A great many neighborhoods in Chicago can claim any number of accolades but only the Pullman Historic District can claim the distinction of being a national monument. Built in the 1880s by innovator and luxury railcar tycoon, George Pullman, for his employees, the 1,500-building planned community was meant to be something of a revolutionary utopia.
The project, which involved one of the first applications of industrial technology and mass construction of a large-scale community, consisted of an assortment of different homes, row houses, and public buildings built to accommodate employees at every level of Pullman’s business, from executive mansions to workers’ cottages. The goal of this model neighborhood was to yield greater productivity for the Pullman company. Employees were housed in dwellings that provided gas and water, access to sanitary facilities, abundant sunlight and fresh air, all of which was meant to boost better health, morale, and an exclusive working environment. And to a large degree it succeeded, at least for a while.
By 1885, a scant 15 years post its inception, Pullman’s community had a population of nearly 9,000 residents and was honored with the title “The World’s Most Perfect Town” at Prague’s International Hygienic and Pharmaceutical Exposition.
Today the spirit of George Pullman’s dream utopia lives on in the architecturally exceptional row houses and restored company buildings that still stand in the heart of the Pullman Historic District. This October, as in years past, Pullman residents will throw open their doors for the annual Historic Pullman House Tour where guests and architecture buffs can score a look inside private residences not normally open to the public from Saturday, Oct. 9 to Sunday, Oct. 10.
Aside from the architecture of his planned community, Pullman’s spirit also lives on in the form of the innovation that still permeates the neighborhood. Take for example, Gotham Greens, which produces greenhouse-grown lettuces and herbs served at many Chicago restaurants in a 75,000-square-foot greenhouse atop the roof of Pullman’s Method soap manufacturing plant. If that doesn’t reek of utopia, what does?
Check out the newly opened Pullman National Monument Visitor Center and Pullman State Historic Site Factory Grounds. Located in the striking Administration Clock Tower Building, the exhibits highlight the nationally significant labor story of the 1894 Pullman strike and boycott, along with the 1937 success of the African American union, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, winning a major contract with the Pullman Company. Visitors will see a replica of a partial Pullman Palace Car Company sleeper, and learn about George Pullman’s experimental vision for integrating manufacturing with a residential town for employees.