By Arthur Pearson
Pullman, a National Historic Landmark district in Chicago, was the brainchild of railcar magnate George Pullman. Built between 1880 and 1894, it was the first planned model industrial community in the United States. Pullman is rare if not unique among Chicago landmark districts in that all of its contributing structures were designed by a single architect: Solon Spencer Beman. It is notable, too, for being the largest Chicago landmark district. Its several industrial buildings and more than 900 units of original housing represent about 10 percent of all Chicago landmark structures.
Widely celebrated for its significance in urban planning, transportation history and labor history, Pullman became a state landmark in 1969, a National Historic Landmark in 1971 and a Chicago landmark in 1972. In 2014, legislation was introduced to designate Pullman as a National Historical Park, and the National Trust included Pullman Historic District in its portfolio of National Treasures.
Pullman has a variety of housing styles and building types, but until recently the absence of a comprehensive, detailed survey of facade types and their myriad facade elements proved a barrier to accurate restoration efforts for many of these buildings.
To fill this information gap, the Beman Committee of the Pullman Civic Organization launched an effort to document the facades all of the residential units in South Pullman. The all-volunteer Beman Committee—composed of architects, historians, skilled craftsmen and other passionate local residents—works to protect, preserve and promote the integrity of the Pullman National Historic Landmark District in accordance with the guidelines established by the Secretary of the Interior and the Historic Preservation Division of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.
Several years ago, the Beman Committee began with a visual survey of the homes in South Pullman with the twin goals of identifying the different facade types and cataloguing all of the remaining original windows, doors and porches. Following completion of the survey, the Committee mined the known repositories for Pullman archival information. The combined holdings of the Newberry Library, the Ryerson and Burnham Library at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Pullman State Historic Site afforded an invaluable trove of photographs, maps and drawings.
Between the field survey and the archival research, the Committee was able to discern distinct (with some understandable exceptions) patterns in the design and layout of the town, which proved critical in ascertaining the distribution of facades and facade elements:
- Each block in Pullman is laid out with its own symmetry of facade types, although the arrangement of facade types differs significantly from block to block.
- Each occurrence of each facade type shares the same window, door and porch styles, regardless of where it is located; be it on the same side of the same block, opposite sides of the same block, or on different blocks entirely.
- All residences on the same side of the same block—irrespective of the facade type—share the same facade elements.
Once the survey, research and analysis were complied into a Final Report, the results were astonishing, even for committee members who had lived in the community for many years:
- District Integrity: Originally, there were 616 residential units in South Pullman. Since the Pullman Palace Car Company was compelled by court order to sell its residential holdings in 1907, 99 percent of the residences remain standing.
- Architectural Diversity: The 611 historic residences remaining in South Pullman exhibit 102 different facade types, 23 different window styles, 27 different door styles, and 18 different porch styles.
- Loss of Original Facade Elements: Only 32 percent of the 611 historic residences in South Pullman retain at least one original window, door or porch element. However, 77 percent of the facade types retain at least one original facade element.
Since the goal of the Facade Legacy Project is to encourage owners to restore their historic row houses to their original condition, the Committee hired an architect to compile elevations of each historic facade type, along with each style of window, door and porch. Funding for this effort was provided by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Completed in 2013, these drawings have been uploaded to a searchable database on the website of the Pullman State Historic Site. There, they are readily available to homeowners, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks (which issues permits for restoration projects in all city landmark districts), researchers, and anyone with an interest in Pullman or architectural history.
Pullman homeowners, for instance, with an interest in swapping out vinyl picture windows for historically accurate replication windows, can type in their address to the searchable database and print out a drawing of the window style that was original to their home. All such drawings, of course, come with the disclaimer that they are intended exclusively as a guide in preparation of fabrication drawings. Verification of all existing site conditions, dimensions and applicable codes are the responsibility of the fabricator, installer or owner.
If homeowners need a list of fabricators, they may consult the Committee’s online Homeowner Guide. Homeowners may also apply to the Committee’s Facade Reimbursement Program, which offers grants for facade restoration work of up to $1,000 that must be matched at least dollar for dollar by the homeowners.
The Beman Committee has received several awards for its efforts, including a 2008 Preservation Excellence Award from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, a 2009 Landmarks Illinois/Richard H. Driehaus Preservation Award and, most recently, a 2014 John Baird Award for Stewardship in Historic Preservation from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.
Initially, the Committee estimated that it would take a year or two to complete the Facade Legacy Project. It ended up taking six years. Looking back, it may have been more expeditious to have hired a professional firm. However, there were several advantages to a mostly volunteer approach. Because the project revealed itself to be far larger and more complex than initially anticipated, the absence of time- and cost-restrictions allowed the committee to undertake the considerable amount of additional research and analysis that was needed. Moreover, undertaking such a project internally, rather than outsourcing it, exponentially increased committee members’ working knowledge of Pullman’s architecture, which has laid the groundwork for the next project: using the same methodology to document the facade types and facade elements for the 300 units of historic housing in the north residential section of the landmark district.
Arthur Pearson’s family ties to Pullman date back to 1888, when his grandfather emigrated from Sweden to live and work in Pullman. A resident of Pullman for nearly 20 years, he has restored two historic rowhouses and been involved in numerous community activities. For several years, he served as chair of the Beman Committee and currently heads up PullmanArts, which—in partnership with Artspace, Inc. and Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives—seeks to repurpose an historic structure as a 45-unit artist live/work space.