Save Harley Clarke


Last Tuesday, Aug. 21, the City of Evanston’s Electoral Board, comprised of the mayor, city clerk and senior alderman, dispelled challenges to the referendum to save the Harley Clarke mansion and grounds supported by more than 3,300 members of the community. With this development, the referendum will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The fate of the 91-year-old mansion has proven to be a highly contentious issue in Evanston since the building became vacant in 2015 when the Evanston Art Center’s lease expired.

After hearing multiple both privately and publicly funded proposals over the last years, on July 23, the Evanston City Council voted 5-3 to approve a plan proposed by the Evanston Lighthouse Dunes organization, a 41-person private citizen group, to demolish the building and replace it with public parkland. The initial proposal was for $400,000 for demolition and $100,000 for landscaping the new space, even though estimates on demolition cost were as high as $1 million.

More than half of these 41 members live within a one mile radius of the mansion and grounds. meaning that their properties are closely connected to the fate of Harley Clarke. The Evanston Lighthouse Dunes’ website even features a rendering of the “view of lighthouse from Sheridan Road omitting the vacant structure.”

Like those 41 members in favor of the mansion’s destruction, other residents claim that it has sat vacant for too long, has become a financial burden and is nothing but a “bundle of bricks” as Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th ward, said at the July 23 council meeting. Mayor Steve Hagerty has underscored that the debate needs to come to a resolution as it has lasted too long.

It would be irresponsible for the city to jump to an unsatisfactory solution based on the minority perspective of city voices like Evanston Lighthouse Dunes, Mayor Hagerty and Ald. Rainey. The city currently spends $15,000 on building maintenance a year and a citizen group has even offered to cover these costs until the building’s future can be determined.

The so called “bundle of bricks” is actually the only remaining public building on the lakefront.

We at the Evanstonian believe that the Harley Clarke mansion and grounds must be protected from demolition and renovated into a community and event space to benefit the greater Evanston. Mayor Hagerty, along with city officials who are most in tune with public opinion, must devise a plan that maintains the educational and community aspects of the building’s past while generating income to aid with maintenance and repairs.

For several decades, the mansion served as the home for the Evanston Art Center and largely hosted citizens from the nearby area. The updating and repurposing of the mansion presents an opportunity for the building to expands its influence to other areas of the city that may not have previously frequented the building and grounds.

Harley Clarke serves as an access point to the lakefront for families who historically have had minimal access to the area. Destroying the mansion would eradicate this one-of-a-kind center. Permanently.

The Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens group have previously proposed plans to repurpose the mansion for modern needs. One of their salient ideas was the creation of an environmental education center. Their plans could be furthered by the use of the upstairs as a community space that allows for potential events. While the building has a long way to go before it is ready for either of these purposes, taking advantage of the building’s location could prove both beneficial and profitable for the city.

The building’s future is now in the hands of the people, and rightfully so. When going to the ballot in November, keep in mind the history of Harley Clarke and recognize the potential for it to become a greater community space. Vote yes for preservation.