Last Saturday, a few friends and I visited Historic Pullman in Chicago, Pullman, as in George Pullman, the inventor of the Pullman Palace (railway) Car. Even though I’ve lived in the Chicago area for nearly fifty years, I’m sorry I’ve never visited before.
The brochure from the Visitors’ Center notes that now the area is an active residential community, interested in maintaining itself for future generations. But, back in 1880-1881, Pullman built this planned community solely for his workers in the nearby Pullman Palace Car factory.
The tree-bordered streets give an aura of tranquility where once there was bustling activity. Pullman planned the town to meet all the needs of his workers, including a church, school, central market place, hospital, hotel, and various levels of housing, ranging from workers’ cottages to executive homes, plus boarding houses for the unmarried workers.
Even though it was not an official visit day last Saturday, a warm and generous volunteer saw us outside of the church and invited us in. She said Pullman wanted a large place to meet with his workers, so the church also served as a meeting hall.
The vacant, crumbling Hotel Florence is scheduled to reopen some day as a bed and breakfast. My friends and I hope it is fairly soon, so we can stay overnight in our lifetime! Peeking inside a window, I viewed original wood work, tall elegant ceilings, and a check-in desk. History says it was the only place in Pullman where Mr. Pullman allowed liquor to be served. The school had both a girls and a boys entrance. Wonder how that would fly today!
The Visitors’ Center brochure suggests visitors look for these things:
1. The continuity of blocks; almost all the original residences still exist.
2. The variation in facades, designed by Solon S. Bemen, architect, along each Row.
3. The signs of private restoration (notably the use of Pullman colors, maroon and dark and light shades of green).
Historic Pullman is open for tours the first Sunday of the month from May through October. And, they hold a weekend-long Annual House Tour on the second weekend of October that allows visitors to enter private homes. The area is easily accessible on the Metra at either the 111th or 115th Street stations. The former is closer to the Visitors Center, the latter is cleaner.
While at the Visitors Center, ask for a recommendation for a place to eat. As far as I could tell, there was only one place, Cal-Harbor Restaurant and Lounge, near the 115th station. I had a soft cheese omelet and crisp wheat toast, with a delicious mound of grits, for under $5.00. And lots of friendly local color.
Read more about Historic Pullman.