SAVE THE FOUNDATION OF TENEMENT "B"

The “historic resources” of the recently established Pullman National Monument are protected by a suite of federal laws including Proclamation 9233, the Antiquities Act of 1906, the National Park Service (NPS) Organic Act of 1916, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act; as well as, NPS Policy-level regulations including NPS Management Policies 2006, Director’s Order 28: “Cultural Resource Management,” and The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation.

As far as we have determined, actions by agents of the National Park Service (NPS) have violated these aforementioned laws by making it possible for a private developer to construct on lands reserved by the federal government as part of the Pullman National Monument a structure that, by all applicable law and NPS regulations, is clearly forbidden and that would impair the “historic designed landscape” of the model town of Pullman and destroy significant archaeological resources of the monument, specifically the foundation of Tenement “B” and its related artifacts.

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Tenements "A," "B," and "C" from Koopman's City of Brick (1894)

What is Tenement "B"?

Tenements “A,” “B,” and “C” originally constituted a unified architectural complex, which is the only one of its kind that even partially survives. These three buildings were tied together by their complementary architectural features and spatially related across the 22 foot deep forecourts both front and back between them.

Tenement “B” may no longer be standing, but its limestone foundation measuring 154' x 33' survives intact on site along with archaeological artifacts from its demolition in 1938. The tenement's historical associations and architectural design are well-documented and make it an attractive candidate for reconstruction. Federal law and National Park Service regulations would allow  a reconstruction of Tenement "B" upon its original foundation. We would support a project of this type.

Composite elevation drawing of Tenements "A," "B," and "C" made from Beman's original architectural drawings for the model town.

What Has Been Proposed?

A developer stands ready to bulldoze the archaeological remains of Tenement “B,” to make way for a contemporary "infill" apartment building. In a devil’s bargain, the developer has promised to rehabilitate two existing historic Pullman tenement block houses if they are allowed to interject a massive building on the so-called “vacant lot” (it is really a site containing archaeological resources of the monument) where Tenement “B” once stood.

Aside from destroying protected "historic resources" of the nascent Pullman National Monument, the proposed structure is over twice as large as Tenement "B" (34,000 sq. ft. versus 15,000 sq. ft.). In addition, it would eliminate the historic setback (see map right) of the east side of South Langley Avenue that still exists between 113th and 114th Streets (the "Grand Villa" housing block) and that is integral to Nathan F. Barrett's and S.S. Beman's original plan for the model town.

Nothing about this project requires it to be located on this particular site or justifies its destruction of protected historic resources of the monument. Artspace Projects, Inc.'s own best practices document states that "In most cases, artist housing works best in a mixed-use building with ground floor spaces leased to creative enterprises, such as galleries, art supply stores, arts-oriented nonprofits, coffee shops, education and classroom spaces, and maker spaces." This landlocked location on a historic residential street allows no ground floor commercial space and offers limited parking even for its residents, let alone visitors and the public.

A number of Pullman residents were outspoken about the risk this project poses to the monument and presented a range of alternative proposals that were all rejected by the developer. Many other sites--some completely vacant with no historical connection to Pullman's period of significance, exist within and without the national monument boundary--but the developer has sought "aggressive approval" of this project heedless of its long-term impact on the integrity of Pullman's "historic designed landscape."

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Silhouette above is a scale overlay of proposed apartment building in comparison with the original footprint of Tenement "B." 

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View of Tenements "A," "B," and "C" looking east from the Arcade building. 

Why Reconstructing Tenement "B" Could Be a Win-Win

Reconstructing Tenement “B” would preserve the authenticity, integrity, and beauty of Pullman’s “historic designed landscape.” The National Park Service (“NPS”) is required to preserve the resources entrusted to its care "unimpaired." In the words of Stephanie Toothman, Associate Director of Cultural Resources of the NPS, "National parks are all about authenticity, or preserving and protecting the real things in their original context." While interjecting contemporary “blended” infill between historic properties may be commonplace throughout Chicago and elsewhere, national monuments are to be managed by other standards. Over the past century, laws and regulations have been developed to guide the NPS on how to care for special places like Pullman, which they describe as “cultural landscapes.”

When park resources are “archaeological” in nature and are part of a "cultural landscape" like this site is, three treatment options are available:

(1) The archaeological remains of Tenement "B" can be managed "in situ" (preserved in place undisturbed).

(2) The remains can be partially excavated them for viewing by the public, thus providing for their "use and enjoyment."

(3) Tenement “B” can be reconstructed upon its original foundation in accordance with the Reconstruction Standard  of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. These state that reconstruction is only permissible when the precise appearance of a vanished structure is known. Since not only is the precise appearance of Tenement "B"  known through historic photographs and architectural drawings but the surviving Tenements "A" and "C" are each nearly identical to half of what was Tenement "B", a precise reconstruction which would meet all applicable  requirements of the Secretary's Standards can easily be accomplished.

Reconstruction is defined as the act or process of depicting, by means of new construction, the form, features, and detailing of a non-surviving site, landscape, building, structure, or object for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific period of time and in its historic location.

Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties

Determining which of these three allowable “treatments” should be pursued is supposed to be part of the overall "park system planning” process to be completed by the NPS and articulated in part as a "general management plan" created with public involvement.

Reconstructing Tenement “B” could restore an important chapter of the town's history, namely the story of some of Pullman's poorest, and primarily immigrant, workers. Visitors to Pullman generally leave with the impression that workers of Pullman’s Palace Car Company lived mostly in tidy row houses or spectacular executive homes. The story of the hundreds of individuals and families who lived in the comparatively dense block houses is mostly forgotten today. These two and four room tenement apartment had no bathroom or sink. To bathe, residents had to fill tin tubs with water collected from a hallway bathroom shared with four other apartments. A reconstruction of these three tenements, and incorporation of a tenement museum as part of this development would add an important layer to the Pullman story. In addition, these buildings have well-known historical association with the Strike of 1894, a piece of the labor history to be commemorated by the monument.

Reconstructing Tenement “B” would continue the reconstruction precedent that has been part of Pullman’s history almost since its inception. Pullman’s original Market Hall, built in 1881-82, housed produce stalls as well as providing meeting halls upstairs that was soon home of the Pullman militia. This building was destroyed by fire just as Pullman was getting ready to receive visitors from the 1893 World's Fair. A replacement was hastily designed by S.S. Beman and reconstructed upon the foundation of the original. Similarly, when a devastating fire claimed Pullman’s iconic Factory Administration “Clock Tower” building in 1998, over $20 million was invested to reconstruct it. Now owned by the National Park Service, an additional $8 million and perhaps more, will be spent to convert it into a visitor's center.

Aside from reconstruction, millions have also been spent on historic rehabilitation efforts throughout the community. Look no further than efforts to restore the Hotel Florence or the spectacular Thomas Dunbar House. It seems that no expense will be spared to commemorate George Pullman and his executives. However, now, when we have an opportunity to protect and restore the "cultural landscape" where some of Pullman's poorest workers lived, many seem perfectly content to abandon decades of reconstruction and restoration precedent. This seems odd, especially now that Pullman is a national monument. We all have role to play in the legal obligation and the moral duty to preserve the historic resources of Pullman. The toil of these workers should be honored by maintaining the historic authenticity of this site.

Historical Accounts of the Tenements

Pullman's tenement "block houses" were a unique component of Pullman's overall design specifically and of nineteenth century housing patterns generally. Pullman's tenements were of better quality than other tenements of the period located elsewhere in Chicago or in New York City, yet they were not without their problems.

A matter of fact description of the tenements appears in The Town of Pullman: Its Growth with Brief Accounts of Its Industries by Mrs. Duane Doty, the wife of a high ranking Pullman Company executive. Published in 1893, this book was distributed to visitors of the World’s Columbian Exposition who were invited to travel via the Illinois Central railway to visit Pullman’s Model Town. Under the heading of “Convenient Flats,” Mrs. Doty provides a description of the tenements:

There is one style of flats having from two to four rooms each, which rent from six to nine dollars a month. Of these, there are now six buildings, each containing twelve families, one building containing twenty four families, two containing thirty six each, and one containing forty-eight families….By accommodating many families upon a small tract of land, men are able to reduce their living expenses to a minimum, while all have the advantages of living upon improved streets and in close proximity to parks and gardens.

Historically, the east side of South Langley Avenue between 111th and 113th streets was home to Pullman's most popular (due to its low cost) but “most undesirable housing.” In the late 1880s, Rev. Carwardine offered a less rosy picture than that of Mrs. Doty. He described the difficult living conditions of block house dwellers: “On Fulton Street [now South Langley Avenue] are the great tenement blocks, lettered A to J, three stories, where 300-500 persons live under one roof. These blocks are divided into tenements of two rooms, three rooms, and four rooms apiece. These tenements are mostly occupied by foreigners. They are comparatively clean, having air and light; but abundance of water they have not, there being but one faucet for each group of five families, and in some cases the water is in the same apartment [room] devoted to the closets [toilets]. There are no yards except a great barren space in common.”

Additional descriptions of the tenements appear in the “Eighth Special Report of the Commissioner of Labor: Housing of the Working People” (1895) and The Tenements of Chicago: 1908-1935 by Edith Abbott. Abbott’s account provides a thorough description of the ethnic populations living in Pullman. She also describes the “block houses.” She writes, “There are three of these so-called block houses in a block, with the house in the middle of the block usually placed farther back from the street line than the two end houses. These houses have a rather desolate and unsightly appearance with old iron fire escapes in the front, and with the open spaces in front and on the side of the buildings littered with rubbish (160).

Visitors yesterday and today marvel at the beauty of Beman’s architecture. But Pullman’s poorest residents in the 1890s were more concerned with the oppressive cost of George Pullman’s high rents. Those fighting on behalf of the workers argued that beautiful Beman façades worked to obfuscate the injustice of Pullman’s labor practices: “Like the stage, there is something behind the scenes, and that which is behind the scenes does not harmonize with the effect produced before the curtain”

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Illustration of Tenement "B" from Nico Bech-Meyer's "A Story from Pullmantown" (1894). 

The tenements gained historical prominence in the lead-up to and the aftermath of the Strike of 1894. The tenements housed Pullman’s most economically vulnerable residents. As the depression of 1893 set in, these densely populated structures saw the greatest suffering. During the Strike of 1894, workers from the tenements participated in the historic work stoppage. Moreover, the tenements were invoked as a symbol of the oppressive force of George Pullman. A Story from Pullmantown (1894), a pro-labor novel published in the wake of the Pullman Strike, described the tenement buildings as “immense prison-like structures closing over thousands of human lives.”[1]

In late-August 1894, Governor Altgeld of Illinois, who sympathized with the strikers, visited Pullman to witness the living conditions of the workers first hand. Even though the strike had concluded one-month before, its devastating toll was still evident: “You have about 500 families here either starving or on the verge of starvation,” remarked Altgeld to Manager Middleton of the Pullman Palace Car Company.[2] Altgeld visited homes on both sides of Fulton Ave. [South Langley Ave.], including a visit to Tenement “B.” There he met with two families: “Across the street in Block B was a family of six of which the husband had returned to work and the wife reported that they had enough to eat. Next door was found Mrs. John O’Connor, who said her husband had worked six years for the Pullman Palace Car Company, but was now idle.”[3] Altgeld inquired about Mrs. O’Connor’s food situation. She explained that it was “pretty bad” and that she and her three children had been supported by the Relief committee. Her greatest concern was for her infant.

by Mark Cassello

[1] Bech-Meyer, Nico. A Story from Pullmantown. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Co., 1894.

[2] “Hunger is Their Lot: Gov. Altgeld Witnesses the Distress at Pullman.” Chicago Daily Tribune. Aug. 21, 1894.

[3] Ibid.