Friday, May 26, 2017

When I noticed...

...that the Pullman Strike of 1894 took place on May 11, I thought it would be a good excuse to finally explore this famous neighborhood on the Far Southeast Side.

I had originally planned on visiting Pullman on May 10, but rain forced us to postpone the trip. Then last week our Hike through Big Marsh took longer than I had expected and didn't leave enough time. So on Wednesday we set out again after eating sub sandwiches at Fontano's in Little Italy.

As the seven of us -- Dele, Michael, Nicco, John, Jack, Mike Novak (an old neighbor of ours from Glenview who joined us later) and me -- piled into two cars it began to sprinkle, and by the time we got off the expressway at East 95th Street (yes, East) it was positively pouring. (I was beginning to think that the universe just didn't want us to go to Pullman for some reason.) We pressed on, however, and arrived at our destination, 111th Street and Cottage Grove, a little before seven o'clock.

Now what? It was still raining but we decided to wait a few minutes in the parking lot in case the skies happened to clear up. And, as if by magic, they did. Or at least enough for us to get out of the car and walk around the "town" a little.

But first, I suppose, I should answer the question, Just what the heck is "Pullman" anyway?

According to Wikipedia, Pullman is one of Chicago's 77 defined community areas. The neighborhood in which we were interested, from 111th on the north to 115th on the south between Cottage Grove and the railroad tracks, is only about a half-mile square and easily walkable.

Historic Pullman was built in the 1880s by George Pullman as workers' housing for employees of his eponymous railroad car company, the Pullman Palace Car Company. He established behavioral standards that workers had to meet to live in the area and charged them rent. Pullman's architect, Solon Spencer Beman, was said to be extremely proud that he had met all the workers' needs within the neighborhood he designed. The distinctive rowhouses were comfortable by standards of the day, and contained such amenities as indoor plumbing, gas, and sewers.

The first thing we noticed from the parking lot was the Stables, above, at the corner of 112th Street and Forrestville.

How can you tell it was originally built to house equines? By the wooden horse heads, of course. (You'd be forgiven for having flashbacks of that famous scene in The Godfather.)

From there we turned east and encountered the magnificent Greenstone United Methodist Church on 112th and St. Lawrence. Established in 1882 as a Universalist Church "for all to unite in a union body and get a broad-minded evangelical clergyman," its first minister was Pullman's brother, the Rev. Dr. James Pullman. The building was later leased to a Presbyterian congregation and then sold to the Methodists in 1907.

The church is constructed of green limestone imported from Pennsylvania (or New England, depending on your source) and unlike anything I've ever seen. Apparently the interior, much of which is carved from cherry wood, is equally beautiful, but we only saw it from the outside.

According to my handy-dandy AIA Guide to Chicago:

This showpiece combines the peaked roofs of the Gothic with the round-arched openings and rock-faced masonry popularized by H. H. Richardson. 

(Hence the term Richardsonian Romanesque.)

Walking farther east on 112th Street brought us to Market Hall, a town square (or circle?):

Four excruciatingly narrow curved units with bachelor apartments above arcades are bookended with matching town houses in this touch of Italy. They were inserted into the town fabric after a market hall on this site burned down. In the center is the remaining single story of the second Pullman Market Hall.

I have to say, passing through this section of Pullman was a little disorienting, but in a good way. I felt like an American G.I. walking into the middle of a small European village after it was bombed in World War II. Dele said if it wasn't for the late model cars he would have thought he had traveled back in time. It was very cool. You have to see it!

The weather was still cooperating so we turned down a few of the side streets and checked out some of the original 900 rowhouses. Solon S. Beman, Pullman's architect, designed these five-room "worker's cottages" (is that where Cottage Grove Avenue got its name?) in widths from fourteen to twenty-two feet. Each contained a front parlor and rear kitchen/dining room on the main floor. Upstairs were a front bedroom and two small rear ones split by a skylit stair hall that led to a "water closet." None of the original five-room houses are in their original state; on some, for example, porches have been added.

It began to rain -- again! -- so we ducked into the Pullman Cafe, which appeared like a deus ex machina across from the church on St. Lawrence. It had closed just a few minutes earlier at seven o'clock but when the owner, a very personable young man named Ian (third from the left in the picture below), saw our motley crew he conveniently flipped the CLOSED sign around to OPEN. (Maybe the universe wasn't conspiring against us after all.)

Most of the items had been put away for the day but we were still able to order a small pizza and some drinks. (It's important to keep your strength up on these Hikes.) There were also a few of the locals in there and we learned from one of them that Pullman is known as the "City of Bricks." He said we could consult their Facebook page about upcoming Sunday afternoon walking tours.

The rain had let up again by the time we finished eating and Ian, who is also an artist, took us outside for a short tour of the alley in back which functions as a sort of outdoor neighborhood art gallery. A transplant from Los Angeles, of all places, Ian made his way to Pullman a few years ago where he opened the cafe and found himself in the midst of a budding local art community. He explained that many artists were migrating to Pullman after being priced out of more traditional bohemian neighborhoods such as Pilsen and Wicker Park. (Is "traditional bohemian" an oxymoron?)

John later asked me how the art survived the elements, particularly the harsh Chicago winters. I don't know; we'll have to ask Ian next time we visit Pullman. And, believe me, there will be a next time.

The neighborhood's fortunes may have peaked around the time of the Pullman Strike in 1894, which lasted for two months and led to intervention by the U.S. government and military. George Pullman died three years later and in 1898 the Illinois Supreme Court found the company in violation of a state law forbidding businesses to own land in excess of their industrial needs (who knew?). The following year, the town and other major portions of the South Side were annexed by the City of Chicago. And by 1907 the court-ordered sale of Pullman had been completed.

While the Pullman Company continued to prosper well into the 1920s, it was sold to a consortium of railroads in 1947, and in 1981 the last of the Pullman works was closed.

The neighborhood went into a slow, steady decline after World War II as jobs and people migrated to the suburbs. In 1960 the original Town of Pullman, approximately between 103rd and 115th Streets, was threatened with total demolition for an industrial park. Forming the Pullman Civic Organization, the residents lobbied the city and saved their community. In 1969 it was designated a National Landmark Historic District and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In recent years Pullman has seen a resurgence with the rest of the city as newer residents have moved into the neighborhood. In a contest sponsored by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Pullman was one of seven sites nominated for the Illinois Seven Wonders.

There are a number of other historic and architecturally significant buildings in Pullman which I didn't take pictures of, including the Hotel Florence (currently under restoration) and the Clock Tower and Factory (just north of 111th on Cottage Grove). But it gives me an excuse to visit another time.

P. S. Before finishing I just have to share a nice email I received this week:

Your neighborhood walks with the young men of 1212 W. Flournoy appear to be a kind of ministry of yours. I imagine there is a communing of sorts.

Thanks Tom!

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