By Matt Yurus
President Barack Obama heads home Thursday to designate America’s next national monument: Chicago’s historic Pullman Park, a site that was home to unprecedented advances in industrialization and impacted African-American and labor history.
In 1879, George Pullman, the man who gave America the luxurious Pullman railcar, built his factory and America’s first “company town” on the Far South Side of Chicago.
It was here that he employed freed blacks to work as porters on his rail line, battled workers involved in the Pullman Strike of 1894, and ultimately provided upward economic and social mobility for many Chicagoans.
“This is going to be a great opportunity, economic development for the whole area around Pullman,” said 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti, whose father once worked in Pullman’s factory.
Fioretti was the president of the Pullman Foundation when a fire destroyed the clock tower and several nearby buildings in 1998.
In 1999, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Pullman Historic District on the list of “America’s Most Endangered Historic Places,” to raise awareness about the threats facing America’s historic sites.
Fioretti said the district was a “focal point for history, urban planning and civil rights.” It represented the struggle of workingmen of all colors and provided an innovative model for community organization, he said.
The Chicago Tribune reported that the monument’s borders would be marked by 103rd Street to the north, 115th Street to the south, Cottage Grove Avenue to the west and the expressway to the east.
The federal government, the National Park Service and the State of Illinois will manage the 300-acre historical site. How those responsibilities are shared is going to have to be worked out, Fioretti said.
“We will have to see exactly what the president says,” said Chris Wills, the communications director for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
Wills expects “more and more” people to come to the park after tomorrow’s announcement though.
The president is using his power under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate the district as a national monument. It will be the 14th time he has exercised this authority.
Obama’s decision to designate Pullman Park as a national monument has received bipartisan support. Illinois senators, Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Mark Kirk, lauded the decision. Local politicians also support the move.
“It has been a long push and everybody is very excited,” said Seth Berliner, the public relations secretary for Alderman Anthony Beale’s 9th Ward office. “And I think you will see a good turnout of community residents.”