Chicago’s first National Monument, the Historic Pullman district, opens




Alfonso and Ray Quiroz have lived in Pullman for more than 80 years.

The brothers started working at the Pullman Palace Car Co. factory in 1959. They built and repaired train cars there for nearly 24 years. Then, in 1982, the factory on South Cottage Grove Avenue was shut down.

“I couldn’t wait to get to work, because it was fun for me,” said Ray, 84. “It was fun doing the work. You had respect from your bosses all the way on down. I enjoyed it.”

This weekend, the Quirozs will see their former workplace open to the public as a national monument.

“It’s long overdue for Pullman to be recognized,” said Alfonso, 85. “Finally, people are realizing that the town of Pullman is important.”

In the late 19th century, Pullman was a company town, with workers’ housing built by the company. It later was annexed by Chicago.

Both brothers have a collection of old train car parts, photos and blueprints from the 1880s on display at the monument this weekend.

Brothers Alfonso (left) and Ray Quiroz, who both worked for the Pullman Palace Car Co., are shown with a train car manufactured by the company. They attended a media preview of the Pullman National Monument on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.

Brothers Alfonso (left) and Ray Quiroz, who both worked for the Pullman Palace Car Co., are shown with a train car manufactured by the company. They attended a media preview on Friday of the Pullman National Monument.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Chicago’s only national monument, Pullman’s status was secured in 2015 by former President Barack Obama. More than 200 acres of factory space, residential homes and the famous clock tower are protected under the order.

The boundary of the monument stretches from 103rd Street to 115th Street and from the Norfolk Southern rail line east to Cottage Grove Avenue, said Teri Gage, superintendent for the monument.

The Hotel Florence and A. Philip Randolph Porter Museum are within the monument’s boundaries as well, though neither is run by the National Park Service, Gage added.

For many, Pullman symbolizes American immigration, innovation and social and economic justice.

“America’s stories live in Pullman,” said Joe Szabo, president of the Historic Pullman Foundation. “If you want to understand America’s history, America’s evolution, you learn it through the lens of the stories of Pullman.”

The visitor center at the new Pullman National Monument includes exhibits on the railcar factory and the people who worked on them, including members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The visitor center opens to the public on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.

The visitor center at the new Pullman National Monument includes exhibits on the railcar factory and the people who worked on them, including members of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The visitor center opens to the public on Saturday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

George Pullman, founder of the town, established Chicago as the hub of North American railways — and it remains so today, Szabo said. Pullman’s sleepers and coaches revolutionized rail travel. Grand and comfortable, the sleeping cars featured rollup beds and private bathrooms.

The factory’s manufacturing methods laid the groundwork for Henry Ford’s assembly line. And the first Black union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was organized by A. Philip Randolph and the Pullman porters.

The site opens to the general public this weekend after a media preview on Friday. Activities begin at 10 a.m. Saturday with a car caravan and at 9 a.m. Sunday with a ceremony honoring first responders.

On Monday, special exhibits will take place around the monument, including the Urban Renaissance at the A. Philip Randolph Porter Museum from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.

But perhaps the biggest attraction of the weekend is a set of restored Pullman railcars at the 111th Street Metra Electric Station.

Former Pullman resident Richard Roberts takes pictures of a railroad sleeping car that was manufactured by the Pullman Palace Car Company a day before the grand opening of the Pullman National Monument Visitor Center and Pullman State Historic Site Factory Grounds in the Pullman neighborhood, Friday morning, Sept. 3, 2021. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Former Pullman resident Richard Roberts takes pictures of a railroad sleeping car that was manufactured by the Pullman Palace Car Company.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The three fully operational cars, on loan through the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, were pulled in by Metra. Each features period-appropriate décor.

One, the NYC 3 from Albany, New York, is owned by John Pearson. He said the cars are a symbol of American work and durability, and he was glad to loan the car to the weekend festivities.

“These cars (contributed) to the growth of railroads and America,” said Pearson, 76. “They brought the country together. They represent the best of America, train-wise.”

The cars will be in place until Monday afternoon. But Szabo and the Historic Pullman Foundation hope to create annual Pullman railcar events.

Renovation work continues on the Hotel Florence, part of the Pullman National Monument.

Renovation work continues on the Hotel Florence, part of the Pullman National Monument.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Tours — both guided and self-guided — are free. Railcar tours also are free, but tickets are required and can be obtained at the visitor center.

Even after this weekend’s grand opening, improvements to the monument continue. The Hotel Florence and the hotel’s annex are being renovated.

Construction on factory grounds, shops and Robert Todd Lincoln’s private Pullman car will also begin within the next few years.

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

The Hotel Florence housed railroad CEOs who were in town to do business with the Pullman Palace Car Company.

The Hotel Florence housed railroad CEOs who were in town to do business with the Pullman Palace Car Company.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times







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