Chicago is about to get a new national park -- its first ever.
The White House announced Tuesday that it will designate a section of Chicago’s historic Pullman neighborhood on the South Side as a national monument. President Barack Obama, whose community organizing work began in the neighborhood, is expected to personally announce the news in Chicago on Feb. 19, DNAinfo Chicago reports.
Elected officials and historic groups alike had been pushing for years for National Parks status for the 300-acre district, which dates back to the 1880s.
Constructed for engineer and industrialist George Pullman, the district was a planned model industrial town, one of the first of its kind, marking a significant shift from the rundown living conditions more typical of working-class neighborhoods. Company workers were required to live in company-owned residences, with the first moving into the district in 1881. Visitors from around the world attending the World’s Columbian Exposition traveled in special trains to view the lauded district in 1893.
Illustration of strikers driving out an engineer on the Illinois Central railway line during the Pullman strike in Chicago, 1894. (Photo by Kean Collection/Getty Images)
In 1894, the district was ground zero for one of the most famous labor conflicts of the era. Factory workers with the Pullman Place Car Company walked out over declining post-depression wages, then a boycott from the American Railway Union spread effects of the walkout nationwide, prompting President Grover Cleveland to intervene with federal troops and resulting in violence. It marked the first time a federal injunction was ever used to end a strike.
In 1925, the district became home to the nation’s first ever all-African-American workers’ union, the Brotherhood of the Sleeping Car Porters, organized by Asa Philip Randolph.
In this photo taken Monday, April 19, 2010 shows a section of the original 1880s Pullman Palace Car Company's worker's housing units in the North Pullman neighborhood of Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
By the 1960s, the district was deteriorating, but city and national landmark status was obtained in the 1970s. The Historic Pullman Foundation was formed in 1973 with the task of preserving the neighborhood.
In a statement, the group's president Michael A. Shymanski said he was “thrilled” by the news, which he said marks the culmination of a 50-year-long advocacy campaign.
“Pullman is a place associated with many significant events of our cultural heritage over the past 150 years such as innovative rail passenger travel, town planning, immigration, integration, economic recession, labor conflict, civil rights and change,” Shymanski said. “It is a place where people can commemorate, celebrate and learn from our past and discuss the future of our nation.”
In this Friday, Aug. 22, 2014, photo the clock tower of the historic Pullman railcar administration building stands in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
The designation will mean that the district’s Clocktower Building will be converted into a visitors’ center, and National Park Service rangers will provide security and other services, the Chicago Tribune reports. According to an economic report by the National Parks Conservation Association and others, a Pullman national park is forecast to attract over 300,000 visitors annually by its tenth year of full operation, providing an economic boon to the area.
Obama's announcement will be made less than a week before his former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is seeking reelection as Chicago’s mayor. The timing was called into question Tuesday by mayoral challenger Bob Fioretti, who was formerly president of the Pullman foundation.
“Hopefully the Mayor and the President will both highlight and credit the five decade grassroots effort that led to this, because right now it just looks like politics,” Fioretti said in a statement, noting that he has been pushing for a Pullman national park “for years.”
A row of homes is seen across from the Pullman Factory in Chicago, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)