PULLMAN — Community members and visitors celebrated the Pullman National Monument’s grand opening over the weekend, six years after former President Barack Obama proclaimed the neighborhood and its namesake rail car factory a monument.
Former Pullman employees, artists, historians, rail experts and more were on hand Friday for a media day hosted by the National Park Service and numerous state and local officials.
The historic site’s visitor center, in the 141-year-old Pullman Car Company clock tower building, officially opened to the public Saturday. Concerts, open houses, walking tours and other events were held throughout Labor Day weekend.
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Gov. JB Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other officials held a ribbon cutting ceremony Monday.
The weekend of celebration is the “wonderful” result of decades of community organizing, said Ray Quiroz, 83, who was born near 112th Street and Langley Avenue and worked for Pullman starting in the late ’50s.
Quiroz had an opportunity to contribute to his brother Alfonso’s collection of Pullman memorabilia: a collection of train car parts, building blueprints, doorknobs and more, part of which was on display this weekend.
While working in the joiners department, Quiroz’s supervisor told him to dispose of an entire floor’s worth of junk. He discovered 15 large crates, filled with glass photo negatives of train cars, the factory grounds and neighborhood homes — but he ultimately obeyed orders and scrapped the negatives.
“If it had been [Alfonso,] he would’ve saved them,” Quiroz said. “There were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of plates. When I threw them off the second floor to the dumpster that was down below, I can hear the glass break.”
Artist Mitch Markovitz, a Bowen High School graduate who painted the monument’s official poster, also has deep ties to the railroad industry.
HIs father did commercial illustration work for the Illinois Central railroad, while Markovitz worked on trains on the Milwaukee Road and Chicago and North Western railways. He also worked for the South Shore commuter rail line as an engineer and as the art and advertising director.
Markovitz experiences synesthesia, meaning multiple senses can be triggered at once — he interprets the colors in his Pullman poster painting as noise, for example.
“In creating successful imagery, I’ve learned to put cool colors next to warm colors, and colors against their opposite,” Markovitz said. “The best color to put against orange is its exact opposite, which is blue. That creates a visual vibration; that vibration creates noise.”
Pullman’s rehabbed clock tower and massive, fire-damaged factory buildings may be the first stop for visitors to the monument. But the surrounding neighborhood is also worth exploring in depth, Chicago historian Shermann “Dilla” Thomas said.
Thomas’ history tours through the Pullman community and neighboring Roseland highlight the Pullman porters, who formed the first Black labor union to successfully negotiate an agreement with a major company.
The porters are the focus of the National A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum at 10406 S. Maryland Ave., which shares their “grossly under-discovered and under-told” stories, Thomas said.
Other lesser-known histories include those of the palatial homes in neighboring Roseland, some of which were built for Pullman supervisors looking to escape the alcohol-free company grounds and other rules implemented by founder George Pullman, Thomas said.
“If you could afford it, you would probably live in Roseland so you could do what you want to do in your personal life, and just come to Pullman and work,” he said.
As the monument officially opens and tourists from across the United States descend on Pullman, Thomas urged officials not to over-police the Far South Siders living near the site or otherwise make them feel unwelcome in their own community.
“If we’re going to have this place be a national monument that we’re inviting people [to] — we want it to be open, we want people to learn — when the press isn’t here, we still need to be inviting,” Thomas said.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast” here: