After hearing an hour of public comment and a 45 minute report from a committee appointed by the mayor, Evanston aldermen Monday night voted to postpone further consideration of what to do with the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion until this fall.

With residents still sharply divided over the mansion’s future and the options narrowed only marginally by the committee’s report, the City Council accepted the report and decided to next discuss the mansion’s fate at a meeting Sept. 28.

Barbara Janes of the No Park Sale group points to a map of the mansion property.

During public comment fissures among groups that typically are allies became apparent.

Barbara Janes, organizer of a group opposed to selling any park land, said people believe keeping the property publicly owned is more important than preserving the building.

But Diane Williams, chair of the city’s Preservation Commission, said the building shouldn’t be demolished — and several preservationists have suggested that selling the building to a new owner who would preserve it would be preferable to demolition.

And Daniel Stein, head of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, said that advisory group opposes a sale. “Buildings come and go, but parkland shouldn’t be sold,” Stein said.

Some immediate neighbors of the property argued for continued city ownership, while Joe Flanagan, CEO of the Evanston-based sales-outsourcing firm Acquirent, who just bought the first lakefront home north of the mansion, said the city’s first choice should be to turn the property over to a private developer under a long term lease.

Joe Flanagan.

“The city should prioritize funding schools and pensions,” Flanagan said, adding that redevelopment of the property for a boutique hotel or similar use “would be a great opportunity to put a property back on the tax rolls.”

And Ann McMann, who lives just south of the mansion at 5 Milburn Park, said that while she’d like to see the building remain public, she didn’t see where the money would come from for that. “For practical reasons,” she said, she favors having the property redeveloped as a boutique hotel.

While the largest number of people who responded to an online survey said they favored continued city ownership and operation of the building, a statistics professor at Northwestern University, Bruce Spencer, cautioned that such self-selected surveys are “fragile” and aren’t a referendum or representative of the views of the population as a whole.

A city staff analysis of the survey responses indicated that participants disproportionately came from areas along the lakefront and in north Evanston.

Related document

The Harley Clark Committee report

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Hoping for a Good Outcome
    The City needs to put an end to this situation and sell the mansion to a private firm for development or another entity. End of story.

    One such entity is the No Park Sale group who should consider RAISING money themselves to purchase and assume ownership of the mansion to address their concerns instead of peddling influence. We have seen the results of said influence, the denial of Pritzker to buy the mansion which would have been the best solution.

    1. Harley Clarke
      There is no reason to make this unique and beautiful site anything other than public. It would be far preferable to keep it public and tear the main building down than to be “developed” and privatized. This land belongs to ALL of Evanston, not just to those who can afford a private lakefront residence (or a Kendall Place) or to stay at at pricey hotel. Open parkland does not require the maintenance costs that the mansion would. It would be very nice to keep it, but not at the expense of losing this irreplaceable piece of public property. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

      1. There are lots of public

        There are lots of public parks that belong to all of Evanston, but this one thing has dominated the conversation for far too long. And now it's looking like it's going to drain away badly needed funds and attention from other desperate projects in Evanston: the outdated and dangerous stage situation at Fleetwood Jourdain, the forty year old Robert Crown facility that is falling apart, the dozens of other serious needs listed on the CIP survey. This mansion is nothing more than the pet project of retirees and housewives, and there are so many other things that need attention in this town.

        1. Priorities

          Well said!  Thank you for pointing out the REAL priorities in this discussion.  Two huge, well attended and needed centers require much repair and/or rebuilding.   These serve not only Evanstonians, but other patrons who like to come to our city for the many activities that are offered.    We can't wait for them to fall apart, then have to close them down for repairs.

        2. Dangerous stage at Fleetwood Jourdain?

          Please give us details on this?

      2. You need to learn that this

        You need to learn that this is not public property and it is not park land. This is private property that was purchased by the city over 40 years ago. The only reason that this was not sold years ago is that the city wasted taxpayer money by leasing it out to the EAC 40+ years ago. Like the other buildings and land bought by the city, it should be returned to the private sector as soon as possible. The city has been spending millions of dollars maintaining and fixing this aquired property. It is time that the masion and other property ceases being a liability and starts to be a tax asset.

        1. It is, in fact, public property

          Of course it is public property. The city does not own private property, after all. There may not be public access but it is public property.

          Tear the thing down, and just expand lighthouse park.

          1. Or we can do the intelligent

            Or we can do the intelligent thing and return the building and property to the tax rolls. Evanston has a very high percentage of park land vs resident. If you haven't heard, Evanston lost population in 2014 in spite of adding a couple hundred condos and apartments.

    2. Hope without action

      Hope and against hope without action means nothing.  Evanston is a township that taxes each and every residence for the education of their children and adults.  1/2 to the high school, grammer schools, etc. whether they live in Evanston or not. 

      The art center was anoher means of education that the city assumed responsibility on a lease basis.  1/4 of the tax $$ are for the City of Evanston.  Check your next  tax bill and then make a decision.  Millions of alumni  "thank you" dollars are being donated back to the University.  In turn it recycles back to education.   When a university representative post that "the survey does not represent ALL of the city residence, then propose a referendum that states if the property in question, that sits in north evanston and is being served by the affluent of north evanston then, in all fairness, it is their responsibility to be taxed for the outcome of retaining an outdated structure for their benefit. (the bus doesn't stop there) 

      If the City Council would "man/woman up" then consider all matters that would effect the bottom line.   Where is the money coming from to maintain it as a park (state or federal govertment?)  and who would benefit. (be realistic).  If leased, be careful and read the fine print.  MONEY TALKS, all others will remain silent. (a prorated budget for $$ will not work) 

      Do not spend what you dont have should  be the  M. O. of Evanston.  Inflation speaks for itself. Inflated pride is costly.

  2. Stop Playing Kick the Can
    The City Council put together a committee to gather information and make a recommendation as to what the believe would be the Best Use for the Mansion, Instead of listening to the committee they once again kicked the can down the road three months. Hear the committee sooner rather then later. Yes some people won’t like what they say. But thats the way it will be. But its well past time for the City to make a decision and also consider not being a Landlord on any of the other properties it owns that combined need millions in repairs.

  3. Delay, delay

    It seems like the city council is going to delay making a decison for as long as they can.  The committee did not make the decision any easier for them, and it was not reasonable to expect they would.  So what will it take to get them to make some decision other than to have a vacant building sitting there?

    Here is idea that I did not hear from the committee:  The city can aquire a business that makes yard signs, and bring up the issue of privatizing the mansion every few years.  The revenue generated from the yard sign business will fund maintenance costs of the mansion.  There is nothing Evanstonian's love more than expressing their views at council meetings and yard signs.  It's win-win!

  4. Why is your alderperson smarter than you?

    The city council  can't and/or won't decide on the fate of the H/C mansion.  There are too many political hazards to their individual re-election chances depending on their stand on this issue.   I offer this suggestion once again:  we the citizens of Evanston will decide for them by taking the suggestions offered and going with the one that gets the most of our votes.  Now they can relax because we won't be able to blame them for the outcome of this issue.  Problem solved!

    1. DONE & DONE

      Get it off the tax roll — give it to NU.  Let them decide.  They can afford it and will police it to the extent that no citizens will be able to have free access to the beach.  It will remain as landmark status along with the other provisions of the university.  The crown jewel of the north shore.  Wouldn't that be loverly.  No more worries!

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