PULLMAN — Back in August, I took to Twitter to guilt Mayor Rahm Emanuel into attending the big community meeting rallying support for bringing a national park to Pullman.
Emanuel promised to talk to President Barack Obama about securing a national designation for my long-struggling South Side historic neighborhood. And he did.
But a chat with his pal, Barack, wasn’t going to be enough to elevate the Pullman neighborhood to national treasure status. Like everything else in government and politics, Pullman’s place in the national parks system depended on the backing of big money donors.
And that’s just what Emanuel — arguably the most accomplished fundraiser Chicago politics has ever known — did to get the president’s support for making Pullman a national monument.
“It had to be done to seal the deal. He made it a priority, and he was influential in bringing people together to donate,” a source involved in the national monument push told DNAinfo Chicago.
So far, the Emanuel-led fundraising push has rounded up nearly $8 million in donations to the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national park system, from a collection of Chicago philanthropists to give a financial boost to the Pullman National Monument.
The trust fund will be used convert the dirt-floored Pullman Administration Building's clock tower into a national park visitor center, create exhibits and develop educational programs aimed to engage school kids and inform tourists about the important role George Pullman’s factory town — and all the historic events that occurred there — played in transforming American labor and civil rights history.
"It's rare to see the passion that I saw in the eyes of community activists and leaders who have fought for this designation. When I heard this funding was the final missing piece, I promised the secretary that we would come through,” Emanuel told DNAinfo Chicago. “And because of the hard work of a lot of partners, we did. It's a great day for Pullman, and it's a great day for the city."
Over the last several decades, many of my neighbors led the spirited push to keep Pullman’s historic legacy alive, but what our neighborhood has always needed — and never had — is the support of the Chicago elite. The ones who helped turn an ugly Downtown railroad yard into Millennium Park, a world-class tourist attraction.
And finally, that’s what we got from a collection of wealthy folks and philanthropic organizations who decided a decaying factory town in a forgotten part of town was worthy of their charity.
The first-ever national monument in Chicago got a boost from a “lead gift” from Bryan Traubert of the Pritzker Traubert Foundation and big donations from National Park Foundation Board member Brien O’Brien and his wife Mary Hasten of Chicago; the Union Pacific Foundation; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the Robert R. McCormick Foundation; the David Hiller Charitable Fund; and National Park Foundation Board Vice Chairwoman Ellen Alberding and her husband Kelly Welsh.
National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said, "With the support they have pledged, we can move ahead with our vision of a park that shares important civil rights, industrial development and labor relations stories with visitors from around the world.”
But for my neighbors and me, this perfect storm of American history, community perseverance and a huge pile of cash that earned Pullman national monument status gives us something much more important.
It has afforded us a chance to move ahead with our vision of a living in a more perfect neighborhood — an ever-evolving place where visitors from around the world can get a good look at the amazing things that can happen when a community fights for a better future by preserving its past.
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