WIN: Pullman Achieves National Historical Park Status

Stakeholders Celebrate Pullman Achieving National Historical Park Status on January 19, 2023. Photo credit: Pullman National Historical Park

“Everything, when it comes to Pullman National Monument, which is now known as ‘Pullman National Historical Park.’ More than just semantics, the shift to ‘park’ grants the site increased protections.

“The monument was created in 2015 by then President Barack Obama, using powers given to the country’s chief executive by the Antiquities Act. It was an exciting moment for local leaders and residents who had long championed the significance of the former Pullman factory town as the birthplace of the American labor movement.

“But while monuments can be created by the stroke of a president’s pen, the concern is that they can be undone by the same. Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, also designated by Obama, was, in a rare instance, repealed by President Donald Trump.

“With that precedent in mind, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (2nd District) and U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth sponsored legislation — which is how national parks are created — to transform Pullman into a national historical park. The law passed both houses of Congress and was signed by President Joe Biden in December.

“‘Anybody that wants to get their hands on Pullman has to come through Robin Kelly and Durbin and Duckworth and Congress,’ Sen. Durbin said Thursday during a celebration of the new designation held at the park.

“The collective effort it’s taken to get Pullman to this point demonstrates a level of collaboration by local, state and national entities — in both the public and private sectors — not often seen, said Rick Clark, deputy regional director of the National Park Service, who flew in from Omaha for the festivities.

“Though Pullman’s rise to national historical park status may have seemed meteoric to Clark, it has been decades in the making, Kelly noted.

“There was a time when the Pullman factory, its grounds and much of the surrounding company town were viewed as ripe for the bulldozer, and the area’s history would have been lost in the rubble.

“‘The ground we stand on … holds so much of our national story,’ said Kelly, from the rise of the railroad and with it the Pullman railcar, to the Pullman Strike and Boycott of 1894 that touched off the labor movement (and ultimately led to Labor Day), to the formation of the country’s first Black trade union in support of the famed Pullman porters.

“Investment in the broader Pullman community has followed the attention drawn first by the national monument designation and now the national historical park.” (Wetli, WTTW Chicago, 1/19/23)

The preservation advocacy efforts for Pullman have spanned decades. In 1960, residents organized to form the Pullman Civic Organization (PCO) to advocate for Pullman’s preservation. By 1969, Pullman was added to the National Register of Historic Places and in 1970 was declared a National Historic Landmark. By 1972, the southern portion of Pullman was designated as a Chicago Landmark followed by the northern portion in 1993. A significant milestone occurred in 1991, when the State of Illinois purchased the Administration Building, the Factory Complex, and Hotel Florence and created a state historic site. Then tragedy struck on December 1, 1998, when after surviving years of neglect and deferred maintenance, the Clock Tower and Administration was targeted by an arsonist and the building suffered extensive damage from the ensuing fire. Portions of the building were reconstructed in the following years.

Preservation Chicago has been working with community and civic partners and organizations for many years on this effort and we are delighted by the progress. We remain very active with conversations concerning rebuilding, renovation and restoration. We’re also hoping for a complementary Chicago Landmark District in the neighboring Roseland community to include “the Pullman Lands” and to drive economic development on South Michigan Avenue in Roseland.

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