Evanston History Center members Wednesday elected officers and trustees who said they’re committed to negotiating with Northwestern University to keep the organization in its long-time home at the Dawes mansion on the lakefront.

About 100 people attended the center’s annual meeting at the King Home, where some members of the ad-hoc General Dawes Returns group urged a more confrontational approach toward the university.

The center’s president, Marge Wold, said, “You do what you feel you need to do,” but that the center’s board believes it is making progress through quiet negotiations with university officials, and plans to continue that strategy.

Wold said that by making some relatively low-cost fire-safety repairs the center hopes to be able to reopen the first floor and basement of the three-story mansion to limited public use by this fall.

She said the university believes the building needs an additional $4 million in immediate repairs to fully reopen, while board members think the work could be done for about $2 million.

“This is just for things that we all basically agreed need to be done to keep the building safe and keep it from deteriorating further,” Wold said.

She said the work includes repairs to the roof and windows and a variety of interior work.

“At the same time we’re doing this, we have to have a ‘Plan B’ for what to do if talks with the university fall through and we have to be out by Jan. 1,” Wold said.

She said the board is looking for other sites in Evanston, but “that’s really hard to do and we hope we don’t have to.”

Some of the dissident members tried to open nominations for other directors, but were told they had missed the nominating deadline, which ended several days before the meeting.

In response to questions about the center’s resources, Wold said the center operates on an annual budget of $250,000 and has an endowment of about $1 million.

The university received an endowment from General Dawes in addition to his donation of the house to the school that she said now is valued at about $1.8 million.

History Center Director Eden Pearlman said the university has used funds from the endowment over the years to pay for a variety of repair work on the house including fixing third-floor brick work that was literally separating from the walls and adding a steel beam to the second floor to secure a balcony.

Wold said the board is reluctant to launch a major fund raising campaign at this point, because it doesn’t know whether it will have control of the building in the future, and that donors want to know how their contributions would be used.

She said NU officials haven’t specified an asking price for the property, if it were to be sold. But given the property’s size and location along the lakefront, it might potentially be valued at several million dollars.

The building is protected as a local landmark, so it would require city council approval to demolish, but the site is large enough, at nearly two acres, so that it could conceivably be subdivided into several building lots under its existing R1 residential zoning.

Patrick Leary, an Evanston resident and curator of Wilmette’s historical museum, said the board should “be careful what you wish for.”

“Historical house museums are in crisis and decline all over America now,” Leary said. “They are horrendously expensive to maintain, and it’s difficult to get return visitors. People say ‘I saw that mansion, why should I go back?’”

“You could wind up in a situation in which in order to stay in the Dawes house, you mortgage the future of the center to the building,” Leary said. “All the money that could have gone into collections and staff to make the center a dynamic part of the community is instead going into the house.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Questions about EHC and GDR
    About 100 people attended the center’s annual meeting at the King Home, where some members of the ad-hoc General Dawes Returns group urged a more confrontational approach toward the university.

    This raises some questions about the goals of both the GDR cult and the EHC.

    1. What is the point of the GDR campaign? To keep the Dawes house open as a museum – or is this just part of a long vendetta against Northwestern? At least one member of the GDR campaign has a long history of denouncing Northwestern.

    2. What is the goal of EHC?

    If it is to preserve and teach about the history of Evanston, is maintaining a large expensive building the best way to do this? Maybe the money spent heating the Dawes House would be better spent digitizing archives and posting them on the web, or putting together educational exhibits that people will actually want to see.
    Maybe the Evanston Public Library -with its Evanstonia room – would be a better, more accessible, and less expensive place. More people would see the exhibits, too. [ EHS was in the public library at one point]

    If , on the other hand, the EHC is sort of a local version of the DAR – where elegant ladies with fancy hats and gloves get together in the lavish salon of the Dawes Mansion and have tea and crumpets while remembering the good old days – then they should not expect any assistance from NU, and should not masquerade as a ‘historical’ group.

    3. Even back in the 1950’s , aldermen complained that EHS wasn’t self-sufficient.
    These guys need to find a way to pay their own bills. If nobody in Evanston cares about what they are doing, what does that tell us? Again, maybe if they came out of the mansion and were in a more accessible place, we would feel differently.

    4. Does NU provide indirect support to EHC? I notice most of the staff emails on the EHC page are NU addresses. Is NU providing the internet services? Do EHC staff have access to NU libraries, archives , and electronic databases (like JSTOR? )? Do students and faculty from NU provide assistance to EHC?
    The NU-bashing seems to come only from the GDR cult, not the EHC staff. I suspect that EHC is heavily dependent on NU’s resources.

    5. Historical question: Dawes announced that he was giving the house to NU in 1942, upon the death of him and Mrs. Dawes. She died in 1957. Who owned the house between 1942 and 1957? Did NU own it, while it was understood that the Dawes had a right to live in it? Or did Dawes own it, with the intention to transfer it to NU after he and his wife died?
    The reason this is relevant : Did Dawes transfer the property to NU in 1942 so he could avoid paying property taxes? Did NU provide any maintenance between 1942 and 1957?

    I have not been able to find clear answers to this.

    6. Why is Dawes so important to the history of Evanston, and worth commemorating? He did not play a major role in the development of the city [that would be the NU folks ]. He was born in Ohio, and moved to Evanston after he became wealthy. He played a role in national, not local, politics.
    He was generally regarded as one of the worst, most ineffective vice presidents. Check this out – he is best known for taken a nap during an important tied vote in the senate, missing his chance to cast the deciding vote. He is not known for creating any great political movement. He was an obscure, 1-term VP.

    As pointed out elsewhere, Alben Barkley’s house is not a museum. The residents of Waverly, MN were unable to raise sufficient funds to honor their local VP: http://www.herald-journal.com/specials/hhhmuseum/

    Does anyone remember W.H. Taft’s Vice President? Or William McKinley’s first VP? Would you go visit their museums if they exist? Would you go more than once?
    Even most presidential museums will be hard to sustain in the long run.

    Isn’t this just an old McMansion? A rich guy built a large and tacky house, which his heirs could not sustain?

      1. Dawes in Maine, 1924
        I just came across an account of Charles Dawes trip to Maine in 1924:

        Here is the background: In 1924, the state Republican party (then dominant in Maine) was split between a pro-Klan and anti-Klan faction. Dawes came to Maine to campaign for the Republicans.

        The anti-Klan Democrats, trying to exacerbate the split, asked Dawes a question:

        “Do you believe that the Ku Klux Klan fills any useful place in the life of the United States?”

        Here is the response from Dawes:

        In opening his speech at Augusta, General Dawes launched directly into the Klan question:

        “Let me say at once that I recognize that the Ku Klux Klan in many localities and among many people represents only an instinctive groping for leadership, moving in the interest of law enforcement, which they do not find in many cowardly politicians and office holders. But it is— not the right way to forward law enforcement. . . .

        “Appeals to racial, religious or class prejudice by minority organizations are opposed to the welfare of all peaceful and civilized communities.”

        Source: Time Magazine, Sept. 1, 1924


        Mark David Chalmers also discusses the incident in “Hooded Americanism : the history of the Ku Klux Klan”, page 214:

        “It was not the right way, he went on, praising the Klan’s behavior in Oklahoma and Illinois, but it was correctly motivated and bravely carried out even though the results in each case were unfortunate.”

        So, the KKK was basically “correctly motivated”? They were well meaning, but their methods were just a little too much?

        While Mr. Who Knows admires anonymity, he would never hide his identity with a pillowcase and white sheet.

        I hope that the next time that the GDR campaign has their “General Dawes” actor make an appearance, someone will get him to clarify his position on this issue.

        Perhaps we should consider changing the name of Dawes School. Is it really acceptable to have the school named after someone who waffled on the issue of the KKK? I suggest that we name the school after a different one-term Vice President, with a stellar record on civil rights: Hubert H. Humphrey

  2. Mr Who – the Evanston Room is rather small.
    Mr who you stated”Maybe the Evanston Public Library -with its Evanstonia room – would be a better, more accessible, and less expensive place. More people would see the exhibits, too. [ EHS was in the public library at one point]”

    Mr Who the Evanston Room at the public library is rather small ( 100 sq ft)- what you proposing is we use taxpayers money here to use additional space in the public library? You were not around when then recently spent $2 million to rework the less than 10 year old children space – since they did not program it right in the first place.

    Appears to me you want the taxpayer to now be involved?

    Let the board and NU work this out and lets see here they are at the end of the process.

    You reasoning about the property tax is pretty irrelevant.

    You continue to attack – the property call it a McMansion – which it is not – it sits on two acres of land – the definition of a McMansion is a large house sitting on a small lot next to small homes.

    Futher more your personal attack on General Dawes is interesting at least he posted his name and was a public figure – you are to afraid to even post your name. ( by the way even if you post your name I do not think any one will care – no one is going to call you at home at your place or work )

    By the way a few public officials have taken naps during hearing here. ( even with their eyes open they may not be awake. )


    1. special interests at the Dawes House
      Hey Junad, let’s make one thing clear: I do NOT suggest subsidizing the EHC by putting them in the library. I think that they could work out an agreement to RENT some of the library. It does seem like a big library, right? And as printed reference books become ever more irrelevant with the internet, many public libraries will use less space for storing books. They could have some of the area near the Evanston room. But yes, they should pay something.
      “Personal attack” on Dawes? No, just pointing out that most historians consider him to be a very poor Vice President. John McCain was recently quoted as saying
      “The vice president really only has two duties. One is to cast a tiebreaking vote in the Senate, and the other is to inquire daily as to the health of the president,”
      Dawes embarrassed President Coolidge by not being around for an important tie vote.

      Now about the taxes: they ARE an important issue. If Dawes transferred the property over to NU so he could avoid paying property taxes, then it raises questions about the claim that Dawes cared about giving his house to the people of Evanston. He could have just been dodging taxes. More importantly, one of th e leaders of the GDR campaign has often complained about NU’s tax-free status, supposedly because NU students are always setting off fire alarms or some other nonsense. It would be ironic if the Dawes house was saved from the bulldozer because by transferring it to NU, Dawes got a tax break.

      Anyway, Junad – take a look at the Gen.Dawes website now. It looks like the GDR extremists are now directing their anger at the EHC – yes, the EHC – for not being willing to fight NU. I really think that the GDR people just have a grudge against NU – and the Dawes House is just a convenient vehicle for them.

      Anyway, according to the GDR site, NU might be planning to use the building to house its next president. That sounds like a great idea! The president a major universities often have homes where they host social events – for university purposes and for fundraising. NU’s president should have one too. Dawes House is perfect – this would preserve the house, and it would be used by a lot more than the 800 people who currently visit every year.

      Remember, Junad, this building was originally constructed by an officer of NU – Rev. Robert D. Sheppard, Treasurer and Business Manager of NU and Garrett Biblical Institute. So, by using it to house Bienen’s successor, the house would be returning to its original function.

      And finally, Junad, I suggest that you look at the history of the Dawes House and how Evanston Historical Society was subsidized by the City of Evanston. I will be happy to send you copies of the Chicago Tribune articles from 1959. Since you are always denouncing special interests who get money from the city, I am sure that you would admire the aldermen who fought against subsidizing the EHS back in 1959.

      1. more research on your part would help – Mr Who
        Mr Who – NU already has a huge home and land for their president – north of the campus – they also have a home for their former president – which is as large as the Dawes house – and a few other administators – you comment shows you are not too well informed – Proposing they use the Dawes house for their president.

        “Anyway, according to the GDR site, NU might be planning to use the building to house its next president. That sounds like a great idea! The president a major universities often have homes where they host social events – for university purposes and for fundraising. NU’s president should have one too. Dawes House is perfect – this would preserve the house, and it would be used by a lot more than the 800 people who currently visit every year.”

        By the way any time the city is a landlord you have a problem they tend to rent on the cheap and not maintain the property – art center is a good example – $1 a year rent and no maintenance – they claim about $500,000 for repairs- my guess more like the Dawes house – probably a few million for years of deferred maintenance.

        As for the library as a large space – there is alot of wasted space – it was part of a contest – but that space is in circulation –

        I think your comment General Dawes was out to save taxes – does not make much sense – since he gave an endowment – to NU and the Historical society – thus it does not appear to me he was looking to save a few bucks on this property taxes as his motive to transfer the property.

        Quite Honesty a event in 1959 – is of little importance – to what the council is doing today to waste our tax dollars – you should start to attend a few of the committee meetings – if you really want to learn what is going on with your tax dollars. I would suggest A &PW(Adminstration and public works) this is were millions of our tax dollars are being spent.

        1. More research, Junad?
          Junad – You are right about the Dawes House rent being very low. It was $1/year for many years. While the Historical Society paid for heating, the University paid for major structural repairs. Even the EHC admits this.
          The president’s house is not currently part of the campus. Having the home on Greenwood would make it easily accessible for formal university events. It would also – and I know the NU-haters at GDR won’t like this – increase the prominence of NU president in Evanston.
          Now as for your comment:
          I think your comment General Dawes was out to save taxes – does not make much sense – since he gave an endowment – to NU and the Historical society – thus it does not appear to me he was looking to save a few bucks on this property taxes as his motive to transfer the property.
          You should realize, Junad, that during and after the Second World War , income and estate taxes were extremely high. So while Dawes did leave an endowment to pay for some maintenance, most of that money would have gone to the government anyway if he did not do so. [ Note: While I disapprove of taxes to support nonsense like the North Branch library or elm injections, the estate tax was a very good idea. Even my hero, Adam Smith, liked the idea of estate tax. Also, during a major war, it was entirely proper to raise taxes to pay for it. Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR did this. Bush cut taxes to go along with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. ]

          The 1959 articles are entirely relevant, Junad, because the GDR group has given a misleading account of the history of the property. The period in question, 1959-1960 , was when the EHS was taking possession of the Dawes House. The accounts from the Tribune in 1959 seem to contradict the version of events that the GDR group is telling. As the accounts show, EHS was in no position to maintain the property back then – with or without the Dawes endowment. Again, Junad, I will happy to send copies of these articles to you.

          It is clear that this GDR campaign is not getting much support from the EHC . Unlike the bitter, hardcore anti-NU people who run the GDR campaign, I think that most of the EHC people do not want to alienate Northwestern, because they know that they benefit from NU [ What is the email address of the EHS? evanstonhs@northwestern.edu ] Now the GDR people are turning against the EHC leadership.

          So, here is a reasonable solution: Let the new president of NU move into the Dawes House. He could have nice soirees for donors in the living room, and invite faculty over for tea and crumpets in the afternoon. They can give whatever “remains” of the Dawes endowment, and perhaps a little more, to EHC.

          Of course, like you said, Junad, it is between NU and EHC, so it is really none of our business. But I am afraid that the GRD people will try to make it our business. Their website has a sign-up page, and it asks Evanston residents which ward they live in. Why? Is the GRD trying to get council involved? That would be stupid – but as you and Vito have pointed out, many if not all of our aldermen are not financial wizards (Darwin award winners), so maybe they would go along.

          I think that the Public Library would be a better place for EHC – more people would see them there – and it would, I hope, lead them to turn their focus to history instead of collecting fancy dresses and maintaining an old house.

          I have never visited the Dawes House. I curious, Junad, how many times have you been there? [If you are like most people, once is enough. About 1% of Evanston residents visit every year, and that includes kids who are dragged along on school trips. ] Have you visited the famous Dodson-Stevenson house in Bloomington, home of Adlai Stevenson I, VP under Grover Cleveland? Or perhaps you have driven the 160 miles out to Whitley County, Indiana to visit the home of Thomas R. Marshall, VP under Woodrow Wilson? These aren’t very big tourist attractions. I think that a better use could be found for the house.

          1. 1959 articles are not very relevant,
            Mr Who – do you believe everything printed in the press? Over the years here the amount of misinformation – has been quite large. Good example -affordable housing – we have a crisis – if someone is reading this all the people involve claim its a huge problem. The fact is as I pointed out 25% of Evanston housing stock met the State affordability criteria – 10% is all that was being required. Yet every article and editorial were there is this big problem.
            Crime is another example – covered up all the time every year the police claim it drops – yet people get robbed on the streets here almost daily.
            Police and fire pension – is another example – I can go on and on – about what is in the press and how the facts differ – I doubt anyone is still around from 1959 who has know of the events- using a few articles is hardly going to prove much of anything- almost 50 years later.

            As to youre “So, here is a reasonable solution: Let the new president of NU move into the Dawes House.” He currently has a huge piece of land and large house which he lives in – so I am not so certain youre solution makes much sense.- go visit the site and see for youre self. You do need to worry I doubt he would be upset if you walk by on the side walk – its a public street – by the way it appears to sits on two arces of land or more and the house appears bigger than the Dawes property. So I doubt NU will move the president out.

  3. Nobel, Shmobel
    First, it is necessary to repeat that Dawes did not have a big connection to Evanston. As the link says, he moved here around 1894 when he was around 30 so that he could be nearer to his business offices. There is no evidence of him playing any role in local affairs – he almost immediately turned his attention to national politics, becoming Comptroller in 1898, and then trying for a Senate seat, and being involved with national Republican politics from there on.
    Lots of Nobel Prize winners and Vice Presidents have faded into obscurity. Like Vice Presidents Barkley, Curtis, and Marshall, Nobel Prize winners such as Nicholas Murray Butler and Emily Greene Balch are largely forgotten.
    The fact remains that Dawes did not leave enough money to maintain that expensive house in perpetuity. NU should not use its own money for this, and the City of Evanston certainly should not. If the EHC decides that is primary mission is preserving this old house, then they need to come up with the money themselves.
    For all of the Dawes fans out there, I suggest that you take up a collection to restore and maintain the house. If you can come up with enough money, that is fine- but don’t try to get it from NU or the city.

  4. Wold: NU spent no money on Dawes House
    As an EHC member who was present at the annual meeting on June 18, I heard Mrs. Wold state very clearly that Northwestern University has never spent a single penny from its own funds on Dawes House. The University controls an endowment that Charles Dawes left to maintain his house, and it has directed that some of those funds be spent on Dawes House. But, according to the EHC bylaws, the Dawes House endowment cannot be spent for any other purpose. It’s not Northwestern’s money.

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