Are artists the answer to Pullman's woes?

June 10, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

One of the more overlooked preservation stories this year has been the alarm sounded by Landmarks Illinois a few months back.

The statewide preservation group named the entire 10400 and 10500 blocks of Corliss and Maryland avenues to its "most endangered list." The citation is significant and alarming because the blocks compose the northeast portion of the local and nationally-landmarked Pullman Historic District--an almost completely intact former company town‚  that was built in the 1880s to house workers of the long-shuttered Pullman Palace Car factory. There are 87 properties on Corliss and Maryland;‚  25 percent of them are in foreclosure, according to Landmarks Illinois. The vacant former apartment block above is one of several stately buildings on the 10400-block of Maryland.

Meanwhile the former Pullman factory's administration building at 111th and Cottage Grove has been rebuilt after nearly being lost to a fire a decade ago. The state has owned the building for 20 years--longer than George Pullman himself did---and still has no idea what to do with the site.

In 2008, I said the factory site should become the Barack Obama Presidential Library. But today, I want to get those troubled north Pullman homes and that factory into the hands of artists. The homes should be live/work spaces for artists; the old factory--a beautiful shell with open space inside---should be a place for major art installations and smaller shows. The city has done a good job creating artists housing. The next step? An artists' neighborhood, 20 minutes to downtown via Metra commuter trains, where painters, sculptors, photographers, dancers, musicians, actors, etc., could live, work and exhibit their work affordably.

Let's take a quick walk around north Pullman. We begin with one of its more handsome streets on the 10700 block of Champlain:


(photo by Lee Bey)

The 10500 block of Corliss:


(photo by Lee Bey)

This handsome rehab on the 10400-block of Corliss shows the neighborhood's potential and rivals the homes in better-kept south Pullman. Yet the building's first floor is vacant.


(photo by Lee Bey)

And the empty Pullman factory administration building at 111th and Cottage Grove:


(photo by Lee Bey)

Suburban Oak Park turned around its troubled Harrison Street a few years ago by creating an arts district. The street went from a place some often avoided to a spot where people hang out--and spend money--on warm evenings. There are similar stories in Baltimore, Boston, and New York. Philadelphia's Kensington Area has an architectural vernacular similar to Pullman (and was as down on its heels as the neighborhood's northern sector) has turned to artists' housing with positive results.

Repositioning Pullman's northern end would allow it to be a better mate to its picturesque southern half which runs between 111th and 115th. In south Pullman, there are walking tours, a museum, a garden walk, even a neighborhood newspaper.The former Park Bank Initiatives has much work in north Pullman acquiring and repairing buildings and getting them into the hands of new owners--work that is expected to continue under the new Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives. But there is room enough for many players and approaches. One of them should be bringing in the artists.

Categories