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You Can Tour The Restored Home Of Pullman Leader Who Saved The Neighborhood From Demolition

PULLMAN — The Pullman House Project is expanding its repertoire of historic homes, inviting neighbors to tour the home of a former Pullman company employee who helped save the neighborhood from a demolition campaign in the ’60s.

The home of Americo L. Lisciotto, a Pullman resident from Italy who became the first elected president of the Pullman Civic Organization, is the latest former residence to get a period-accurate renovation from the Pullman House Project.

Neighbors and history buffs can tour the home at 11124 S. Champlain Ave. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday; tours are free with registration.

The new exhibition, “The Neighborhood That Saved Itself,” details how Lisciotto and other residents pushed back on efforts from nearby businesses to bulldoze the neighborhood and expand the nearby industrial district in service of the newly opened port at Lake Calumet, according to a press release.

“We’re kind of thinking of [the home] as ‘the room where it happened,’” said Pat Shymanski, president of the Bielenberg Historic Pullman House Foundation, which runs the Pullman House Project and Pullman Club Coffee Shop. “It’s a tiny little house and we’re having fun with it. It’s been modernized over the years, and we still have some work to do on it, but we’re gonna open it up for preview for National Park Week.”

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Inside the restored home of Americo L. Lisciotto, an Italian immigrant who helped save the Pullman neighborhood from demolition in the 1960s. Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
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A vintage record player with 45 RPM records on display. Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago

How Pullman Neighbors Protected Their Home

Lisciotto’s home is the fourth to join the Pullman House Project, which gives tours of renovated historic Pullman workers’ homes and shares the stories of those that lived there.

Organizers recreated Lisciotto’s home over the past several months, adding decor and other fixtures that would likely be found in a working-class Italian family home of that time. This includes a vintage 3D wall light box depicting Venice’s Grand Canal, several items owned by the family that reflect their Catholic heritage and more.

The previous owner was a man from Mexico who bought it from remaining members of the Lisciotto family, Shymanski said. The previous owner attempted to modernize many of the home’s historic fixtures, ones the Pullman House Project is returning to their architectural roots, Shymanski said. 

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The Pullman House Project decorated Lisciotto home with several markers of a working-class Italian family living in the 1960s, including a vintage 3D wall light box. Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago

Offering tours of the Lisciotto home is a way for people to learn about a part of Pullman’s history that’s not very well known, Shymanski said.

With the federal government’s Urban Renewal Program putting a spotlight on deteriorating communities that were seen as blighted slums, attention turned to Pullman in the ’60s, which by then was part of the city of Chicago and operated as a regular neighborhood, Shymanski said. 

Because Pullman’s nearly 100-year-old buildings were built before modern building codes were developed, some suffered from heavy usage and weathering and lacked general upkeep, Pullman House Project leaders said.

Groups like the South End Chamber of Commerce, Roseland Area Planning Association, and others cited these issues and safety concerns to argue against the continued use of residential buildings in the area, thinking the neighborhood would be better served as land for a proposed expansion of the Lake Calumet Port, Pullman House Project leaders said.

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The upper floor of the Lisciotto home includes what would have been the bedroom of Americo L. Lisciotto and his wife. Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
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The living area of the Lisciotto home. Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago

City leaders thought so, too. They envisioned that shifting the city’s manufacturing and heavy industry from the Chicago River to Lake Calumet would facilitate international trade between the United States and Canada via the St. Lawrence Seaway in Ontario, according to a 1959 land use and transportation plan.

“A report came out that said housing [in Pullman] is over 80 years old, the bathrooms need to be upgraded, the kitchens are old, they don’t have the modern facilities, and it would be just easier to tear it down and expand the industrial park into this area to service the growth that they were hoping was going to happen, attributed to the establishment of the Port Authority, just down the road a piece,” Shymanski said. 

“People said, ‘Well, wait a minute. These are our houses, we live here, and we have roots here. So they kind of ganged together and said, ‘Okay, what can we do to stop this?’”

To save their homes, Pullman neighbors organized letter-writing campaigns to urge officials, stakeholders and other locals to commit to protecting Pullman’s historic legacy. Lisciotto came to lead the revived Pullman Civic Organization, which organized similar letter-writing campaigns during World War II when it was originally established, Shymanski said. 

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A photo of Americo L. Lisciotto, the first-elected president of the Pullman Civic Organization, who helped save Pullman from demolition in the ’60s. Credit: Provided

During his two years as president of the organization, Lisciotto helped form committees and coordinated other efforts to save the Pullman neighborhood and preserve the neighborhood’s historic architecture, according to the Pullman House Project.

Others like John Ertstman, who worked for the R.R. Donnelly publishing company and lived in Pullman’s Arcade Row, talked to city officials and representatives of the Federal Housing Authority to argue Pullman’s historic past made it important to save. He even proposed the National Park Service step in to protect the area, organizers said.

Many Pullman residents thought, “‘If we need to spend money on our houses, how can we spend money wisely and get the most bang for our buck?’” Shymanski said. “They’d been redlined because they had been defined as one of the slum and blighted areas, and so they couldn’t get loans and mortgages. People started reaching into their pockets and saying, ‘Okay, we’ll figure it out how to do it.’ And they did.”

These efforts — along with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which created a federal historic preservation program and the means to protect historic locations across the country — helped save Pullman from destruction.

Pullman became a Illinois Historic District in 1969 and a National Historic Landmark in 1970, while Chicago designated the area south of the neighborhood’s factory building one of its first landmark districts in 1972, according to the Historic Pullman Foundation. In 1993, the city established the North Pullman Historic District, further cementing the neighborhood’s significance.

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The Pullman House Project uncovered several original features and items in the Lisciotto home, including a floral linoleum floor in the main bedroom and multiple last rites boxes reflecting the family’s Catholic heritage. Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago
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A door tag on the home of Americo L. Lisciotto in Pullman. Credit: Maia McDonald/Block Club Chicago

The effort to recreate the Lisciotto family home and other buildings as part of the Pullman House Project is partly inspired by the New York City’s Tenement Museum, which gives tours of tenement buildings immigrants once lived in, Shymanski said. She believes the Tenement Museum’s commitment to preserving the lives of New York immigrant families makes it the “golden standard” of historical interpretation in the country, she said.

“We have a little bit different set of stories to tell, but in the same vein, it’s still part of the American experience,” Shymanski said. “That gives us the ability to interpret Pullman houses in a similar kind of storytelling platform, using the place to tell the stories.”

The Pullman House Project is still working to connect with remaining members of the Lisciotto family and hopes to acquire photographs and other artifacts from when they lived in the home, Shymanski said.

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Pat Shymanski, the president of the Beilenberg Historic Pullman House Foundation, in a living area of the home of Americo Lisciotto, the first-elected president of the Pullman Civic Organization.

Work will also continue on other parts of the home, including renovation on a kitchen addition and part of the roof that’s been damaged by rain, Shymanski said. An upstairs bathroom, which the previous owner modernized by adding a contemporary stand-up shower, will be changed to better fit the rest of the home’s aesthetic, she said.

Shymanski hopes those who see the Lisciotto home will reflect on the importance of community, she said.

“Sometimes we forget that in the sort of nihilism that we live in, community is an important aspect of life for a lot of folks — the ability to find a common cause, not just in the big picture, but in the local picture, and this was one of those places that people [found] that common cause,” she said.

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