Evanston’s mayor says the city is considering selling the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion because it doesn’t have the money to repair the building.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, at this week’s City Council meeting, criticized an online petition campaign opposing sale of the mansion, saying the campaign was “spreading an enormous amount of misinformation” and “causing great consternation in the community.”

The petition drive was organized by Alex Block, who, based on an internet search, appears to be a former student representative to the Evanston Township High School board and a student at Miami University of Ohio.

Block has not responded this morning to an email message from Evanston Now concerning the substance of the petition or his misappropriation of a copyrighted Evanston Now photo for use on the petition.

While the petition claims that the City Council has discussed the possible sale of the mansion “mostly behind closed doors,” Tisdahl says the council “has discussed the future of the building publically for the last three years and decided over two years ago to begin a process to examine other uses for the building.”

The controversy over closed-door talks came after city officials said a recording of a closed-door session in Feburary was accidentally destroyed. Minutes of that session are now available online.

The mayor, in a letter responding to people who have signed the petition, adds that what are now “preliminary discussions” about a sale to the one remaining bidder, of four who initially submitted proposals for reuse of the mansion, “include maintaining complete public access to the grounds and beach.”

The initial bid from Col. James N. Pritzker was for $1.2 million, but he reportedly has indicated a willingness to raise the offer for the property, which was valued at $2.5 million in an appraisal last year.

The mayor says the city “has made no decisions on a price or terms of a sale of the property” and that any future use for the mansion “will be discussed by the City Council in open session and community meetings will be held before any final action is taken.”

The mayor says the Evanston Arts Center, which currently leases the building from the city for $1 a year, is in the midst of “identifying a new location for its operations in order to increase its accessibility to residents and improve its facility.”

The arts center, the mayor added, “has always been welcome to remain” in the mansion “until the building is deemed unsafe, a choice they have wisely declined.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Piven vs. mansion

    How is it that the City of Evanston can make a generous loan to Piven…but fail to invest in a cultural landmark in Evanston?

  2. No money?

    Help me here…no money to fix Harley Clarke mansion, but plenty of money to help Piven stay in Evanston?! I am assuming then there is no money for stronger police presence near and around the high school either. Can someone enlighten me on what our city officials' priorities are here?…as I have no clue.

  3. Crisis du jour

    Are there priorities?  Or are they reactions to the crisis du jour?

    No funds to maintain properties we already own?  Sounding familiar.

  4. What’s the deal the the “Col.” business

    I'm curious as to why everyone refers to James Pritzker him as "Col. Pritzker".  Does Pritzker introduce himself as "Colonel Pritzker"?

    My sense is that it is unusual these days for people to use their military titles when they have retired.

    Whenever I read about "Col Pritzker," I can't help but think of some Faulknerian post-Confederacy plantation owner.

    1. Related Subjects

      Maybe he is related to Colonel Sanders? Since Sanders' Resturant left Evanston (city refused financing) we might need a new colonel in town.

  5. City officials’ priorities?

    city officials' priorities? Preferable to selling the property to Pritzker for "development" is for the city to take down the lovely old mansion and make expanded park area (and lake access) on the site.

    Selling off the city's assets should be avoided, especially lakeshore property. Inadequate maintenance of city properties (e.g., civic center, Clarke mansion)  is an error of the past.

    Please don't compound past errors by saying "the city needs money from sale of the Clarke mansion" and then selling to Pritzker or another private party. Current and future generations of Evanston residents deserve to have its lakefront preserved as public land.

  6. Keep the Harley Clarke Mansion for the Residents of Evanston

    I wanted to reach out and share my thoughts on the pending review of the lease of the Harley Clarke Mansion.  We moved to Evanston 27 years ago to raise our family and most importantly be on Lake Michigan.  Lake Michigan beaches particularly in Evanston are world class and we have been able to spend much of the summers enjoying our family time on the beaches.  We have also been active small sailboat participants at the Dempster Street Beach for 25 years and a member of the Evanston Sailing and Kayak Club.  The Evanston lakefront and beaches have been an integral part of our lives.  So, we thank the City of Evanston for the great job of keeping our lakefront as spectacular as it is.  
    Just last week as I was sailed from Dempster Street to the Bahai and I was able to once again realize the value of the lakefront at the “Family”/Lighthouse beach and how that remains virtually the most well preserved natural area on the Evanston lakefront.  I am concerned that leasing the Mansion will inhibit the public from using the Lighthouse beach and lessen the ease and comfort of families and residents from using the beach.
    I was actively involved several years ago with the redevelopment of the Dempster Street Sailing & Kayak Beach rack and storage hearings.  We had residents whose homes bordered the beach and they were able to influence the final outcome – design by making sure that boats and any other parts of the redevelopment did not obstruct what they believed was their view or land rights.
    Our family photos were taken in the back of the Mansion yard.  Will we all have access to?
    I have experienced similar types of issues in Harbor Country, MI where a property becomes a hotel or B&B and the public access next to the property does not provide the same resident welcoming as before.  The new owner or Lessor assures that will never be the case but in fact does make a significant change.
    The entire thought of allowing the property and Mansion to be leased to a private citizen and then the property used as a hotel does not make sense to me.  It appears to be about, as always, the funds of the City or lack of funds. 
    Additionally, my business is located on Oak where the Technology Center was previously housed.  I have the opportunity to walk downtown Evanston several times a week and observe the spend on bike lanes and redevelopment of the downtown area.  I also observe the City’s choices on lending funds for the Noyes Center which primarily benefits the Piven Theatre.  Etc., etc.  The whole issue comes down to choices made by the City of Evanston on behalf of the residents. 
    I know that if the Park near my house on Prairie was leased to a private investor that would convert the property to a private use location we would be devastated.   Imagine that next?

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