CHICAGO – Supporters of the revitalization of Chicago’s historic Pullman neighborhood say they have the money for more restoration work, five years after then-President Barack Obama designated part of the area as a national monument.
Longtime supporters gathered with National Park Service officials Wednesday on the Far South Side to celebrate the five-year anniversary of the monument designation as leaders unveiled the latest renderings for a more than $56 million revitalization project.
A central part of the restoration is the Pullman Clock Tower and Administration building, which will convert into a visitors center. That’s expected to be completed next year.
“The designation [as a national monument] was important to reflect the rich history, but President Obama is also interested in making sure that our monuments tell a story and a story that has not ended,” said former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett via video. “Really a story that is historic, but whose best chapter lies ahead.”
The neighborhood was built by industrialist George M. Pullman in the 19th century for people who worked at his state-of-the-art factory building luxurious railroad sleeping cars.
The harsh working conditions aboard Pullman’s sleeping cars helped spur the birth of the African American labor movement. Disgruntled porters, who served sleeping car passengers, organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union in the 1920s.
“Thirty years ago, back in the rear-view mirror, people were writing off Pullman. Saying its best days were behind it,” former Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at Wednesday’s event. “You all never gave in.”
Architect Richard Wilson of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture said they want to make the Pullman neighborhood a “true people’s place” like it was before.
About 35,000 to 40,000 visits are made to the monument annually, according to Lynn McClure, senior director of National Parks Conservation Association. But 300,000 visitors are expected once the high-priority historic buildings, such as the visitors center, are open to the public.
“Five years ago, if you had asked anybody what is going to be happening in Pullman in five years, nobody could have projected this kind of commitment and response,” McClure said.