The Historic Pullman Foundation
Meet Honorees Mike and Pat Shymanski!
Mike and Pat were also honored with the Annual Pullman Partner Award last year, for their contributions to the Pullman National Monument.
Did you know the city of Chicago has a National Monument? It is the Pullman National Monument (PNM), in Pullman, once 15 miles south of the city. Decades in the making, it is the first of its kind in the country, according to residents Mike and Pat Shymanski, who became involved in the welfare of the community after moving there in 1967.
Pullman was once dubbed “The World’s Most Perfect Town,” and is recognized for its civic structure and pleasing red brick, limestone-trimmed buildings. It was conceived by George M. Pullman as a planned industrial community, Mike Shymanski said.
Pullman was the creator of the Pullman Palace Car Company, which built, leased, and provided staff for luxury sleeping cars used across the country. During the 1870’s, railroad workers began joining unions. Pullman determined that employees living in adequate housing in a pleasant setting would be happier, more productive, and less likely to strike. So, he began creating such an environment.
Construction began in 1880 on just over two square miles of land running from 103rd to 115th streets, tucked between the Illinois Central Rail Line and Lake Calumet. By the end of 1881, his factories were open and the first families moved in. There were more than 8,000 residents in 1885, according to the National Park Service.
“It was as diverse as the city of Chicago socially, economically, and racially, and still is,” Shymanski said. “The employees who lived here ranged from top executives to the Pullman porters, and others who worked in the community.”
Most were Rowhouses, from ten room homes for top executives down to two room apartments for low income workers. They were relatively spacious and had the best amenities for the time including large windows for good light and cross ventilation, indoor plumbing, and gas lines. Community amenities included medical services, an indoor shopping and office complex, a library, a hotel, schools, playgrounds, parks and more.
With an economic downturn in 1894, Pullman reduced wages, but never reduced rent. This spurred one of the biggest strikes in history.
In 1959, with its story slipping away and decaying infrastructure, the city of Chicago created a land use plan recommending the buildings be demolished and the area developed for industrial purposes, Shymanski said. The town was almost lost.
In a grassroots effort, the Pullman Civic Organization began sharing the Pullman story. Residents started fixing-up their homes and in 1972, Pullman had acquired city, state and national landmark status but, he said, residents knew it needed more.
So in 1973, a group formed the Historic Pullman Foundation (HPF) established as a 501(c)(3) with a primary mission of preserving historic Pullman and educating the public about it. Shymanski was their second president and he, along with Pat and many others were involved in making things happen.
“With the help of many people and groups inside and outside of Pullman, in the next five years we were able to save the Hotel Florence, what was left of Market Hall after a fire, and also the former Masonic lodge building. And one of the things that we were always pursuing was getting Pullman established as part of the National Park system,” Shymanski said.
In 2015 they achieved that goal. Then in September 2021, on Labor Day the town celebrated the grand opening of its restored Administrative Building with its handsome clock tower, now a welcome center; and the HPF became the official philanthropic partner of Pullman National Monument.
Looking to the future, Pat Shymanski has added another commitment and is the current president of an interpretive partner of the PNM, the Bielenberg Historic Pullman House Foundation.
“We have several properties that the Bielenberg foundation owns and we are conserving,” Pat said. “We research and tell the stories of the housing and the people who worked, lived and raised their families here.”
They have the plant manager’s house, which she said is the largest house in Pullman, an executive house, a set of workers’ flats, and one of the market circle buildings.
Celebrating the beginning of their guided house tours this spring, Pat said, “People will finally be able to enter restored homes to see and feel what it was like to live in Pullman.”
“In recognition of their contributions, Pat and Mike Shymanski and the Historic Pullman Foundation are being honored for their long-time commitment in seeing the opportunities for architectural renewal and storytelling on the south side of Chicago,” said Ana B. Koval, President CEO Canal Corridor Association.
By Nancy Uznanski