WASHINGTON — Three Illinois lawmakers said Friday they plan to introduce legislation designating the Pullman Historic District as a national historical park, which would make it part of the National Park Service.
The Far South Side district, which dates to the 1880s, was home to the now-defunct Pullman Palace Car Co., which made sleeper cars for railroad passengers, and included housing for its workers.
A strike at the factory in 1894 triggered the country's first industrywide walkout and resulted in several worker deaths at the hands of U.S. marshals and the military.
Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk and Rep. Robin Kelly appeared Friday at the Historic Pullman Foundation Visitor Center to tout a bill they plan to introduce next week.
In making the case for a historical park, the lawmakers cited history, preservation, architecture and the potential for tourism and economic development. The district has many homes in good condition but also suffers from age, blighted sections and the effects of a 1998 arson on the factory grounds.
The district is bounded by 103rd Street, 115th Street, Cottage Grove Avenue and the Norfolk & Western Railway line.
The lawmakers' proposal calls for the state to give the National Park Service the Pullman Factory Complex, including the clock tower building and other edifices on about 13 acres of land. Future land and buildings could be given to the federal government by donation, transfer or exchange only, the proposal says.
Kirk, a Republican, said making Pullman a national historical park could bring 300,000 annual visitors, create 356 new jobs and mean a $40 million annual infusion for the area.
"There is much to preserve and celebrate in Chicago's unique Pullman neighborhood," said Durbin, a Democrat, citing its labor and civil rights history and heritage as a planned industrial town.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation on Friday designated the 300-acre district one of its 35 national "treasures," signifying a commitment to preserve the area, said Stephanie Meeks, trust president.
"The story of George Pullman's planned industrial town is well-known to students of American history," she said, "but the remarkably intact community he built in the late 19th century deserves national recognition and increased economic development opportunities."
Other national historical parks include the Appomattox Court House in Virginia and Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, said Barbara Baxter, a Park Service spokeswoman.