Best of Pullman & Roseland 2021. Photo by Zachary Clingenpeel

Best of Pullman & Roseland 2021

On Labor Day weekend this year, Pullman stepped back into the spotlight. The town where Labor Day originated following the deaths of thirteen company workers during the great rail strike of 1894, celebrated the restoration of the iconic Pullman administration building and clock tower, and its conversion to become the new National Park Service Visitor Center.

On February 19, 2015, then-president Barack Obama declared the Pullman Historic Site a National Monument, putting the historic buildings and the district under the direction of the National Park Service. The restoration has been underway ever since, and the long-awaited ribbon cutting took place on Monday, September 6.

The model factory town was built just south of Chicago city limits between 1880 and 1884 by George M. Pullman, to manufacture railroad passenger cars, and to house his company’s workers and their families. The industrial experiment of building Pullman was well-regulated, sanitary, and employed thousands. Mr. Pullman also forbade drinking establishments in his town.

The town of Pullman, prior to being annexed to the city of Chicago, was considered the first planned industrial community in the United States. It is nationally significant for its history, architecture, urban planning, and its important role in the U.S. labor movement. 

For barely a decade, Pullman enjoyed a reputation as a model community, attracting visitors and acclaim from around the world—until the plunging American economy caused the company to lower wages, and increase housing and food costs for the workers. The nationwide, bloody strike in 1894 was the impetus for President Grover Cleveland to establish Labor Day.

Today, much of the original housing and many public buildings in Pullman remain intact and well preserved. The location of the factory complex is at 11001 S. Cottage Grove Ave. The residential neighborhood of Pullman stretches for a few city blocks north and south of the factory and administration buildings, divided from neighboring Roseland by the Metra tracks along Cottage Grove. (Tom Shepherd)

Compiled by Weekly staff.

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Best Clock Tower

Pullman National Monument Clock Tower

Wake up before sunrise, strike a match to light a lantern filled with whale oil, and stumble downstairs to the kitchen in your two-story Pullman Company house to scarf down a hearty breakfast of corn bread and boiled eggs. Walk down Watt Avenue (now St. Lawrence) past the soaring Greenstone Church, its green steeple and panes of stained glass glowing in the dawn light; past the imposing Arcade shopping center with its Pullman Trust and Savings Bank, capacious library, and many-seated theater; and past the Hotel Florence where visiting dignitaries stay content and warmed by coal-filled ovens.

Line up outside the wrought-iron gate just before sunrise with thousands of others on their way to jobs in the erecting shops, the wood machine shop, the dry kilns, the lumber sheds, the blacksmith workshop, the paint shop, or the administrative building with its immense clock tower that counts out the working hours for all. The year could be 1883, although the inscription above the gate house door reads AD 1880, the year George Pullman built this temple of industry to produce palatial wood-and-iron train cars replete with the trims and comforts expected by a bourgeois American passenger. 

Pullman National Monument. Photo by Zachary Clingenpeel.

On Labor Day 2021, as I walked down St. Lawrence, much was the same, and much was gone or altered from this nineteenth-century tableau. The Arcade is no longer, replaced by a squat concrete building that houses the Historic Pullman Visitor Center. Greenstone United Methodist Church and the Hotel Florence still stand impressive as ever, even if under construction. So too, the reconstructed working clock tower. Faithful to its original design and purpose, the clock tower at the National Pullman Monument marks the hours in black Roman numerals over white inlay. Although workers may no longer be setting their watches in accordance with the company clock face, tourists can check it to make sure it is still between nine in the morning and five in the evening when the Monument Visiting Center is open. The weathervane at the pinnacle of the clock tower is topped by a copper eagle that glints resplendently in the sun.

The original clock tower overlooked Lake Vista, no more, now a grassy dell. From up in the sky, it must have witnessed the numerous strikes and walkouts of the 1880s and the churning out of thousands of Palace train cars with wooden walls inlaid with marquetry and seats of plush red velvet through the decades up until the Pullman Company’s closure in the 1960s. The original clock tower met its end too in 1998 when an arsonist set it on fire. At the thought of its revitalization as a striking emblem of the National Monument, I paused to think of the men and women who spent their lives beneath as industrial laborers or piece workers, and the struggles they waged for safe workplaces and a living-wage, the same kinds of demands being fought for by a nascent twenty-first century labor movement. (Max Blaisdell)

Pullman National Monument, 610 E. 111th St. Open daily 9am-5pm. (773) 264-7431. nps.gov/pull.

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Best African American Labor History Museum

Pullman Porter Museum

On Labor Day afternoon just off S. 104th and Corliss Avenue, the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum had the neighborhood swinging to the soulful tunes of Meagan McNeal and the percussive genius of Jeremiah Collier and the REUP. Barbecue smoke lofted between the viewers dancing on the hot asphalt and the players up on stage. A bar served cocktails in the main lot, easels and paints were out front on the grass, and organizers set up stalls on the back porch championing the fight for fifteen dollars an hour for restaurant workers. The bleachers were mostly empty due to the blazing sun, but a dozen people sat coolly on a wooden platform shaded by the museum itself, watching all that went on around, below, and across from them.

David A. Peterson, Jr., president and executive director of the Pullman Porter Museum, dressed in a fine red suit, got on stage between sets to deliver a stirring address commemorating the role of Pullman Porters in United States labor history as members of the first Black union recognized by the American Federation of Labor and eulogizing A. Philip Randolph for his role as leader of their union—the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Founded in 1995, the museum operates on a non-profit basis, and—other than today—is currently open by appointment only. It also acts as an event space and hosts a media arts program that teaches students to create podcasts that voice their desires for change.

From a brief stint playing football with students from A. Philip Randolph High School in New York City, I knew his name but otherwise the history and significance in the Civil Rights Movement was sadly unfamiliar to me. The top floor of the three-story museum hosts an educational film. The second displays quotes from Randolph’s speech “The Call to Negro America to March on Washington” and posters for the planned 1941 march, which pressured President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to end racial discrimination in federal hiring practices and the awarding of federal contracts through Executive Order 8802. The first floor provides a tidy overview of the Porters’ history, from their recruitment by railroad companies that had formerly bought and sold people as slaves to lay tracks, to the dignity they maintained in the face of difficult working conditions, and also their importance to Black communities stretching from train stops in the Deep South all the way north to the Bronzeville neighborhood many of them called home. If this is news to you as it was for me then the Pullman Porters Museum is well worth a visit to delve into this underappreciated chapter of South Side Chicago’s industrial past. (Max Blaisdell)

Pullman Porter Museum, 10406 S. Maryland Ave. Open by appointment only. aprpullmanportermuseum.org.

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Best Restorative Justice Experiment through Urban Community Gardening

Cooperation Operation

When walking down 114th Street, it’s not immediately apparent that one of Pullman’s gems resides on the corner of 114th Street and Langley Avenue. What was once known to long-time Pullman residents as a fenced-off hazardous waste site is now full of tall, native, and misplaced plants, obscuring the view along the chain-link fence. Beyond the gates, there lies a community-led initiative that has been making great strides to place collective care and power back in the hands of both the land itself and the residents of Pullman.

Cooperation Operation (Coop Op) is an urban community garden that is actively working towards a site for Pullman residents to have access to healthy, sustainable food in what is otherwise a place experiencing food apartheid. Previously a Sherwin-Williams paint waste processing facility, the site was deemed a superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA took measures to remediate the highly polluted and damaged soil, and Coop Op took on their own initiative to further heal the soil by incorporating a mycelium network to break down pollutants and prevent further toxins from being released into the air. Not only does Coop Op aim to heal the land of toxins, but also works to practice healing with anyone who steps foot on the farm. 

The mission of Coop Op is to teach individuals through a cooperative and communal lens how to create autonomous green spaces in their community with practices centered on environmental literacy, sustainability, regeneration, remediation, and decolonization. Founded in 2012, Coop Op has historically been a space where the Pullman community could harvest food and participate in community events and education. There have been many iterations of Coop Op as collective members have changed over the years. Currently, collective members have been working on restructuring systems centered in reimaging and rebuilding the farm with restorative and sustainable operations in mind. The land was cleared of the rotting materials and abandoned structures, remnants from its previous function as a dumping site, and has been replaced by massive beds and a hoop house designed to grow as much food and medicine as possible for local distribution. Throughout the farm, every structure serves as an intentional memorial dedicated to friends and community members who have passed. Even in their organizational structure, Coop Op is a horizontal structure where no one member has more power than the other in an effort to decenter colonization. 

Coop Op’s future plans and ideas include a dog park, a skate park, a nature play space, and areas where community members can easily access nature while learning how to grow their own food and strive towards food sovereignty. Coop Op hopes to be a model that inspires creative possibilities around what can happen when a community works to take back their space. (Sal Valli)

Cooperation Operation, 657 E. 114th St. facebook.com/CooperationOperation

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Best Place to Get Your Shot

Roseland Community Hospital

The world has been scary for a freelancer. While I was a teaching artist and journalist, I was merely a contractor as both, and wasn’t too sure if I’d be able to use either occupation to qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine in the early-priority waves this spring. But through a friend of a friend, I was able to get validated for a vaccine at Roseland Community Hospital. I’m not too sure what I was expecting, but when I got there, two things shocked me: there was plenty of free parking, and all of the hospital staff were in good spirits.

From the desk attendant I met when I walked in at the wrong entrance, to the people who were patient with everyone who forgot to fill out every line on the paperwork, to the nurses who walked us to the waiting room to get our shots, I felt so much more comfortable than I did in the days leading up to thinking about what getting a shot would mean for me and my loved ones. I’d only really seen dreadful news about getting the shot, but the jokes and jargon amongst the crowd made the slight pinch such an afterthought. My heart goes out to all health workers this past year, but I have a huge amount of love for the staff at Roseland Community Hospital, who were vaccinating people by the hundreds every day in the early times of vaccine rollout. (Davon Clark)

Roseland Community Hospital, 45 W. 111th St. Open daily, 24/7. (773) 995-3000. roselandhospitaltalks.org

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Best Place to Watch the Sunset

Kensington/115th St. Metra Station

According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, Roseland is named as such because the neighborhood was once filled with beautiful flowers. I grew up in Beverly Woods, close enough to Beverly to have white neighbors, but still hood adjacent. I frequented Roseland especially in high school because my friends lived there, and it was about a seven-minute drive or one quick bus ride away. 

I don’t know if I remember flowers with petals, but I remember flowers. Parks with old-heads sharing a drink, chatting with me as I walk my dog; screaming my friend’s stepdad’s name from the sidewalk because I got locked out; borrowing change from the guys at the gas station because I was a dollar short; giving my extra bottle of water to whoever was at the bus stop with me; those are the flowers I can recall, flowers that bloom and wither and bloom again. Flowers that made me feel safe and loved in a place some people only see for its thorns.

I really understood how beautiful Roseland is when I took the Metra back to a friend’s house from the Auto Show at McCormick Place one night. I’d rarely taken the Metra, nor had I ever stopped at Kensington on 1165th Street. The train platform is high up and suspended above the edge of the neighborhood. I’d never seen Roseland from that angle before. 

As I stood facing west, I imagined the sunset blooming across the horizon like a bouquet of marigolds resting against the blue canvas and clouds, spreading yellows and oranges and reds between branches and onto the tops of apartment buildings. Trees create a border between the open Metra parking lot and the rest of what seems like the world, and it felt like where I was standing was the highest point in the entire neighborhood. It probably was.

 Something about watching the sun dropping into the neighborhood like yolk into a mixing bowl makes me feel warmth. I’ve watched the sun set from so many places; my current apartment has huge windows that face directly west, and I catch golden hour every day, and yet nothing compares to watching it happen from that Metra station platform.

 I want whoever’s reading this to know that the sunsets are beautiful in Roseland, too. They are quiet, and hospitable. They invite the working class folks who live there to return to their homes and rest. They give the moms rushing out the house to their night shifts a golden lining to keep them company on their commute. They tell me what direction I’m traveling in as I ride the #119 bus to the Red Line station or back. Sunsets in Roseland are indeed flowers, ushering themselves out of the dirt day after day without fail, giving its residents something to see that is just as beautiful and just as resilient as them. (Chima Ikoro)

Kensington/115th St. stop on the Metra Electric Line.

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