7.8. GEORGE PULLMAN BRINGS S.S. BEMAN TO CHICAGO

Left: S.S. Beman, Pullman Building, Chicago, SW corner of Michigan and Adams, 1883; Right: Burnham & Root, Montauk Block, 1881. (Author’s collection)

While I have concentrated on the early skyscrapers of Root (Montauk, Counselman, and Calumet that were mere 10-story masonry tubes) and those either under construction or proposed by Boyington (the 302’ tower of the Board of Trade, the 10-story Board of Trade office building, and the proposed Bensley Building at the rear of the Board of Trade that was projected to be 154’ with a 200’ tower), the first Chicago building actually constructed that might be considered to be the equivalent in scale, height, and quality of detail to that of New York’s Mills Building would have been the 165’ high Pullman Building by another New York City architectural emigrant, Solon Spenser Beman.  As it was his first ten-story building, Beman relied not on Root’s more recent designs, but the conservative aesthetic of the Montauk Block, that, in truth, Root had already discarded.  

We last encountered George Pullman having lost in the 1871 fire his Pullman Palace Car Company building designed by Burling & Baumann in 1867 at the northeast corner of Michigan and Randolph, across the street from the Illinois Central Station. Following his success in the building raising business prior to the start of the Civil War, Pullman had moved on to solving another challenge: making sleeping in a railroad car a comfortable experience.  Having started with his first sleeping car in 1862, Pullman had grown his company into the largest manufacturer of sleeping cars by 1879, with his Pullman Palace Cars being used by many railroads all throughout the country.  He had but one requisite caveat in each contract he made with an individual railroad:  his company would employ the personnel who were in charge of the car (conductor, porter, and when needed, cook) as well as be in sole control of providing all linens and all interior maintenance on each car.  Pullman, therefore, was solely in control not only of the manufacture of each car that bore his name, but also all of the personnel needed for its operation, in what would be known as the “Pullman system.”  This allowed him to control the quality of the passenger’s total experience (and its cost).  Today he would be labeled a “control freak;” back then his attitude would be better described as paternalistic.  

Nathan F. Barrett and Solon Spenser Beman, Town of Pullman, 1879. (Zukowsky, Growth of a Metropolis)

While he had long contemplated the erection of a new corporate headquarters following the fire, the recession had forced him to postpone such an expenditure, but following the 1877 national railroad strike,  his attention had then been focused on a much more important project: pulling together all of his manufacturing operations from all over the country to centralize them in one location so that he could oversee (and control) the entire fabrication process.  Like the design and operation of a Pullman Palace Car, he also wanted to control where (and how) his employees worked and lived, so he had also envisaged Pullman, a “company town” where the employees’ housing that he provided, was within walking distance to their jobs.  Pullman and his Board of Directors eventually agreed that the Chicago area would be the best location for the project, but for a number of reasons, including avoiding any political regulation and taxes, the new town had to be far enough away from the city proper to prevent any of Chicago’s radical union activities to taint the workers, especially in the wake of the 1877 national railroad strike.  And in early 1879, no industry in the U.S. was more concerned over or more affected by union violence than was the railroad industry.

A highly secret study for available land for the project eventually focused on 4000 acres located 14 miles to the south of the city in Hyde Park Township (centered around today’s 111 Street and S. Cottage Grove Avenue), that was along the Illinois Central’s tracks into the city (to provide direct access for the new cars produced).  The company bought 500 acres for the manufacturing complex, while Pullman deeded the remaining 3500 acres to the Pullman Land Association for the construction of the new town.  For the design of the overall layout of the town and its landscaping, Pullman brought to Chicago in the summer of 1879 New York landscape architect Nathan F. Barrett, who had been landscaping Pullman’s summer estate, Fairlawn, in Long Beach, NJ.  Barrett had introduced Pullman to Solon Spenser Beman, a twenty-six year old architect, also from New York City who had apprenticed with Richard Upjohn before starting his own firm in 1877, whom Pullman also brought to Chicago and placed him in charge of the entire architectural design and construction of the buildings for new town. 

S.S. Beman, Water Tower, Pullman, 1880. (Left: Chicago Architecture; Right: Online)

The visual landmark of the town’s plan was Beman’s 195′ high water tower that was constructed in 1880.  The lower two-thirds of the tower was 68′ square in plan and contained rooms in which were performed a variety of functions in the manufacture of Pullman’s cars.  Above this masonry cube the corners of the plan were chamfered to form an octagon in plan for the upper third of the tower that contained the water tank that was surrounded by a winding stair to the tower’s cupola.  The iron water tank, reported to have been the largest in the world at the time (over 500,000 gal.), was supported on trusses that sat on four large wrought iron columns that extended over 100′ from the basement of the tower.  (These were the obvious precedent for the 90’ tall iron columns used in 1883 to support the upper portion of Boyington’s Board of Tarde tower.) These were fabricated by Pullman’s own Car-Wheel Works that Pullman had created by offering N.S. Bouton the opportunity to move his company out of Chicago and closer to one of his primary customers in the new town.  In 1881, Bouton’s Union Foundry Works had merged with Pullman’s Car-Wheel Works.

Beman, Pullman Water Tower. Section, Elevation. The 100′ tall iron columns that support the 500,000 gal. tank. (Online)

Beman sheathed the tower in the 1870s fashionable contrasting color scheme of red brick and light stone, displaying his subtle compositional sensitivity in the ornamental inversions he employed between the two materials as they progressed up the elevations of the tower.  Beman’s youthful virtuosity is all the more noteworthy for the tower had overtaken Boyington’s Chicago Water Tower by twelve feet to become the highest structure in the Chicago area, a title it held for five years until Boyington regained it 1885 with the completion of the Board of Trade’s tower.  To provide power for the entire complex, Pullman had purchased the great Corliss steam engine that had been built for the 1876 World’s Fair (see Vol. II, Sec. 5.3), but had since been disassembled and sat in its Providence, RI, warehouse.

Map of the Loop, 1883. (Author’s collection)

Meanwhile, Pullman had also been contemplating the erection of a new corporate headquarters in the business district. Perhaps being goaded by the success of the Burlington’s new office building, Pullman was granted a building permit to construct a nine-story building, not at his pre-fire lot at the northeast corner of Michigan and Randolph, but four blocks farther south at the  southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street (joining the general move to the south and continuing the development of the Adams Street corridor).  Perhaps even more influential in his choice of this site was its location immediately across from the Interstate Exposition Center, that by 1883 had become the “Ground Zero” of the local conflict between the city’s capitalists and its growing labor movement, pushing for the eight-hour workday.  Was it also simply coincidental that it was only a block away from the Armory of the First Regiment of the Illinois National Guard that had been erected at Michigan and Monroe only two years earlier, or that Pullman gave Gen. Philip Sheridan who by the time the building was completed had been named Commanding General, U.S. Army having succeeded Gen. William T. Sherman on Nov. 1, 1883, the Fourth Floor for the offices of the U.S. Army? 

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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