WIN: Pullman Clock Tower Building Restoration Underway

Pullman Hotel Florence, Solon S. Beman, 11111 S. Forrestville Avenue, 1881. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Pullman Market Square, Solon S. Beman, E. 112th Street Circle, 1893. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Pullman Rowhouses, Solon S. Beman, 619 E. 111th Street (formerly Florence Boulevard), 1878. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

Twenty year after its fire, the restoration of the Pullman Clock Tower and Administration Building is finally underway with a target completion date of Labor Day weekend 2020. The National Park Service, with financial and strategic support Illinois Department of Natural Resources, is investing over $13 million in the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Clock Tower and Administration Building and the building will again be open to the public as the new Pullman visitor center, according to Pullman National Monument superintendent Kathy Schneider in an interview with Block Club Chicago.

Commissioned by George Pullman to produce his legendary Pullman Palace Car Company sleeping cars, starting in 1880 architect Solon S. Beman designed the first model, planned industrial town in the United States. The Pullman Historic District is significant and one of the most beautiful industrial landscapes in the country. Pullman is one of the most famous company towns and the backdrop for the violent 1894 Pullman labor strike. The Pullman Historic District was designated a National Monument on February 19, 2015 which makes it a part of the National Park System.

Built in 1880, the Pullman Clock Tower and Administration Building designed by architect Solon S. Beman was the central hub of activity among the extensive manufacturing buildings. Unlike most industrial and manufacturing buildings of that period (and today), the Administration and Factory Complex was a beautifully designed, highly ornate collection of buildings designed within a park-like setting. The Pullman Clock Tower and Administration Building was built on the shores of Lake Vista, an artificial lake which also served as a cooling reservoir for the enormous Corliss steam engine. As visitors would approach Pullman by rail, the first building a visitor would see was the glorious primary facade of the Pullman Clock Tower and Administration Building. George Pullman built a powerful profitable corporation, and also built a beautiful planned community.

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.

“The State of Illinois owned this site for a long time and didn’t have any resources to bring to the table,” said Ryan Prehn, Chief of Parks with Illinois’ Office of Land Management. “The absorption into the Illinois Department of Natural Resources brings real money now.” (Block Club Chicago, 11/15/18)

The Pullman visitor center will help to tell the remarkable stories of Pullman including urban planning, labor history, and George Pullman with programming and exhibits to include “themes such as the planning and development of Pullman, the Pullman Strike of 1894, and the role of Pullman Porters in the civil rights movement which will be highlighted in permanent exhibitions.”

“It’s overwhelming hearing about all of the people who have worked on this and how everyone sees the neighborhood in different contexts,” said Pullman resident Jacob Hagan. “What the National Park Service is doing is unique by pulling in multiple stories to highlight the broader picture.” (Block Club Chicago, 11/15/18)

While the future of the Hotel Florence remains uncertain, restoration work on the first floor has resumed after being stopped in 2014. 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!

Additional Reading
Pullman National Monument Visitor Center Coming To Clock Tower Building By 2020; The National Park Service and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources showed off plans to Pullman residents Wednesday evening, AJ LaTrace, Block Club Chicago, 11/15/18

The Encyclopedia of Chicago -Pullman

From factory town to national monument: A brief history of the Pullman Historic District, Chicago Tribune, 2/19/15

Historic Pullman Foundation

The Pullman State Historic Site

Pullman Clock Tower and Administration Building, Pullman National Monument, National Park Service


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