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Getting on track

With its rowhouses and Victorian mansions, Pullman feels locked in time. Built in the 1880s by rail car tycoon George Pullman of the Pullman Palace Car Company, this planned community boasted new luxuries like ventilation and indoor plumbing. (How thankful are we those trends caught on?)

The 'hood fell on hard times in the '60s, but in the past few years residents have hauled out the paint and spackle in a major preservation effort. About 700 homes have been restored to near-original condition. Right now there's just one bar and one restaurant. But a handful of artists, photographers and graphic designers have moved to this far South Side neighborhood, which is east of Roseland and south of Chatham, attracted by the vintage architecture and low housing prices. Could this be another Pilsen in the making? With a variety of attractions and tour options, it's the perfect time to explore this historic 'hood.

Pullman Historic District and Visitor Center
The former American Legion building offers a glimpse of what was once called "the world's most perfect town." Explore artifacts ranging from vintage posters to Pullman dining car china. A 20-minute video introduces visitors to the man, the town and the infamous 1894 strike (Pullman laid off workers but refused to reduce rents, resulting in a massive protest). Then grab a map and take a self-guided walking tour of the area. A 1998 fire destroyed parts of the old rail car factory with its historic clock tower (at Cottage Grove Avenue and 111th Street), and now it's being restored-albeit at a glacial pace. But you can still see many intact sites from the outside, like the chi-chi executives' homes near Arcade Park and the humble workers' rowhouses lining Champlain Avenue from 111th Street to 113th Street. 11141 S. Cottage Grove Ave. 773-785-8901. 60628-4651

Hotel Florence
When this Queen Anne hotel opened in 1881, it boasted stained glass windows and marble sinks. More importantly, it had the only bar in town-for guests only (Pullman didn't want his workers drinking). It's now closed for a lengthy restoration-thanks to $1.2 million from the state, the hotel should reopen in a couple of years as a museum/events space. In the meantime check out the exterior with its olive green-and-red trim and imagine sipping a tall, cool one on the wraparound porch. The Pullman site preservation office grants limited tours if you call ahead.

A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum
This red brick rowhouse honors the legacy of the man who established an African-American labor union with his fellow Pullman porters. The permanent collection features artifacts spanning not only the rail car workers' history but also the Great Migration (the influx of African Americans moving to Chicago from the South) and the civil rights movement. The museum is also home to the official national registry of former Pullman Car workers

Athens Grocery
This family-owned corner store stocks all of the staples, such as milk, juice and bread as well as Mexican groceries. On weekends the store stocks pastries from a local Mexican bakery and, on occasion, fresh tamales made by the owners.

Cal Harbor
Spot the yellow awning and you know you're in the right place. Grab a vinyl booth by the window or a stool along the counter at this friendly, old-school diner. Favorites include the New York strip steak and eggs ($8.75) and pork chops and eggs ($6.95)-both served with rice, potatoes or grits. The unusual oliveburger is a beef patty chopped with olives and cheese, served with fries and a cup of soup ($5.85).

Pullman's Pub
This no-frills pub offers any beer you'd want, as long as it's Old Style, Bud or, well, Bud. The decor doesn't go much beyond the odd neon beer sign and a pool table, and the owner's not exactly what you'd call friendly, but its real claim to fame is that Harrison Ford once filmed a scene for "The Fugitive" here (he calls the one-armed man from a pay phone inside). "The Untouchables" and "The Road to Perdition" also filmed scenes in the 'hood. 611 E. 113th St. 773-568-0264.

Heidi Moore is a metromix special contributor.

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