Housing

Home Histories: Pullman Historic District

If one thing stands out about Pullman, it’s its roots. In the 1880s, railroad magnate George Pullman constructed the neighborhood, then an independent town, to house his factory’s workers. Its homes, all designed by Chicago architect Solon Spencer Beman, range from brick mansions reserved for the doctors, lawyers, and executives of Pullman, to the narrow rowhouses inhabited by its workers.

The company lost ownership of the town after Pullman’s death in 1897, and through the deindustrialization of the 1950s, the neighborhood stagnated while many residents moved to nearby suburbs. Currently, Pullman stands as a diverse residential neighborhood entering a new phase. With new businesses moving into the neighborhood, including Method, an eco-friendly soap manufacturer, the historic neighborhood continues to grow.

CJ Martello is the owner of one of the distinctive rowhomes and bears a passion for Pullman history. “The house was built in 1881,” he explained. “The first resident was a blacksmith, and then a group of Norwegians, and then the Italians started moving. The homes were rented to the factory workers, but the idea for such a nice spot was revolutionary. You had a lawn outside, and clean running water at a time when everyone else in Chicago lived in squalor.”

The house, only about twenty-five feet wide, contains a vast collection of Pullman memorabilia in its five rooms. Martello eagerly shows me his collection, highlighting various pieces: the walls are adorned with posters, and, behind a sheet of glass on a shelf, lies original Pullman car cutlery and mugs, Pullman whiskey, and photos of the cars themselves. The exterior of the house is unaltered, as are all the neighborhood’s homes since the town gained state and national landmark status in 1972.

A mural of factory workers decorates the exterior of the neighborhood visitor center, a reminder of the history that Pullman’s community keeps close.

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