Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: Pullman’s Hotel Florence Deserves a Chance to Welcome Guests Again

Pullman Hotel Florence, 1881, Solon S. Beman, 11111 S. Forrestville Avenue. Photo credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Pullman Hotel Florence, 1881, Solon S. Beman, 11111 S. Forrestville Avenue. Photo credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Pullman Hotel Florence, 1881, Solon S. Beman, 11111 S. Forrestville Avenue. Photo credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Pullman Hotel Florence, 1881, Solon S. Beman, 11111 S. Forrestville Avenue. Photo credit: Eric Allix Rogers

“The Hotel Florence in the Pullman neighborhood has been in a kind of limbo since the state bought the Victorian-era landmark 32 years ago.

“Built in 1881 by railroad car manufacturer George M. Pullman to welcome guests to his new self-contained company town, the state in 1991 had plans to restore the hotel and make it a tourist attraction for the historic neighborhood.

“But the effort faced fits and starts — mostly fits — over the next three decades and was never completed.

“That could change Wednesday. That’s when the Illinois General Assembly’s Executive Committee is set to hear a bill that would allocate $21 million toward the hotel’s restoration. The bill also calls for the state to seek a private operator that would handle the hotel’s redevelopment and run the facility afterward.

“The Far South Side Pullman community has seen plenty of long-awaited successes lately. There’s the U.S. National Park Service turning the once-vacant former Pullman train factory at 11101 S. Cottage Grove Ave. into a beautifully restored visitors’ center in 2021, and the current commercial redevelopment of vacant industrial land on the north side of East 111th Street.

“Given those successes, the executive committee must follow suit and give the thumbs-up to the Hotel Florence bill, followed by the Senate and then Gov. J.B. Pritzker granting the measure quick passage and a signature.

“The Illinois Department of Natural Resources owns the Hotel Florence, 11111 S. Forrestville Ave. The state bought the building in 1991 from the Historic Pullman Foundation, which purchased the structure in 1975 to save it from demolition. In addition to the 1881 building, the hotel has a four-story annex that was built along 111th Street in 1914.

“The hotel has been open for tours on occasion. But if this latest effort is successful, guests could once again stay in the hotel, and its first floor restaurant — which had been operational off and on since the 1990s — would be revived as well. The state would retain ownership of the property.

“‘With every administration, they promised and nothing gets delivered,’ Smith said. ‘Here we are now with an incredible opportunity.’

“If the bill becomes law, the state’s Department of Natural Resources would have the power to issue a request-for-proposals within six months, seeking a developer/operator for the hotel — including the annex — and the restaurant.

“But the end result would be a new, historic hotel and restaurant that is also a self-sustaining tourist destination that would complement the National Park Service’s efforts in Pullman. That’s good for the neighborhood, the South Side and the city itself. (Chicago Sun-Times, Editorial Board, 5/2/23)

Preservation Chicago has long advocated for the restoration and reactivation of the Hotel Florence. With all of the success of boutique hotels in historic buildings, Preservation Chicago would encourage the Hotel Florence to be faithfully restored and reopened as a highly authentic hotel or museum.

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