A Brief History of Pullman Gateway Garden

Compiled by Arthur Pearson
February 24, 2018

Maps and historic photos courtesy of the Pullman State Historic Site: http://www.pullman-museum.org.

All contemporary photos by Arthur Pearson, except for those credited otherwise

Neighbors sharing are neighbors caring. For many years, this has been the motto of Pullman. More than a motto, however, it is a core community value. Pullmanites are always ready to lend a hand, to pitch in, to volunteer generously of their time and talents. In 2001, led by the Historic Pullman Garden Club, residents young and old worked together to transform an unsightly vacant lot into an award-winning Gateway Garden.

Unveiling of the new Gateway Garden Sign. Pictured from left to right: Susan James. Billie Chigouras, Georgia Vroman, Tom Shepherd, Pullman Bank President Dan Watts, Betsy Baird, Colleen Schneeman, Linda Feutz, Tom Zarris, Norma Zarris, Kris Thomsen, Patty Oyervedes

The Need for a Better Welcome

For many years, there had been talk about needing to improve the vacant lot at the southwest corner of 111th Street and Langley Avenue. It is a high-profile location. For most visitors, travelling by car from the Bishop Ford Expressway, it is the gateway to the Pullman Landmark District.

There existed a sign that welcomed visitors to the community. However, immediately behind it was an abandoned, overgrown lot. The hope was that the site could be developed into a garden space that would recapture the beauty of Pullman's original landscape and provide visitors a breathtaking first impression of the community.

View of the corner of 111th Street and Langley Avenue prior to the development of Gateway Garden

Honoring our Historic Greenspaces

As many know, Pullman was one of the nation's first planned industrial communities. Among its many virtues was an extensive network of parks and gardens.

Several historic maps reveal that the Southwest corner of Florence Boulevard and Fulton Avenue (the original names of 111th Street and Langley Avenue) was comprised of four lots, circled in red below. The maps also suggest that there were no buildings planned for these lots, that they were intended to be part of the network of open greenspace.

In addition to the maps, there are two known but undated historical photographs of the site. Some have suggested that the two people in the first photograph may be Pullman company manager Duane Doty and his granddaughter, Margery. According to the 1900 census, they lived in the home pictured (originally 7 Florence Boulevard, today 645 E 111th Street, and indicated by the yellow arrow in the Rascher map above.) The second photo may have been taken a few years later - notice how densely the ivy covers the east wall of the building.

In any event, both photos reveal that at least part of the site was fenced in, but not prohibitively so. The first photo reveals a garden. Some see in the second photo a tennis court or a cricket pitch. We may never know for sure. At the very least, the photographs provide additional evidence that the site was, in fact, originally used as a park or a garden.

Following the landmark strike of 1894, the Illinois Supreme Court ordered the Pullman Palace Car Company to divest itself of all property not used for industrial purposes. The sale was delayed for several years, but in 1909 J. Pierpont Morgan acquired several properties in Pullman, including "127x108 vacant [parcel] at the southwest corner One Hundred and Eleventh street and Fulton [now Langley] Avenue."

Fast forward several decades. The historic garden space became a parking lot for 11112 S. Langley (originally 102 Fulton, indicated by the blue arrow on the Sanborn map above). Originally, this building had been a hotel, the primary hotel being the Hotel Florence. In the 1960s, it housed a polka club called Stanley Jay's. After that it was a tavern called the Landmark Inn. Once the tavern closed for good in the early 1990s, the abandoned site grew up with scrub and weed trees.

The Garden Club Takes Action

In March 2001, the Historic Pullman Garden Club requested and received from Pullman Bank, the property owner, a 10-year lease to transform the site into a gateway garden. The garden club also asked for a right-of-first-refusal to buy the site should the bank put up the property for sale. Key to the request was the garden club's application to the Chicago Botanic Garden for a Garden Establishment Grant. In the application the garden club laid out the following principles to guide the redevelopment of the site:

The garden club received the grant, valued at $12,000, for the purchase of materials, supplies and plants, along with garden design services and staff support to oversee the construction of the garden.

Homage to Nathan Barrett

Over the course of the summer, the Chicago Botanic Garden came up with a design that referenced design elements from Barrett's original landscape plan for Pullman. Pullman's Other Architect, Nathan F. Barrett, was less well known than Solon S. Beman, famous for designing all of Pullman's many buildings. However, Barrett's equally impressive layout and landscaping of the town included several signature flourishes, including winding carriage paths; large open lawns providing unobstructed vistas, and formal gardens juxtaposed against what he called the "naturalistic instinct:" garden beds filled with native grasses and wildflowers. These and other elements were incorporated into the garden design for Gateway Garden.

Architect Solon Beman (on the left) and landscape designer Nathan Barrett pose next to Lake Vista, the manmade lake that Barrett designed for the original landscape of the company town

Building the Garden - a True Community Effort

In September 2001, construction of the garden began, overseen by Eliza Fournier of the Chicago Botanic Garden (pictured below). The first task was to hire a professional contractor to remove several species of weed trees, in order to restore vista to the site. However, among the trees to remain was a gingko that had been planted by a Pullman family in honor of the passing of a young son. In fact, the design incorporated the single gingko into a small gingko grove.

In early October, community volunteers joined Chicago Botanic Garden staff in removing scrub plants, weeds and trash. Once the site was cleared, a community resident arranged for the donation of topsoil to help amend the soils - compacted by many years of abuse as a parking lot - and to allow the topography to be contoured to the design specifications. Kris Thomsen (pictured below) donated the cost of renting a Bobcat to dig holes in preparation for all the new plants.

On October 11, a flatbed trailer arrived filled with trees, shrubs and other plants. A local business volunteered a forklift driver to help unload the plants. Community volunteers turned out in droves to get everything planted and mulched over the course of the following two weeks. Community resident, Victor Crivello (pictured in the third photo below) arranged for student volunteers from Calumet Is My Back Yard to help out planting hundreds of bulbs.

The Pullman State Historic Site arranged for the loan of several cut limestone blocks, salvaged from the demolition of the historic water tower, to accent the garden design.

In mid-November, a professional contractor constructed a circular retaining wall/sitting area. The following week, Green Corps Chicago helped to build a crushed stone winding path to the retaining wall.

The following spring, Historic Pullman Garden Club members planted annuals and more bulbs. The garden club also rototilled the lawn area and reseeded it.

Courtesy of Pullman Bank, a sign was built and installed, officially christening the site as the Gateway Garden.

In 2005, the garden received first place in Mayor Daley's Landscape Award Program.

In 2011, US Bank - which acquired the assets of Pullman Bank and it successor, Park National Bank - donated the site to the Historic Pullman Garden Club. A year later, the garden club transferred title to Neighborspace, in order to provide the site permanent protection. Neighborspace also provides basic liability insurance, technical assistance, and other support services.

Over the years - as would be expected, since gardens are living, evolving things - there have been some minor changes in the composition of the garden. But overall, the Historic Pullman Garden Club has done an exceptional job maintaining the integrity of the garden design. Gateway Garden is the first thing most visitors see upon entering what is now the Pullman National Monument, and it provides a fitting, beautiful welcome to our community.

Photograph courtesy of James Caffrey

Photographs courtesy of Neighborspace