The announcement last month that historic Pullman, the onetime factory town on Chicago’s Far South Side, may finally be on its way to becoming an urban national park, was just one in a series of recent boosts for the charming but somewhat isolated neighborhood.
North of Pullman on formerly vacant land across 111th Street is a brand-new Wal-Mart Super Center that makes shopping far more convenient and is expected to attract more retailers—not to mention clean industry jobs. East of Pullman, the Harborside golf complex that replaced the burning trash dumps of yore, is under sophisticated new management. Southeast is the eight-year-old House of Hope arena, which can seat 10,000 and hosts sports and entertainment events. And to the west of Pullman, immediately across the Metra Electric tracks, there’s something every happening neighborhood needs today: a craft brewery, this one called Argus.
“It’s an awakening that’s happening out here,” says Mike Shymanski, who with his wife, Pat, has lived in the neighborhood since 1967 and is a leader of the Historic Pullman Foundation. For decades, the neighborhood—which began in the late 19th century as railcar magnate George Pullman’s tightly controlled model of a company town and soon became a flashpoint in a major union struggle—has been the darling of preservationists, architects and fans of Chicago history. But it hasn’t attracted the larger numbers of visitors that might spur a more thorough revival.
A big draw during the 1980s and 1990s was Sunday brunch at the neighborhood’s old Hotel Florence. “We had so many people come for the brunch and then walk through the neighborhood,” Shymanski says. Brunch ended when the state historic preservation agency started work on the building a dozen years ago; its return is still on hold.
Nevertheless, Shymanski says that in recent years, “the stars are aligning for us.” With so many attractive amenities encircling the neighborhood, Pullman’s moment is on.
That gives extra luster to this weekend’s house tour, the 40th annual. It’s a chance to explore the leafy streets and not only admire the charming facades of the workers’ housing that Solon Beman designed, but go inside several of them, as well as into the stunning Greenstone Church.
The properties on the tour aren’t for sale, but last winter I showed you around some that were. Pullman homes on the market now include this two-bedroom facing Arcade Park, this two-flat near the south end of the historic district, and this pretty three-bedroom, which will have an open house on Saturday, the first day of the house tour.
You don’t have to be interested in buying to head for Pullman this weekend. But I can almost guarantee that if you go, you’ll buy in to the notion of this quaint district becoming Chicago’s first national park.