Should a state historic district that protects the birthplace of the Pullman sleeping car that once was a hallmark of rail travel be added to the National Park System? A congressional subcommittee is considering that possibility.
The state of Illinois already operates the Pullman State Historic Site not far from downtown Chicago. The site is where George Pullman brought to reality his belief that long-distance rail travel didn't need to be uncomfortable. The facilities that rose up to build his Pullman sleeper cars today "showcase 19th and 20th Century industrial society," the historic site's website says.
The signature Clock Tower Administration Building and Assembly Shops and the grand four story Hotel Florence give tangible evidence to the national and international influences of Pullman -- on transportation, industrial design, architecture, labor, urban and town planning and landscape design -- in the contemporary context of America's post-industrial economy, where much of the evidence of the industrial age has already disappeared.
For more than 10 years the thought of adding the site to the National Park System, possibly as a national historical park, has been discussed. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, "Pullman’s national significance was recognized in the National Park Service 1998 Calumet Ecological Park Feasibility Study report: The cultural resources included in the study are considered significant in that they represent the full scope of the workers’ lives, ranging from plants where they worked, to company housing, labor sites, and large scale commercial districts. …the fact that these resources and sites are still relatively intact within surrounding urban environment is a factor that is not represented in other NPS units related to industry…The NPS concluded that the cultural resources are significant under its criteria. Therefore, the study area is suitable for inclusion to the NPS."
Last Friday the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands took testimony on a proposal to bring the site into the park system. In supporting the proposal, Lynn McClure, NPCA's Midwest regional director, not only noted the architectural and cultural significance of the site and its value to the park system, but also the economic benefits it could bring to the Windy City.
"For Chicago, the potential economic benefits of a national park within the city’s borders are undeniable based on other similar sites. Urban national parks established in historic places, such as Lowell National Historical Park, lead to renovation of buildings both on and adjacent to the park, and spur small business development to meet the increased desire to live in an urban national park as well as the new tourism growth that results from establishing the park," she said in prepared comments delivered to the committee. "At San Antonio Missions every federal dollar invested in the park leverages $20 in local economic activity. Chicago is already a world center for tourism, but the eventual establishment of Pullman as a national park on the city’s south side could boost much-needed growth in that region."
The subcommittee did not act on the measure Friday, but simply set it aside for possible markup.
Away from the hearing, Ms. McClure said the site should be added to the park system in part because its current "national landmark status does protect Pullman from direct development impacts," and that designating it as part of the park system would raise its profile among the public. There also are valuable stories to be told from the time period when the plant was in operation, such as the organization of the first African-American labor union," and the development of the country's first planned community, she said.