along 111th Street.
“Every national park has a major gateway coming into it,” McClure said. “111th Street is Pullman National Monument’s.”
Goals in the new plan include improvements to Cottage Grove Avenue, new Metra stations within the monument area, renovation of more historic buildings and homes, and redesign and renovation of two parks.
The plan includes more work in north Pullman, home to “beautiful existing housing stock” as well as an old firehouse building, Wilson said.
“More than half of the projects that have yet to be started are north of 111th,” McClure noted.
“We want to make sure visitors to Pullman get the full experience,” Wilson said.
Focus on the future
Other goals include establishing a wayfinding system of signs, and connecting Pullman to nearby natural areas, including Big Marsh Park, Wolf Lake and the Indiana Dunes National Park, via trails and public transportation.
“Pullman is kind of this peninsula,” McClure noted, with Interstate 94 on the east, curving west through north Pullman, the freight and commuter tracks on the west and the Sherwin-Williams plant on the south, making connections difficult.
The National Park Service connection with the Indiana Dunes makes for a natural link.
“You’ve got two national parks. They need to be connected,” McClure said.
And the dunes’ elevation to national park status this year is providing inspiration for another goal at Pullman — redesignating it as the Pullman National Historical Park. That was the original goal of park supporters, but did not get support in the U.S. Congress five years ago, while the national monument designation was within the authority of the president.
Now, U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Illinois Democrats, have taken up the historical park cause. In addition to a name change, the designation would increase the park service’s ability to expand its work to buildings and other assets it doesn’t own.
The NPCA and AIA effort lists more than 100 participants hoping to build on the work of the first Positioning Pullman plan.
“We have to stay focused, keep our eye on the priorities we’ve set and continue to build partnerships,” Wilson said.
Visit www.npca.org/pullman for more information on "Positioning Pullman 2.0."