Pullman: Past and Present

The Calumet Quarter visited the historic Chicago Neighborhood of Pullman on April 15, 2016. Two major narratives emerged out of the Pullman visit. The first is the parallels between the industrial history and future of Pullman. The second is the incredible community spirit that drives the historic neighborhood, fallen on hard times over the past decades, to push toward revival.

Our first impression of Pullman indicated that there is much work to be done to revive Pullman. The 111th Street Metra stop is isolated, unremarkable, and somewhat rundown—not what you would expect from an area recently declared as a National Monument. However, plans are in the works to change that. A redesigned Metra station with a replica Pullman Car as a shelter was one of several ideas floated during a three-day workshop at which federal, state, and local officials joined 40 urban planning and design experts to brainstorm ideas for the neighborhood.

Our visit to Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI) revealed some of the behind the scenes work and planned development that has gone into attracting jobs and businesses to Pullman, including plans for a Walmart, a Whole Foods packing facility, and nationally-recognized restaurants such as Chipotle and Potbelly in order to increase dining options for visitors to the national monument. Although these might appear to be small victories, these developments will pave the way for future growth of local businesses by attracting traffic and signaling that Pullman is ready for new investment.


Method is partially powered by wind and solar.

However, one of CNI’s greatest achievements thus far has been attracting Method, a fast-growing soap manufacturer, to build a factory in Pullman. Method as a company is particularly committed to being eco-friendly, and it’s LEED-platinum manufacturing facility is partially powered by both wind and solar renewable energy. According to Method’s website, their 240-food wind turbine helps generate half of the building’s annual electric consumption.

The heat from Method’s rooftop has also been put to a “green” use. Gotham Greens, a Brooklyn-based company that grows fresh produce in urban rooftop greenhouses, has brought new meaning to the term “green roof” by taking up residence above Method. Gotham Greens’ Pullman location is its largest, spanning nearly two acres, and its first in Chicago. It is also the world’s largest and most productive rooftop farm and annually grows up to 10 million heads of leafy greens and herbs year-round using hydroponic technology. Unlike greens in most U.S. supermarkets which must travel thousands of miles, Gotham’s greens can go from greenhouse to grocery store on the same day. This technology has the potential to alleviate the challenges of access to fresh greens in urban food deserts in the future.

A look inside the Gotham Greens Pullman greenhouse.

A look inside the Gotham Greens Pullman greenhouse.

Similar to George Pullman’s factory, Method and Gotham Greens are on the cutting edge of new technology. But instead of railroads and experimental, “utopian” industrial town planning like that of George Pullman, this technology is in geared towards sustainability. Although these two manufacturing facilities do not employ nearly as many community members as Pullman once did, their presence illustrates the continued importance of industry to the neighborhood’s future.

As for Historic Pullman, a high level of community engagement, especially by organizations such as the Historic Pullman Foundation, has gained the area long-awaited recognition. In 2015, President Barack Obama recognized Historic Pullman as a national monument. However, funding for the site’s restoration has not been forthcoming from Congress. In its stead, the community has continued to step up in order to help make the national monument a reality. The Calumet Quarter visited the Historic Pullman Foundation Museum, which temporarily houses the Pullman National Monument Visitor Center until enough funding can be acquired to restore the Pullman clock tower and establish a permanent visitor’s center.


The iconic Pullman clock tower, future home of the Pullman National Monument Visitor Center.

At the visitor’s center, we took a tour of Historic Pullman with Ranger Sue and learned about the influential model and cautionary tale of Pullman as the nation’s first industrial town. Although George Pullman’s experiment eventually came to a violent and contentious end, the preservation of controversial places as lessons in our history is incredibly important. This is something that the Pullman community members recognize continue to push for the preservation of Pullman’s culture and the revitalization of the neighborhood.