Pullman group describes life in an historic district

Editor’s note: The following article is reprinted by permission from the Beman Committee of the Pullman Civic Organization’s Guide for Historic Pullman District Home Owners. Visit pullmancivic.org for more information.

“It is hereby declared necessary for the general welfare of the citizens of the City of Chicago…To safeguard the City of Chicago’s historic and cultural heritage, as embodied and reflected in such areas, districts, places, buildings, structures, works of art, and other objects determined eligible for designation by ordinance as ‘Chicago Landmarks’”

Landmarks Ordinance and the Rules and Regulations of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, Printed September 10, 2007

Pullman enjoys state and national landmark status, but it is the city designation that provides legal protection.

Passed in 1968 and revised in 1987, the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance established the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, comprised of nine members appointed by the mayor and city council. The Commission has two principal tasks. The first is to review and recommend “individual buildings, sites, objects or entire districts [to be] be designated as Chicago Landmarks, thereby providing legal protection.” As of April 9, 2008, there were 309 Chicago Landmarks, including 259 individual designations and 50 landmark districts. Overall, there are now 9,000 properties protected by the ordinance city-wide.

The Commission’s other principal task is to “review any proposed alteration, demolition, or new construction affecting individual landmarks or properties in landmark districts as part of the permit review process.” Pullman was designated a Chicago Landmark District in 1972. Since that time, any changes to significant historical or architectural features on the façade of any building in Pullman have been subject to review by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.

To guide the repair and replacement of historic features, the Commission has adopted Guidelines for Alterations to Historic Buildings and New Construction. These guidelines are based on The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, which set forth national standards for historic preservation. As noted in the Commission’s Guidelines, “Properly and consistently maintaining significant features [windows, doors, roofs, masonry, etc.] is the surest way of conserving landmarks.” The first rule of thumb in Pullman, as with all landmarks, is “repair rather than replace.” Good, basic maintenance includes such things as periodically scraping and painting wooden features, such as doors, windows, porches and decorative elements. But if you cannot feasibly repair original significant features, then “replace in kind rather than redesign.” This means utilizing replacements that match original features in profile and material. The Commission does not require homeowners to reverse non-historic alterations, such as vinyl windows and steel security doors. However, if homeowners elect to change such elements, generally they must replicate features original to the particular structure in question.

Not all of the areas addressed in the Guidelines are relevant to Pullman. What follows is a summary excerpt of those that are:

Additions will be allowed only if they do not alter, change, obscure, damage, or destroy any significant features of the landmark district.

Awnings and canopies are allowed on historic structures when they are appropriate to the building, employed for traditional reasons (shelter), and use traditional shapes, forms, and materials.

If a structure does not contribute to the landmark qualities/character of a district, is an intrusion on that character, or is damaged beyond reasonable means of repair, demolition MAY be acceptable.

Removing staircases to relocate the entrance is not acceptable.

The excavation of front yards is inappropriate and destroys the historic relationship of a building to its site and the street, except where original light wells or service courts exist.

New fences should be designed to complement the character of the property to be enclosed; solid walls of masonry or wood, and tall metal fences will not be approved.

Every effort should be made to maintain and repair original millwork, including doors, window sashes, moldings and other wood products.

Of particular concern are: siting, size, shape, scale, proportion, materials, and the relationship of these to the prevalent character of the immediate neighbors and the district.

Masonry buildings should not be painted. On wood, duplicating original colors used through analysis is preferred. Commission staff can assist owners in determining original colors.

Original porches should be preserved through maintenance and repair. Front porches should not be enclosed.

Raising structures to add additional stories in historic districts is not appropriate because their existing condition is the historic one which landmark designation seeks to conserve.

Additions to roofs that change characteristic roof shapes and rooflines are inappropriate.

The use of sandblasting or other abrasive and/or corrosive methods to clean buildings of paint or grime is not allowed. Especially for generally softer Pullman brick, sandblasting removes its “skin,” making it susceptible to moisture penetration. To safely clean bricks or remove paint from them, you may use a chemical wash.

Replacing wood stairs with concrete or other materials is inappropriate. Replacement must be of the same materials as the original. New railings, if needed, should match the original rail system in design.

It is best not to replace windows but to retain and repair existing sash and frames, replacing only the deteriorated parts. If replacement is unavoidable, replacement windows must match the historic windows in design and operation, material, glass size, muntin arrangements, profiles, and trim such as brick mold and sill.

Copies of the Commission’s “Guidelines for Alterations to Historic Buildings and New Construction,” are available free of charge from the Chicago Department of Planning, Landmarks Division, 33 N. LaSalle St., Suite 1600, Chicago, IL 60610.

As noted in the Guidelines, “Because no two situations are exactly alike, each application of criteria and policy must be done on a case-by-case basis.” This is why both the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and the Beman Committee strongly urge homeowners to contact either/both of us during the planning stages of any proposed alterations to the façade of your historic Pullman home.