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Pullman Porters Again Bring Crowds to Factory Town

By Howard Ludwig | October 8, 2013 6:34am
 The 40th annual Historic Pullman House Tour welcomes visitors Friday and Saturday.
Historic Pullman House Tour
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PULLMAN — Pullman Porters are again expected to bring visitors to Chicago's South Side.

Organizers of the 40th annual Historic Pullman House Tour have been marketing their event to attendees of the popular play "Pullman Porter Blues" at the Goodman Theatre.

The playbill advertising and overall buzz created by the live performance are expected to set the stage for a big weekend in the factory town built in 1880 to house workers of the Pullman Palace Car Co.

Seven homes throughout the historic district will be open for tours from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tours begin at the Historic Pullman Visitors Center, 11141 S. Cottage Grove Ave. Tickets are $17 in advance and $20 at the door.

"The house tour is the best way to showcase the neighborhood," said Cynthia Martin-McMahon, vice president of the Historic Pullman Foundation.

About 900 people generally attend the house tour, though weather plays an important role in attendance, Martin-McMahon said.

There's a wide variety of houses on the tour this year, including a three-story executive row house built in 1881. The six-bedroom house was originally built for well-paid plant managers. It underwent an extensive renovation in 2010. It now features granite countertops and a large bathroom.

On the other end of the spectrum is the skilled workers cottage at 11312 Langley Ave. This 1884 home was made for lower-paid laborers and was in disrepair until the early 1990s. A steady renovation transformed the once-downtrodden row house with a dirt floor into a home featuring a modern kitchen and a backyard koi pond.

The proceeds from the house tour are reinvested into the neighborhood. Pullman homeowners can apply for matching grants to bring the facades of their homes back to their original glory. A portion of the ticket sales is also used for large-scale renovations in community areas, said Michael Shymanski, president of the foundation.

"One of the very early projects funded by the house tour was the restoration of the rose window at the Greenstone Church," said Shymanski, referencing Pullman's signature church made of green limestone.

Besides the Pullman Porter play, continued discussions about making Pullman into a national park have also shined a spotlight on the historic neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the Method Co. is building a 150,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Pullman. The San Francisco-based soap maker sells its products at Target and Lowe's. Its new plant is blocks away from where Pullman workers once made luxurious railcars.

And Wal-Mart opened a Supercenter nearby last month. Pullman is a symbol of the American union movement, and while some residents were skeptical of the non-union retailer, the new Wal-Mart stands as an oasis in what was once a food desert, Shymanski said.

"It's a great time to be introduced to a historic district," he said.