Pullman Community Pushes for Restoration of Historic Hotel Florence; New Bill Would Provide $21M

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In 1881, Hotel Florence was a luxurious locale where fancy parties took place and celebrities from all over the world stayed. The hotel has been closed since 2000. But community members are hoping a state bill can bring the hotel back to life.

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“I used to shoeshine at the bar,” Al Quiroz said, “and I would get 15 cents a shine and the customer used to give me a tip and they used to buy me a glass of root beer pop and a bag of potato chips.”

Now 87 years old, Quiroz worked at the hotel doing maintenance.

“If the walls could talk,” Quiroz said.

The lifelong Pullman resident grew up at the hotel. In the mid ‘40s his mother, Elena Rodriguez Quiroz, was the first Latina head housekeeper.

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Al Quiroz tells countless stories of the once thriving hotel. Decades later, he holds on to the hope of watching it operate once again.

“I hope they bring back the hotel,” Al Quiroz said. “The life it brought many years before.” 

A bill in Springfield has made its way to the state Senate. If passed, $21 million would go toward restoring Hotel Florence.

Julian Jackson, executive director of the Historic Pullman Foundation, said the bill opens the door for a private contractor to be in charge of the redevelopment operation.

“That idea of partnering together to make things happen to brainstorm about what it means to make a community is what Pullman is all about,” Jackson said. “So I’m excited to see the next step of the Hotel Florence take advantage of those partnerships.”

Currently the property is owned by the state, but before that, the Historic Pullman Foundation bought it in the 1970s to save it from being demolished.

It’s now part of the Pullman National Historic Park. Inside the foundation’s exhibit hall, you can find dozens of treasures from the hotel.

Hotel Florence was part of a larger vision spearheaded by businessman George Pullman. He created the industrial town where thousands of rail cars were made.

“In the midst of the industrial town that was building heavy equipment rails and so forth, there’s this example of amazing elegance and Pullman really thought about that,” Jackson said. “He wanted the best of everything in his rail cars and that extended to the Hotel Florence.”

Nearby Roseland also played a big part in this history.

“When Roseland was this thriving shopping mecca — that’s what it was back then — where did those people from Pullman shop?” asked Andrea Reed, executive director of the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce. “They shopped at Roseland. So, if we talk about Pullman being historic, we also have to talk about the historic value of Roseland.”

With the possibility of reviving Hotel Florence, Roseland is pushing to be part of that change. 

“With all this major investment coming into the community what would be a sin and shame is if the people who live here can’t take advantage of the job opportunity that is going to be created because of this new infrastructure,” Reed said.

Much of Pullman is considered historic — something Al Quiroz said he is proud to be a part of.

“I went through every inch of this hotel, from the roof down to the basement, repairing and tapping the walls to see if it was hollow in case there was hidden treasure in the walls,” Al Quiroz said.

He has never found that hidden treasure, but he said the real treasure would be to see this gem fully restored as an operating hotel.

Visitors have the opportunity to explore the neighborhood this weekend at Pullman Railroad Days. Visitors can see vintage rail cars, hear about the labor movement and explore the national park.

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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