Three years ago, then-President Barack Obama returned to Chicago amid much fanfare to designate part of the city’s historic Pullman neighborhood as the state’s first national monument.
The proclamation was intended to restore the historic factory grounds of George Pullman’s namesake town, which were devastated by arson. Supporters also hoped to tell of the area’s architectural significance and founding as a model town, the industrial innovation behind Pullman Palace Car Co.’s luxurious sleeping rail cars, the rise of the labor movement and an African-American union’s legacy to the civil rights movement.
Since 2015, Pullman National Monument has moved sluggishly toward these goals. The state-owned grounds are in the midst of an extensive cleanup from decades of industrial waste. The National Park Service’s visitors center, planned for the clock tower building, has been pushed back at least a year. Plans mapping out the monument’s long-term future were supposed to be completed within three years but are only now beginning. State and federal money has been minimal, and progress on some projects has been slowed because of several federal government shutdowns and an unprecedented two-year state budget standoff.
The one project that could move forward, an apartment building for artists, is on hold after federal officials told the developers to seek additional input from the public.
“My wife and I have been here for 50 years, and we’ve seen different cycles and levels of interest from people working in Pullman,” said resident Mike Shymanski. Progress “takes time and takes patience, but once the restoration is done it’ll be around a long time.”
Pullman was expected to draw 300,000 visitors per year by 2025, however, with its current annual attendance at only 50,000, those estimates seem ambitious.
Now, the park is contending with a president who is less supportive of conservation. The Trump administration recently shrunk two Utah national monuments, bringing about at least two legal challenges and legislation to counter the move.
Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois, have joined a group of lawmakers who are co-sponsoring legislation that would reinforce Congress’ role as the determining body on whether national monuments can be reduced or altered.
“An attack on one monument is an attack on them all,” Durbin said in a statement last week. “If President (Donald) Trump can disregard tribal communities’ wishes on Bears Ears in Utah, then he can disregard local Chicagoans’ wishes on Pullman National Monument.”
Those concerns coincide with the dispute over a proposed housing development within the national monument boundary. Minneapolis-based developer Artspace and Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives acquired a parcel of land with a vacant lot and two historic apartment buildings. The developers plan to build a new apartment building on the lot where a former tenement building once stood and rehab the two former apartment buildings, creating 38 units for artists as well as work space. Six units would be reserved for military veterans.
Pullman resident Mark Cassello, a member of the watchdog preservation group Pullman National Monument Preservation Society, said the plans destroy the foundation of the tenement building, a piece of history that needs to be preserved in some way, and the proposed footprint would be larger than the former building, upsetting the symmetry of the area and dwarfing many of the historic buildings — including the stately Hotel Florence, the grand inn where Pullman hosted his guests.
“After the national monument designation, it brought so much attention to Pullman,” Cassello said. “We just think any projects should stick to the federal guideline, otherwise we’ll be destroying the very thing we’re trying to protect.”
At issue is whether federal guidelines apply to land that is controlled by the park service or just to land that is owned by the park service. The agency only owns the quarter-acre where the clock tower sits. But it is in charge of operating everything within the 203-acre monument boundary.
Cassello said Obama’s presidential proclamation suggests blanket protection for historically relevant places and items within the boundary.
Others disagree, including University of Minnesota professor Ingrid Schneider, an expert on national parks, who said the federal government can only control property it owns.
“Given the relatively small (park service) ownership at Pullman, one of the challenges is significant reliance on collaborative partnerships with other public entities as well as the private sector,” Schneider said.
Shymanski, a supporter of the artist lofts, said that rebuilding a historic structure is an unreasonable expectation and that restoring the two neighboring buildings is a coup on its own.
“I think the standards and guidelines are quite reasonable,” said Shymanski, founding member of the Historic…
Authored by Mike Tigas