Tribune: Volunteers help spruce up Pullman neighborhood
|Via The Chicago Neighborhoods|
When railroad baron George Pullman built the Hotel Florence in 1881 in the heart of his company town, he meant for the extravagant Queen Anne style inn to host businessmen and dignitaries.Of course the 9th Ward Alderman jumped on some of this attention:
In addition to hotel rooms, the building featured a dining room, billiard room, barber shop, separate men's and women's parlors, and the only bar. Over the past several decades, most of the four-story, 50-room hotel, named after one of Pullman's daughters, has remained closed during restoration efforts, which include a new slate roof and an elevator.
On Thursday, with the building's doorways still draped in sheets of plastic and much of the ornate ceilings in its rooms still in the process of being torn down, the hotel hosted new guests. Five months after President Barack Obama named a portion of the historic Pullman neighborhood a national monument, volunteer Sam Gutterman and others helped clean up the hotel's main entrance.
"It's getting closer to having people attracted to come here," said Gutterman, 67, who lives on the North Shore, as he washed the first floor windows with a rag. "Because if it's in rundown condition no one's going to want to come here, no one's going to want to learn about the history. If you make things a little more attractive — it doesn't have to be perfect — people will appreciate it."
The hotel was among half a dozen sites in the Pullman neighborhood that were targeted in the first major cleanup of the area by the National Parks Conservation Association.
Several dozen volunteers grabbed ponchos to combat the rain and fanned out across the historic factory district. Among the efforts: A team of volunteers painted the baseboards of Greenstone United Methodist Church; another group weeded around the Historic Pullman Foundation Visitors Center, and a local landscaping company donated mulch and assisted in sprucing up Arcade Park.
Ald. Anthony Beale, 9th, who also was in attendance, still remembers riding his bike past the historic row houses and other architectural gems as a child, thinking "it was like driving through another world." Witnessing the cleanup and initiatives since the national monument designation has been especially poignant for Beale, given the huge blow the community suffered in 1998 when an arsonist destroyed much of the factory district and damaged the administration building.There's already ranger overseeing this park:
"To be able to quarterback the rebirth of this ..." said Beale, who paused as he looked toward a damaged factory building with black tarps covering its structural beams. "I can't even put words on it.
Sue Bennett has become the park's first full-time employee taking on the role of acting superintendent. Bennett has worked across the country as a park ranger for 26 years, most recently at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Though the national park still doesn't have a budget (that usually is set up after two years by Congress), the Illinois native says she's been lucky to lean on a number of established community organizations for help.It's good to know the community has stepped up to the plate at least until Congress finally sets up a budget for the Pullman nat'l monument.
"I never dreamed when I started on my journey that I'd be back in my home state in a city that I love and doing the kind of service work, community outreach and preservation and stewardship, here," Bennett said. "So I'm the luckiest park ranger in the world in that I have at least 10 key partners that have been here on the ground and doing work to make it easier for us."
How long until Pullman gets their own Starbuck's? Would it be located at the Hotel Florence?