About 100 people turned Thursday evening to brainstorm ideas for possible new uses for the city-owned Harley Clarke mansion in Evanston.

Organizers of the event, held in the Parasol Room at the Civic Center, intentionally avoided any discussion of how the ideas might be funded, saying they planned to save that for a followup meeting planned for Feb. 28.

Residents arrive for the session.

Some of the ideas announced to the group at the end of the meeting included:

  • An art center that could hold classes on how to make paper from local plants.
  • A museum to house the Shorefront collection on the history of blacks on the North Shore.
  • A youth center.
  • A yoga studio.
  • A cultural center with art and exercise classes, with a cafe and maybe a bar.
  • A Great Lakes research center.
  • An intergenerational community gathering space.
  • An environmental learning center that would host weddings to make money.
  • A cooking school.
  • A concert venue with a beautiful outdoor space like the Ravinia Festival.
  • An urban agricultural program.
  • A museum devoted to architect Daniel Burnham.

Evanston voters last fall endorsed an advisory referendum supporting preserving the mansion “at minimal or no cost” to taxpayers.

That led the City Council to drop efforts to demolish the mansion, a course the Council had embarked upon after concluding that a non-profit group seeking to run educational programs at the mansion lacked the financial resources to fund the project.

Previously the city had rejected a proposal to redevelop the mansion as a boutique hotel. And a plan to turn it into an office for a state agency fell apart after a change of administrations in Springfield.

The mansion’s future went up for grabs after the city declined to renew a long-term lease with the Evanston Art Center in a dispute over maintenance responsibilities for the property.

The mansion, built by a utilities executive in the 1920s, was acquired by the city in the 1960s, in an effort to expand public beaches and park land along the lake.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Harley Clarke Community Conversation

    What an inspiring and uplifiting evening! So many people came out last night to collaborate on ideas and visions for the future of the Harley Clarke mansion despite being the coldest evening of the year..  Impressive. Evanston residents clearly care deeply about that old house.

  2. Who sponsored the event?

    Was the event sponsored by the city or some nonprofit? Were any City officials participating (eg council members or the City Manager)?

    1. Sponsorship

      Hi Potsy,

      It was not sponsored by the city.

      I did not see any officials participating.

      Many people who’ve figured in past efforts to “save” the mansion were in attendance.

      — Bill

      1. potential uses

        Did anyone suggest that it be used as a restored natural area, in keeping with the Burnham idea of a beautiful, open lakefront?

        Oh, right, I forgot it was deemed “elitist” to provide more open natural space because two people’s houses would have a slightly better view.  Nemmind.

      2. Uses for Harley Clarke

        Good point Bill! I wish they’d let Jennifer Pritzker develop it. It could have had beach access and we know it would have been tastefully done. All of the suggested uses listed in the brainstorming session could be done other places, like the public library.

  3. Awesome. What private group
    Awesome. What private group or individual is funding these ideas in perpetuity? Hoping that the next meeting doesn’t disappoint in providing clear & workable answers that do not include subsidizing the former frat house with taxpayer $.

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