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President Obama Declares Pullman A National Monument

By Chuck Sudo in News on Feb 10, 2015 6:30PM

Image Credit: Joe Balynas

President Obama is set to declare the Pullman Historic District on the Far South Side a national monument, a move that has been years in the making and has the support of local politicians, historians and preservationists.

Obama will formally make the designation next Thursday in Chicago, according to sources briefed on the decision. The president is implementing a nationwide effort to recognize America’s diversity through its public lands. Pullman, a planned community founded in 1880 by rail car magnate George Pullman for his factory workers to live, was also home to the first African American labor union, The Brotherhood of Pullman Porters.

The monument’s boundaries will be 103rd Street on the north, 115th Street on the south, Cottage Grove Avenue on the west and the Norfolk & Western rail line on the east. Ninety percent of Pullman’s original buildings, including the original factory, Hotel Florence, Greenstone Church, row houses and the Administration Building (with its iconic clock tower) fall within that area, which will be maintained by the National Park Service similar to how it manages the Washington Monument and Statue of Liberty.

The federal government will own and operate the Administration Building while the State of Illinois will own and operate the Hotel Florence. Pullman is already on the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated city landmark. Former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. began the campaign to designate Pullman a national monument three years ago, which is seen as a boost for local tourism. Kayce Ataiyero, spokeswoman for Jackson’s successor Robin Kelly, applauded the announcement.

The move is not only a boon for the district, "it's also a boon for the state, because it will boost tourism. It will draw more people to Illinois and Pullman to learn about the community's role in our nation's history," Ataiyero said.

Mayoral candidate, Ald. Bob Fioretti, who serves on the board of the Historic Pullman Foundation, released a statement that noted his father worked in the neighborhood as an Italian immigrant and called the announcement politically motivated to give Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s candidacy a boost with days to go before the Feb. 24 election.

As a current board member of the Historic Pullman Foundation, it is surprising to see the news today. It is even more surprising that President Obama is coming days before the mayoral election to make this announcement. Hopefully the Mayor and the President will both highlight and credit the five decade grassroots effort that led to this, because right now it just looks like politics.