West Pullman
West Pullman

West Pullman

Origins Settled in 1852 and annexed in 1889
Area Far Southeast Side

115th Street on the north, 123rd Street to Calumet River on the south, South Front Avenue to South Indiana Avenue on the east, South Ashland Avenue to South Halsted Avenue to Carpenter Street on the west

This area came to be first settled in 1852 when railroad lines were laid through here and German, Irish, Scandinavian and even New Yorkers came to settle these lands and built a town they called “Calumet Junction,” a short time later it was renamed “Kensington.”  Kensington became well known over the decades due its many saloons for just a small population this gave the nickname “Bumtown” for the community.

In the year 1880 when the Pullman Car Factory opened in the neighboring the Pullman neighborhood the two communities connected.

In the 1880s decade the Village Of “Gano” was built up to offer Pullman Car workers a chance to own their own homes and escape the social control of George M. Pullman’s society in next door Pullman.

In the year 1889 Kensington was annexed into the city of Chicago. In the year 1891 new subdivisions were platted and also land was drawn out for several factories to be built in the area, one of the most interesting of these groups was the West Pullman Land Association that geared toward building homes for working class families and several factories for them to work in, while they also built an upper class subdivision known as “Stewart Ridge” (neighborhood around 121st and Halsted) and at this time this part of Kensington would become known as “West Pullman.”

By the 1920s West Pullman flourished very well and soon shopping strips, schools and parks were built up in larger numbers.  Italians, Polish, Hungarian and Lithuanians came to settle in West Pullman as there were many jobs offered in the area in factories such as International Harvester West Pullman factory, Whitman & Barnes, Carter White Lead Paint and various others that provided employment for thousands of workers, and this then attracted Armenian immigrants to settle in the area.

The people of West Pullman in the 1920s and 1930s wanted to keep their neighborhood pure white and did not want blacks settling in their neighborhood this resulted in a black powder explosive being launched at the home of recently arrived black family that bought their home at 120th and Stewart in 1933.  The International Harvester factory in West Pullman worked with the community to keep blacks out by putting a ban on hiring blacks at this location until during World War II when the government forced the company to allow it during the war effort, it was also during these war years that the people of West Pullman got together with the whites in Riverdale to protest the construction of the Altgeld Gardens public housing project and also the Fernwood projects in Roseland for fears that these projects would help push along black migration nearby faster, the protests did no good and the projects were built for African Americans.

After World War II West Pullman heavily prospered and became even more of a middle class neighborhood.

In the year 1962 the vacant land in West Pullman in the western section of the neighborhood was offered up for sale to African American families in a subdivision called “Maplewood Park.”  This was an area of cheaper housing for black working class families and this time the all-white community realized they could not fight it and instead began packing their bags and leaving the area.

In the 1970s decade many of the factories began to close down especially by the later 1970s and this caused many white families to pack up and leave in a higher volume.  The property values of this neighborhood began to drop as properties began to deteriorate east of Halsted Street and north of 121st Street; this made affordable living for impoverished black families.

As black families moved into West Pullman so did migratory black street gangs from other communities like Black Disciples, Gangster Disciples, Black P Stones, Vice Lords and Four Corner Hustlers moved into the neighborhood and by the 1980s gang wars ensued over drug turf and the neighborhood became extremely violent and in a heavy state of poverty especially after the last factories closed in the early 1980s in the neighborhood; to add insult to injury, predatory lenders victimized impoverished black families bringing more despair to the neighborhood.

As if things could not get any worse the closed down factories emitted fumes and run off waste of leftover industrial waste that poisoned the residents in this community as much of the area was classified as a brownfield which is an area heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals, one of the worst being chemicals from the old paint factories, that was of course would decrease the value of the neighborhood and cause disinvestment in the community, this toxic runoff mainly effected the northeast side of the community west of Halsted Street and north of the tracks by 121st, this area became heavily dis invested and vacant.

In recent years much of the toxic waste has been cleaned up.  The gang wars and drug wars have continued in this community as it experiences a high rate of unemployment, poverty, violence and drugs.  This neighborhood became a part of the “Wild 100s” which is a nickname for far south side neighborhoods between 100th Street and 130th Street that experience heavy gang activity and violence.

West Pullman is one of the more violent neighborhoods in Chicago; however, the majority of the crime is concentrated in highly impoverished and run down northeast side which is an area bounded by: 115th Street on the north, 121st Street on the south, the railroad tracks on the east that divide Riverdale and West Pullman, Halsted Street on the west.  This northeast side has several dilapidated houses and buildings that have been shuttered for decades especially after the Sherwin Williams factory closed and the pollution poisoned this section of West Pullman.  Most gang activity and violence happens in this section of the community because housing is really cheap due to disinvestment and more deteriorated property options making this a highly impoverished area where heavy drug trafficking comes about because of desperate economic conditions.  This area of West Pullman is one of the most blighted areas in Chicago but should not account for the entire West Pullman community.

The area west of Halsted Street and the area south of 121st Street tends to have lower crime and is a black middle class area, as boarded up houses are hard to find and many residents watch out for the neighborhood and keep their area clean, these are very livable parts of West Pullman.


All images below are of vacant buildings at the time of the photo.  All images are courtesy of Google Maps.