Be the kind of tourist that goes to Pullman

Chicago is huge and most tourists see very little of it (probably true to say this of most residents too). I work in the tourist industry and often get asked for directions to Navy Pier, Giordano’s Pizza, and—if they are feeling daring—to Wrigley Field. So it really shocked me when a few years ago a German tourist asked me “Can you tell me how to get to Pullman?” I mean, I live in Chicago and even I don’t go to Pullman.

HOB and I live on the far north side of Chicago; Pullman is on the far south side. It sounds kind of weird since we travel to other countries, but the idea of getting to Pullman by public transportation just has always seemed so overwhelming, so when a friend offered to drive us we hopped at the chance.

Pullman was a company town designed by the architect Solon S. Beman beginning in 1880. George M. Pullman, the notorious railroad car manufacturer, wanted this to be a model town for his workers to live, shop and worship in. Of course, he would profit by this captive audience of workers, so I give you permission to be cynical. Me, I’m a sucker for an ideal city, and damn it if Pullman isn’t even more stunning than expected.

Pullman is finally getting the recognition it deserves and is now a national landmark. The Administration Clock Tower Building from 1880 has a brand new visitor center, where you can get some history of the neighborhood and sit on a vintage Pullman train seat (uh, seems people had much smaller asses in the 1880’s).

The visitor center includes a history of the Pullman Porters, the Black train porters who provided the trademark high-quality customer service on overnight train trips. The exhibit doesn’t gloss over the racism experienced by the the Pullman Porters, or the substandard wages earned (they lived on tips). The Pullman Porters unionized in the 1920’s in an effort to improve their working conditions.

Not far from the visitor center, I enjoyed this mural of showing Pullman workers, which was painted by some local students in the 1990’s. Look for the architecture depicted in the mural in some of my photos.

Our friend was quite generous to drive us, and he also liked looking around Pullman. But HOB and I are the sort that will spend all day walking around a neighborhood looking at every building and, after a picnic break, going around for a second look. My friend is not this sort—after the tourist center he told me to pick my top three destinations to visit, strongly implying that would be the end of it.

So I said I wanted to go see the Hotel Florence. We couldn’t go inside, but the exterior is striking. Hello wrap-around-porch!

Hotel Florence opened in 1881 and is a kind of a tumble of French plus Queen Anne Styles. Do you like dormers and chimneys? Well do I have a fancy hotel for you!

My second destination was the Greenstone United Methodist Church. It had some scaffolding in front and was difficult to photograph, but you can get the idea of how unique this—green!—beauty is. Check out that lacey rose window next to Romanesque doors and of course, more dormers.

The church was open, so we took a peak inside.

My final choice was the Market Hall and Colonnade Apartment and Townhouse, built in 1892. You were expecting dormers? Good old Solon S. Beman threw us a (literal) curve here, going full on Italian. I love the clean lines around the windows, the porticos, the dramatic shadows from the eaves…actually I love it all.

As we walked back to the car, I snapped some photos of the varied residential architecture. Green and red seems to dominate the paint trims.

The cutest row houses! It is kind of rare to see row houses this old in Chicago—there were a lot of building code changes after the great fire in 1871 that mandated super-thick common walls.

And greetings to you, dormers, my old friends.

It looks like the owners of this building had a passive-aggressive spat about paint colors “Well fine, but my trim is going to be the traditional Pullman red and green” and “Whatever, be boring if you want, because I’m going with black and white.”

Not sure what the theme is here design-wise but I love the Flemish-deco façade flanked with teensy mansard roofs.

You might have noticed the rows of black or white masonry that seems to mark out the floor lines in many of Pullman’s buildings. I don’t recall seeing this anywhere else in Chicago. These row houses have the black lines, plus…eyebrows!

Often the word “charming” is a cliché. Not here.

I wonder how that German tourist heard about Pullman and if he loved it as much as I did?

HOB and I will go back to look at all the buildings in detail someday. Anyone want to give us a ride?


  1. That was just stunning!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Helen—so true! We were only there briefly many years ago with some friends who drove us. I remember it was pretty, but not this stunning!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful. It reminds me (although on a much grander scale, for my example is a lot tinier) of Villaggio Leumann in the outskirts of Turin, Italy, built by one Leumann who had a cotton mill and fancied having his employees living nearby.

    Why wouldn’t Jeff and Elon and Mark do something similar with their techies I wonder?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Villaggio Leumann looks fascinating—that weird mix of art nouveau and Tudor. I wish I would travel right now because I’d know where to go…

      George Pullman raised rents while keeping wages down. In the 21st century, our tech billionaires use public infrastructure to sell us stuff and then avoid paying any taxes.

      Did you publish a book and if so, how can I read it?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree. I realise that (in %) I paid about 10 times the taxes that Amazon paid over here in the UK. Speaking of them, though…my book’s there, at least for a little while. Might pull it in 2022.


  3. Hey, WOB, thanks for your quick tour of Pullman. Hope you get back and are able to explore it more fully. I have been meaning to get there when I am in Chicago, Now I will make a point to do so, Be well. Seems like the vertigo has cleared up. Hope so. Bruce

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope you do make it to Pullman, Bruce. By the way, have you ever visited Second Presbyterian Church? It is gorgeous and they’ve been restoring their Tiffany windows.

      Still have the vertigo, ugh!


  4. Some of the old red brick…reminds of Toronto’s historic buildings. The city had a red brick maker, which is now is down in a ravine park and historic site, combined with site with farmers’ market, arts event. There are bike, walking trails that take one for many kms. to downtown or heading north.

    Anyway, hard now to travel internationally.

    Pullman Train Car Museum sounds interesting..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jean! Bricks have become one of my favorite things to look at since the pandemic hit, so I really wish I could get to Toronto to see them. Like you said, not a great time for international travel but soonish, fingers crossed. Hope you are going on some interesting bike rides.

      Liked by 1 person

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