With a group of local residents offering to pay for demolition of the Harley Clarke mansion, an Evanston aldermanTuesday night called for the idea to be debated at the City Council’s next meeting.

During public comment, Nicole Kustock and Jeff Coney said they’d like to see the lakefront dunes and the parkland on which the mansion sits restored to their natural state.

Coney quoted books citing the historical significance of the spot as a location where early French explorers reputedly stopped on their journey along Lake Michigan.

Kustok said the mansion and its coach house obsure the view, and said they’ve secured funding to deconstruct the buildings “through generous contributions of numerous residents.”

“No additional fundraising would be required, no liability issues would persist, no prolonged construction period would be needed,” Kustok said, as Coney showed aldermen an image of a mural at the School District 65 administration building depicting the Grosse Point lighthouse and beach as it might have looked before the adjoining mansion was built.

Kustok is an organizer of a group called Evanston Lighthouse Dunes, which advanced the idea of demolishing the mansion last fall.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, called for city staff to put together a resolution that would accept the private funding for demolishing the mansion and schedule the resolution for debate at the Council’s next meeting. “It’s time to move forward, and this offer is limited,” Rainey said.

But, in an indication of the division on the Council over the fate of the mansion, Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said talk of deconstructing the mansion is premature.

She said the Council should give the Evanston Lakehouse and Garden group, which has proposed developing an environmental education center in the mansion, at least a year to try to raise $1 million as an indication that it has the capacity to carry out an estimated $5 million in renovation work on the building.

Last month aldermen rejected the lakehouse group’s proposal to lease the mansion amid concerns over the financial viability of its plan.

Aldermen Tuesday also agreed, because of a light agenda for their next scheduled City Council meeting on June 11, to cancel that session and instead meet next on June 18, the scheduled night of a special meeting on the city’s budget.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Bravo
    Great idea. Good luck. Exactly the right approach, citizen driven and community minded with no cost to taxpayers. Any alderman (Revelle) who wants to continue to waste time with ELHG should put their own money up.

    1. An Idea Worth Considering
      This is certainly an idea worth considering. At this point in time, I don’t know how anyone can have any degree of confidence in the fundraising capacity of the community group with which no adequate lease has been negotiated. They have had plenty of time to raise the funds. By letting go of that idea, we move forward. Perhaps some of the donors for that project will consider the Robert Crown Center instead.

    2. Give ELHG a realistic chance to raise funds
      The idea that Ald. Revelle suggested is very reasonable, i.e. that ELHG would have a year to raise $1M and if they do, the city would award them a lease. There is a lot of community support for preserving this building, but no one is going to pledge funds when the city has not agreed to some sort of a plan. If ELHG can’t accomplish this goal, then the path would be clear for demolition.

      Preservation of Evanston’s past adds character to the city and provides a sense of stability to it’s citizens – traits we desperately need in period of rapid change. The council ought to go the extra mile and agree to this bargain for these reasons.

    3. Great Idea
      Time to get rid of this white elephant. The idea to turn it private was shot down. The people who want to make it public don’t seem to have their act together. If Evanston was flush with cash, sure it would make sense to restore and make a community center, but unless some really wealthy person is gonna make a large donation, time to get rid of this. The public will enjoy a bigger park & more access to the Light House & beach

  2. Leave our assets alone.
    I really hope that the city council ushers these two self absorbed looking people out of their chambers. These people want to be the judge and jury of what they think is good for the people of Evanston. They propose to take a valuable asset and turn it into another patch of grass based on some dubious claim of lost Frenchmen stopping by several hundred years ago. So what if they stopped by there? That is not reason enough to demolish this building when all the city needs to do is their job, and make sure that the people see a profit out of this. I liken these two to the NIMBY bunch whose sole purpose in life is to oppose every little thing that can potentially benefit the city. I am tired of these people, they can take their money and go.

    1. Finally, a sound plan!
      I sent an email through their Facebook page to contribute

      1. No Houses on Evanston’s Lake Front
        I’ll donate, too. Maybe we can raise enough money to tear down all the houses in Milburn Park and reclaim that lake front property as well. Maybe we should tear down the entire City and start again. There were two viable responses to RFPs issued by this City for the Harley Clarke Mansion. Each would have brought much needed money to our coffers, but both viable, thoughtful, community enhancing projects were voted down by the very body that requested them. In their place, will be nothing that offers the same economic and/or cultural benefit to the people who own it – the citizens of Evanston. The only people who will benefit are those who live nearby. Location, location, location. Let the rise in real estate values begin.

  3. Evanston Lighthouse Dunes… exquistely on time & on target.
    WELCOME….. geologists, mycologists, botanists, historians and night sky lovers of President Gerald Ford’s “Dunes National Lakeshore” from Sleeping Bear in Western Michigan down into Michiana at the Miller Beach & Odgen Dunes shoreline of NW Indiana. And with full view from there of the Chicago skyline.

    Truly, this plot is the last significant link here to an indigenous history of the Miami, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Wea tribes, the French like Father Jacques Marquette, Louis Joliet, (robert) LaSalle and the early Evanstonia from which all “luxury rentals” here now come.

    This is a logical extension of our shoreline restoration over time from here to Michiana and with the Dunes National Lakeshore as an extension of the drop dead handsome lighthouse here… the oldest lighthouse on mighty Lake Mich.

    This can be a lasting consequence of urban land use in the spirit of Louis Mumford, while attracting far more than just luxury renters to our neighborhoods and negating in a flash the on-going restoration burden and the casualty insurance burden of Mr. Clarke’s glorious home with no longer a Colonel Pritzker to provide the salvage therapy it deserves.

    We’ve squandered our resources again. Our time is up. But fortunately, even Mother Nature and the Great Outdoors can indeed be measured in dollars. We should take the money and run. We so pathetically deserve none of it. Just do it for one last bit of self-respect.

  4. We own the lakefront mansion. Not them.
    Isn’t it interesting that the folks who want to knock down this historic mansion on the lake that the city (all Evanstonians) own happen to live within blocks of the mansion. Nicole Kustok and her husband,Zak, the former NU quarterback, live directly across the street from the Harley Clarke mansion and Jeff Coney lives a block away. Rachael Matthews who started a petition that only has 237 signatures as of this writing lives on Sheridan Road.

    There are wealthy people who live miles from the Harley Clarke Mansion yet they don’t seem to be the ones organizing an effort to tear down the mansion in order to “restore” the dunes to its natural state. It’s only the folks who live within a stones throw to the mansion that want to tear it down. They don’t want it to be used as a cafe and other public events that ALL EVANSTONIANS can enjoy YEAR Round!! My hunch is they don’t want the year round traffic around their luxurious homes near the lake.

    Now ask yourself this: If you owned a 7,000 plus square foot MANSION on the lake would you tear it down to “restore” the land to its natural habitat even though there’s a public beach, lighthouse and park on the property that obviously is not in its natural state? Well, guess what my fellow Evanstonians. YOU OWN IT!

    And here we are, some of our ELECTED city officials are entertaining the idea of tearing it down a lakefront mansion WE OWN. Our mayor is even mentioned in the petition to tear it down. I don’t know for sure if Mayor Hagerty wants to tear it down but if he does then sensible voters need to vote him out along with anyone else who entertains even the thought of tearing this mansion down.

    The Harley Clarke mansion is OURS. It belongs to the apartment dwellers in the Fifth, 1st, 2nd, 3rd wards and beyond: to the homeowners living in ranch and bi level homes in southwest Evanston; to the empty nesters in downtown Evanston high rises and even to students living in Northwestern dormitories.

    To tear down this lakefront mansion or even the mere thought of it only to restore the land back to it’s “natural habitat” is an abomination. If there is one thing to get angry about in Evanston politics, here it is. Get angry. Get active. Get involved.

    You own it. Not them. There are more of us than them. Time to organize and vote people into office who have imagination and vision. We have the power. Time to use it.

    1. The city bought the mansion for the LAND
      Great quarterback, not sure why relevant here. The Lakehouse group is coming across like sour grapes this morning, remember they were voted down after saying they would take 10 years to (under)fund their plan. I don’t know if this new group actually raised the money they claim but I’m guessing we will find out

      I predict they will have the support of Evanston’s sustainability groups and the Ecology center soon if they don’t already. Let’s not forget that green space will likely always stay public. The same cannot be said for a costly mansion.

    2. We are also owners.
      I agree with every word you wrote. I expressed similar outrage without the details. It seems as if this band of NIMBYs are always blocking everything that is proposed. It did not even ring a bell that the former Northwester QB was the man in the picture. But he must have gotten sacked one too many times if he thinks that we the ordinary resident is going to be bamboozled into allowing the city to tear down such a valuable asset, just so they can have more grass to mow. Somehow they think that their money entitles them to become the rulers of this city. Maybe they should start an effort to secede from the rest of us.

  5. northwestern
    We’ve had countless proposals on what to do with Harley Clarke over the years. All have failed and time is running out. This is the one time I would EVER be happy if Northwestern helped out somehow as a last ditch effort. If someone mentioned Northwestern as an option a decade ago I’d say absolutely not. But now that time has passed and our resources have run out I can see how it would be helpful now more than ever given our circumstances. They have tons of $$$ and the best engineers in the country. The Harley Clarke mansion would be an effortless project for them. I know this is a big compromise for some Evanstonians but the pros outweigh the cons personally. Thoughts?

    1. “The HC mansion would be an effortless project for them”
      I love it (not) when people make such flip statements about improvement projects. Most of us who’ve been involved in one–kitchen remodel, room addition, gut rehabs, heck, even just painting a bedroom–know better.

  6. It’s a liability, not an asset

    I find it amusing that folks are claiming Harley Clarke mansion is an asset. The problem is the exact opposite — it’s a liability, costing the city money.

    It makes perfect sense to expand the park space which will have much more use than an old mansion.

    I’m all for historical preservation, but nobody (since Jen Pritzker) has been able and willing to come up with the money. Demolition and habitat restoration makes perfect sense for everyone.

  7. Finally!
    Thank goodness for two Evanston residents who possess both the cash and the common sense to end the dithering on Harley Clarke. Far too much time and needless drama has been wasted over trying to preserve a building that is neither essential nor historic. The city blundered terribly in rejecting Col. Pritzker’s practical offer to restore the building and place it on the tax rolls. The next best alternative is to get rid of it at no cost to taxpayers, if only our city fathers have the courage to do so. The land could be highly valuable open space. The building has no value at all. It’s high time to move beyond the pipe dreams of a vocal group with more will than wallet.

    1. Please Deconstruct
      The house has no real historic value and it blocks the view of the lake front and the lighthouse. Deconstruction and restoring the land to it’s natural state is a fantastic idea. Spending more money on an a useless house is a bad idea. Thank you for the deconstruction proposal.

      1. Do not destroy Evanston heritage
        There is a Army Corps of Engineer report stating all Evanston beaches are narrowing due to water increases and wind erosion. It is foolish and irresponsible of the council to think this tiny dunes is cost free with no direct revenue fees to support it ongoing.
        It is fiscally negligent for the council to take $300,000 to destroy an Asset worth over well over 1.5 million, and a potential tax revenue base if pit up for sale. A slice of property that only serves the organizers front view with trees and growth obstructing the view from road anyway.
        Where is the guarantee the dunes operation will cost nothing? Fog houses will cost nothing? Restricted usage will be enforced as not to disturb habitat? And forever dunes status? Like a Landmark Designation?
        As a homeowner and business owner taxpayer over 30,000, and accountant, I find this quite short sighted. Working together and aligning our goals would be the best practice.
        If you want dunes, Go to the lagoon clark street beaches and prove it works first, or have NWU build them off their mega structure.
        Somewhere a dune can exactly exist.
        The mansion can reopened will prove folks of all abilities will have an year-round habitat to enjoy the crashing of the waves spring summer, fall, and winter; young folks musical venues of harp l, piano, and cello, healthy and nourishing plant growing, enivormental experiments against natures dramatic background. An Asset that is more asset. Love to have the Dunes folks join in to make it better. And teach classes when they get the dunes on southside of campus going. A win for all!!
        And BTW-Foster School. Great idea, we could combine fundraising, contractors, and programs. Go Grow Evanston. Save Harley Clarke!
        Have a terrific evening!

        1. >folks of all abilities will
          >folks of all abilities will have an year-round habitat to enjoy the crashing of the waves

          This is a clunky old fashioned stone mansion. You’re not one with the beach and the lake when you’re in it. You’re just inside a house. If Evanston wants to own a house as a public space to let citizens enjoy the experience of being inside a house, it would be much cheaper to own one on the west side.

          Let’s stop pretending this mansion has any synergy with the beach and lake, other than proximity.

  8. Save Harley! Redefine Evanstons Jewel!
    Harley Clarke Mansion is a beautiful treasure which inspires kindness, health and creative action!
    Will these proposed new dunes be more protected than the Harley Clarke Mansion? The Harley Clarke Mansion has a Landmark Designation.
    I think not. Why not combine the two and provide a fantastic Evanston jewel.
    Mr Coney and Kustok make a point, but a bit short in facts. The area already serves all of Evanston and other neighboring folks, with a park and beach access, as did Harley Clarke when the Art Center.
    Until recently, it inspired a great many artists, young and adults! Once the thoughtful renovations and programing are done, there will be new stories and imaginations sparked with greenery, music and stories told.

    The Dunes organizers live across the street, and are both associated with Northwestern University. The deconstruction mainly gives them a clear view of the lake. But, once the historic building is gone, the city owned land asset value will increase, and will most likely be sold to a tower builder, a la Wilmette, ruining the dunes and restricting the access to Evanstonians. Even currently, the dunes so called peacefulness face several obstacles, blaring light from NWU new stadium and housing, now shaded by the Mansion, bulkhead apparatus restricting lake ebbs, a new wind tunnel, and added security issues with desserted land.
    Just this evening, carloads of young folks were piling out at dusk, smoke billowing out of the windows. Most were not from Evanston. Once Harley Clarke is operational, known staff and volunteers will be on hand to deter late evening bad actors.
    Many Evanston citizens with outstanding backgrounds at Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens community center have worked
    diligently on providing a thorough “all Evanston” center enhancing plan.
    Visit to learn more about the vision.
    This style and character of house doesn’t belong to Evanston, it belongs to a young nations and towns history, and should go on to inspirer writers, musicians, showcasing the arts for the young, as well as, raw and vegan cooks with all-year long experiential growing gardens.
    When my children were young, they participated in the art camp with their friends. Today, all are using their awakened artist talents. One developed his interests and his works hang on Lulu’s walls, another is a graphic artist in NYC, another a large scale sculpture, another teaches. Mine create marketing materials and beautiful one off paintings.
    As children climb those stone steps, they are enveloped by the rooms, their mind and hands began creating some of my most cherished treasures. These gifts were inspired, not only by the staff, but by the shear beauty and character world they entered, a home of creation, not a staid museum, or block classroom, but a place to extend another bloom.
    The Harley Clarke House still holds magic to make more imaginative memories for the next Evanston generations, explore learning avenues and offer a sheltered view of the lake and a trickle of the fountains or the smell of woodfires, to all!
    Please, Let’s not make a mistake. Let’s combine with the Dunes folks restoring the Jens Garden, improving and reopening the house, redefining it a truly a world of wonderment for many more generations and a jewel of Evanston. Peace!
    Mr. Smith-Thank you for bringing a important subject up for debate with your reporting.
    Save Harley!

    -From a 31 year Evanston home owner and 11 year old Evanston business owner

  9. Historic Preservation Aspects
    I am a new-comer to Evanston and new to this debate. But as an advocate of Historic Preservation, can someone tell me where the Evanston Preservation Commission stands on these issues? Does the mansion deserve preservation protections? Is it harming the lakeshore in any substantial way? And what is the impact, either way, on Evanston’s jewel, Grosse Point Light Station, which is a National Historic Landmark? Has Landmarks Illinois or the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois weighed in? Or the Richard H Driehaus Foundation? To have a good long-term discussion, it would help to be reminded of those aspects. Thanks.

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