The Evanstonian

Letter to The Evanstonian: Harley Clarke demolition is preservation

Mollie Hartenstein, Letter to The Evanstonian

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In the last issue, The Evanstonian published an editorial entitled “Save Harley Clarke”, which argued that the Harley Clarke Mansion should not be demolished because the group planning to demolish the mansion is biased, because other groups have not had a fair chance to submit alternatives to demolition, and because of its potential benefits to the community. These three reasons perpetuate a narrative of victimhood surrounding the demolition of the mansion. Considering Harley Clarke’s lack of public access and continued cost to the Evanston community, the mansion proves to be more of a burden than a benefit to the city. I, and many other like minded Evanstonians, believe the mansion should be torn down to save taxpayer dollars and create a park that is open to the public, environmentally conscious, and reflects the land’s true potential.

As it stands the city of Evanston has signed a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the Evanston Lighthouse Dunes Group (ELD) understanding that demolition will occur and laying out a plan for the ELD to pay for the demolition and subsequent land restoration. In The Evanstonian editorial and other Evanston media, the ELD is characterized as a small group of rich citizens who want a better view of Lake Michigan in order to boost property prices. Media sources spout this narrative without citing any sources while using an ad hominem attack to refute a reputable and sensible plan for Harley Clarke and the surrounding land. Rather than spending millions of dollars to create a partially public space for expensive programming, the ELD will provide a new, publicly accessible Evanston park which will be owned by the city forever.

The City of Evanston purchased the Harley Clarke Mansion and its grounds in 1965 from the Sigma Chi Fraternity’s Northwestern Chapter, and then entered a 40 year lease with the Evanston Arts Center. After the EAC moved to its current location on Central St., the city of Evanston has been thrown into a lengthy debate over the future of Harley Clarke. Commissions have been created and disbanded, reports have been published, developers have bid for access to the space, and someone has always found fault with whatever plans arose. This debate has cost Evanstonians over $45,000 in fees for Harley Clarke, while the mansion has been left empty and unused. The idea that the ELD plan for Harley Clarke is jumping the gun is preposterous when considering how long public commentary has halted action. Nearly four years is plenty of time to create proposals for the land and present them to the city, and far too long to have Evanston residents paying for an unusable “public” asset. Although the land has been zoned for public use since its purchase, the Harley Clarke Mansion has never served the entirety of the Evanston community.

While the Evanston Arts Center provided cultural enrichment to Evanston families who could afford it, the classes, camps and programs were not free and financial aid was limited. Since its purchase in 1965 the Harley Clarke mansion has served only those with enough privilege to afford the EAC programs and get transportation to the far northside of Evanston. To argue as The Evanstonian puts it, that “Harley Clarke serves as an access point to the lakefront for families who historically have had minimal access to the area” ignores the lack of need-based programming at the mansion and the acres of publicly accessible land surrounding it. This space, which is paid for by all taxpayers in Evanston, has only ever benefited those Evanstonians who live in the surrounding area.

Truthfully, a park in the same place as the mansion would provide a freer and more accessible way to enjoy the view of Lake Michigan and the Grosse Point Lighthouse. Anyone and everyone would have access to the park on the former grounds of the Harley Clarke Mansion. Thus, demolishing the mansion is the only way to create a truly public space on the city-owned land.


8 Responses to “Letter to The Evanstonian: Harley Clarke demolition is preservation”

  1. Patti on October 16th, 2018 8:34 am

    I agree with the viewpoint in this article. More open space is a better idea.

  2. Evanston Truths on October 16th, 2018 10:54 am

    The language and content of this “editorial” is very similar to that of the author’s mother, Amina DiMarco, who has advocated for demolition of this property since 2015. We wonder who is really behind this.

  3. Linda Dienberg on October 16th, 2018 2:32 pm

    I respect your opinion but your conclusion, while it sounds logical, really is not. What’s missing? Harley Clarke is on the National Register of Historic Places. The City of Evanston has BLOCKED raising of private dollars by not approving the lease presented for signature. There are public (state)/private options that the City has roadblocked.. Oh, and four years for this kind of process; not that long. and if Evanston had approved the lease, this fact could not be used to support the destruction of Harley Clarke.

    Do you know about the plan that carves out that space for nine (9) private “estates” after Harley Clarke is destroyed? It’s about the money for sure. Selling out beauty for profit.

    Suggest you take a look at the many beautiful structures that have been retrofitted for adaptive reuse. Start with Berger Park on Sheridan Road in Chicago. Evanston is sadly shortsighted if demolition proceeds. Thanks for listening.

  4. Lori on October 16th, 2018 3:20 pm

    In other news: Up is down. I have a deep respect for student journalism and your being able to voice your opinion in a well-written column, but I, and many others in the community, have a completely opposite view. There’s no narrative of “victimhood” surrounding demolition of the mansion, but one of social justice. Demolition is not preservation. At least, that’s not what Landmarks Illinois, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Cultural Landscape Foundation, Citizens’ Greener Evanston, Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, State Rep’s Robyn Gabel & Laura Fine, Cam Davis, and thousands of other Evanstonians think, anyway. Demolition is wasteful destruction, pure and simple and it is a reckless and final decision that shouldn’t be rushed. The HC mansion currently costs $15k/year. A figure that has been offered to be paid by at least two citizen groups, bringing the taxpayer burden to $0. What’s costly is lost opportunity — where every dollar invested in historic preservation brings $2.44 back to the community, or in tax credits, grants and other funding that we potentially lose as we forfeit our Certified Local Government status when we demolish a local landmark that is also a contributing structure to the Evanston Historic District and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Experts have warned that the MOU as drafted leaves the taxpayer on the hook for many hundreds of thousands of dollars which are anticipated but not included, and the environmental costs both financial and otherwise are almost immeasurable and to not align with Evanston’s Climate Action Resilience Plan goals. The so-called Dunes (demolition) group has provided no plan for what will happen once the building comes down, beyond grading the site and planting grass — adding 1/4 acre of it to 6+ acres of existing parkland already on the site. A spokesperson said there will be a “visioning process” by the community, but again that sounds expensive and costly. Tearing down the mansion without a plan and a budget is foolish, and leaves the taxpayer exposed. Many, many voices have spoken in favor of preservation — 86% on a City-wide poll. It’s why we’ve worked to put a referendum on the ballot in November, and it’s why Rep Gabel’s office and the State Historic Preservation Agency and IDNR are helping to structure a viable path forward — one that doesn’t include neglectful waste of a public asset that belongs to all of us. 75 donors for demolition in a city of 75,000 is not representative government and flies in the face of democracy. There’s something more going on behind the scenes which is impacting the outcome of this issue, and many documents found through the Freedom of Information Act tell a different story at about why Harley Clarke continues to be discussed, or why a not for profit wasn’t provided with a lease that would have allowed them to improve the building for $5M and keep the house public and open for all Evanstonians. For more information on why you should Vote Yes Nov. 6 to Save Harley Clarke, and to hear the voices of the people about why Harley Clarke is a Social Justice issue, visit

  5. Ben Gasbarra on October 17th, 2018 4:48 pm


    While I appreciate your advocacy and blooming journalistic skills, I would like to invite you to expand your viewpoint. The crux of your argument you laid out is nestled somewhere between, if only that house were gone we’d have a big empty park to see the lake with, and the Evanstonian’s who have been fighting for years to preserve this one-of-kind asset are claiming victimhood.

    On the contrary, the citizens of which you refer are fighters and should not be lumped into one myopic generalization. These citizens have selflessly devoted their time and energy to protect this architectural gem for the benefit of all Evanstonians.

    The house is designated landmark and is located in a 10 acre campus. All that we will gain by the needless demolition is a quarter acre of grass, the loss of many rare old growth trees, the awesome potential of a year round shelter and revived community space.

    Does Evanston lack places to view the lake? Is that what our people are deficient in? What use is an empty park during the long cold fall and winter months?

    By the way demo’ing the home doesn’t change the location of the plot.

    Maybe you haven’t read the countless articles by professional landscape architects, journalists, city planners, Congressmen*, State reps, local non-profits, a pulitzer-prize winning architecture critic, local architects, cultural commentators or even our own civil rights activists who stand with the vision that the building should remain*. You should check them out!

    Did you know, in a city-sponsored poll in 2006 revealed that 86% of Evanstonian’s were in favor of preserving the home?*

    Did you know, adaptive re-use is supported by the City’s own Lakefront Masterplan?*

    Did you know, that the greenest-option is adaptive reuse?*

    I also just discovered a website called which spotlights the behind-the-scenes conversations related to Harley Clarke, which I’d be interested to hear what you think.

    Again, I appreciate your effort here, but rest assured the people fighting to save this treasure are fighting for you too.




    Exclusivity is an important subject. Would you be interested in directing your efforts towards new Robert Crown center, the bulk of which is being funded by Evanston tax-payers? The 55+ million dollar ice-skating rink and athletic fields, has already committed significant portions of its facility, including ice-time, to private organizations and two private schools, Northwestern and the Beacon Academy. Which might be fine, if Evanston tax-payers weren’t making up the the difference.

    *”Reusing existing buildings is good for the economy the community and the ENVIRONMENT
    …communities would be wise to reinvest in their existing building stock. The GREENEST BUILDING is the one that’s already built. ”
    – The National Trust

    *“The historic nature of these facilities should be MAINTAINED AND CELEBRATED, and accordingly, the key elements of the master plan for this area focus on restoration of the historic structures and the Jens Jensen landscape.”
    – The Evanston Lakefront Masterplan

    *“The finality of demolition would mean the loss of a piece of history, the only public lakefront building in Evanston that everyone can access, and education opportunties for the whole commuity.”
    – Jan Schakowsky, 9th District, US Congress


    *”published a survey of 1,375 Evanston residents showing 86 percent support for “renovation or preservation” of the building for public or commercial use.”
    -Evanston Review

  6. Daina Jauntirans on November 5th, 2018 10:15 pm

    Thank you, Mollie! You are not alone in these views.

  7. leslie maclin on November 6th, 2018 12:03 pm

    Did you know that our beloved Grosse Point lighthouse was almost torn down in the 1970″s? If you could go back in time, what would you say to those who sought to destroy it? To those who worked to raise funds to save it? I’d say thank you to the people who had the vision and were given the opportunity to raise funds to save it- we’re thankful that you did!

    Did you know the vacant lot after demolition would be less than half an acre! Did you know that Evanston is blessed to have 125+ parks and playgrounds on 300 acres of land? (source: City of Evanston Parks & Rec. website). We actually don’t need more parklands. Did you know the City Manager.

    Did you know that our lovely beaches in Evanston are NOT accessible to many, especially in the winter (for example, those with age or health issues or other disabilities) A community center with programming would provide accessibility to ALL, ALL year ’round- how cool would that be?

    Did you know that an Evanston Alderman has been found guilty of ethics violations in regard to her behind the scenes activities regarding this property? Hopefully they’ll look at the mayor and city manager’s actions as well.

    I appreciate that this is an opinion piece, but please share more of the real facts on this property!

  8. Maggie Sereika on November 6th, 2018 10:27 pm

    Awesome piece mollie! You really provided me with a fresh perspective.

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Letter to The Evanstonian: Harley Clarke demolition is preservation