Aldemen on Evanston’s Human Services Committee Monday night balked at spending more money to fix up the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion.

The Harley Clarke mansion.

Aldemen on Evanston’s Human Services Committee Monday night balked at spending more money to fix up the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion.

The panel turned back a staff recommendation to spend $270,000 to make emergency repairs to the building and fund a more in-depth study of its maintenance needs.

Instead they asked City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to meet with leaders of the building’s long-term tenant — the Evanston Arts Center — to determine the status of their plans to find a new home in the city.

They also asked him to determine what it would cost to secure the property against vandalism and decay if the city decided to leave it vacant while determining whether a new use for it could be found and what it might cost to have the building demolished.

“We’d have to board it up, perhaps have a perimeter fence around it,” Bobkiewicz said. “A lot of people come through the park area. We’d want to do everything we could to seal it from moisture, but also keep people out of it.”

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said that any more money the city spends toward recreation and arts programs neads to go to other facilities, like the Noyes Cultural Arts Center and the city’s recreation centers.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said that when the city acquired the property in the 1960s the goal was to increase park land, not to acquire the house.

“The park land to me comes first,” Fiske said, “But the house is a landmark and should be respected.”

“I would like to hear what comes out of the No Park Sale group’s meeting” Wednesday, Fiske added. “So far I haven’t heard much other than to not sell the land for private purposes.”

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she was concerned about potential legal liability for the city it it allows the arts center to stay in the building when it has conditions “we know are not safe.”

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said he saw the repairs the staff was proposing as “just a $270,000 bandaid, a short term fix for a much bigger project” that would be very hard to justify given the city’s many other capital improvement needs.

Bobkiewicz said he would provide an update for the committee’s Oct. 7 meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. There’s a better way

    Anyone wonder why the city didn't CLOSE DOWN the Evanston Arts Center years ago when it used a kiln in the basement? 

    All these years the Evanston Arts Center was open with the current electrical and ventilation system in place. The deadline to upgrade those was seven years ago!!! And now suddenly the city wants to put in a fire alarm system. It's funny how the city is just now calling for all of these improvements as the art center's lease expires.

    I am not against these improvements: every older building could use updates. Many Evanston homes 90 years and older still have the original electrial and plumbing systems and do not have a fire alarm system. My point is I suspect the city manager and others want to sell the Harley Clarke mansion and so they are overestimating the costs to repair in order to scare aldermen and the Evanston Human Services Committee..

    Mission accomplished.

    The city fire department declared numerous fire and code violations at the Dawes house a few years ago. As the Evanston History Center's lease expired (Northwestern owned the building and wanted to take it over) a report was made public that the Dawes mansion needed at least $4 million in repairs to bring it to current code standards. When Northwestern transferred ownership to the history center, the city fire department limited the scope of the violations and allowed the history center to open to the public with repairs that cost not even close to the original estimate.

    Remember, it was not long ago that city officials seemed close to selling the Harley Clarke mansion to a billionnaire who wanted to add another 30 rooms and an underground garage to turn it into a hotel. Pritzker's plans were sketchy and it was clear that public acccess of the Lighthouse Beach would have been affected. Don't forget the minutes of those meetings to sell the mansion to Pritzker were destroyed days after an FOIA request from a local newspaper. Aldermen Tendam received a campaign donation from Pritzker AFTER Tendam won the election and while Pritzker's mansion bid and zoning change request for a bed and breakfast were pending. 

    I would like to see a restaurant there. It would be one of the few restaurants in Chicago that would have views of Lake Michigan. If the city can throw millions in grants, loans, tax incentives to corporations, business and developers such as Trader Joe's, Bonnie Investments, the Autobarn and the Eight Ward wine bar then it could strike up a deal with an investment group to lease and convert the building into a restaurant.

      1. Not against spending

        I am not against spending. I am against the city selling the lakefront property.

        I am against a private owner buying the property for less than the appraised value and adding 30 more rooms and a massive underground garage that would reroute the entrance to the Lighthouse beach.

        I am against the city creating TIFS to benefit a private business. I do oppose the city spending millions of tax dollars to land a Trader Joe's that opens next door to two existing grocery stores (I'd be all right with another location, say Oakton and Asbury). Anyone ever ask Jewel or Whole Foods how they feel about the city paying to bring in their competitor next door? 

        I am against the city picking winners and losers as it gives out millions of dollars in grants and loans to certain private businesses. When a bank doesn't finance a loan that should tell ya something.  I am against the continual increase in my property taxes for the past six years as my property value has declined over that period. I really don't like the increases in my water rates.

        In this case, the Lighthouse beach and park, the Harley Clarke mansion and the lighthouse should remain in public hands. It's funny how a lot of other people agree with me.

        1. Feds do the same

          I assume that you feel the same way about what the federal government has been doing for the last 5 years. Picking winners and losers, only with a certain twist, they must be supporters of the obama administration. It is amazing that so many of the winners turned out to be losers.

        2. Funny how a lot don’t agree

          It's also funny how a lot of people don't agree with you. 

          I for one don't want my money wasted on something when there was a fantastic proposal by someone who had the ability to create a virtual jewel with that property and keep both the park and the beach open to the public.  Really nothing less than a gift was being offered to Evanston.

          There is a lot of cash now required so I'm so happy to hear you're not against spending. Now step up and start forking your cash over.

          P.S.  Imagine how much higher your taxes would and will be if those TIFs were not put in place. And guess what, all of our taxes are about to get even higher because we turned down a great proposal and must now all carry the burden of your opinion. Thanks a lot Mr. Big Spender.

          1. I suggest you get a copy of Tawani’s proposal

            I would suggest you copy of Tawani's proposal and read it — not a good deal at all for the taxpayers, Low bid, tax breakers and free beach passes to the hotel guests. I also suggest you take a good look at what was proposed, it would have destroyed public access to the beach and the enjoyment of the entire site.

            There was no good deal here for the taxpayers. The nonsense the council members and Mayor have spread about this deal has been only for their own political gain, nothing more. 

            The city for years gave the art center a free ride, public officials knew about the fact the art center was not following the lease and did nothing, I have that information verified.

            The council and Mayor keep claiming they do not have the funds for this, that is a lie,  Borrowing $1 million in capital might cost them $60,000 a year for thirty years if not less, 2-3 million dollars borrowed, $150,000 for 30 years – anyone who goes to the coucil knows how much they waste, this is nothing,  They added over 1.3 million dollars a year to our taxes, with the yard waste sticker screw up a few years back, 8 times the amount to fix Harley Clarke!

    1. Better way?

      Ummm, pretty sure Pritzker was going to put a restaurant there.  Good luck getting an "investment" group to lease and convert that building into a stand-alone restaurant. That will go bankrupt in a day or two.  

      Turning down real proposals from someone with real ability to carry through in exchange for pipe dreams is not a better way.

  2. Where are all the mansion supporters now?

    This is exactly the problem with this building – everybody loves this property – but the City of Evanston can't afford the upkeep. That has been the problem all along. What will happen now? Will all of the supporters line up to pay for it – unlikely.  It sure is easy to want something you cannot afford. 

    It is a shame that all of the supporters don't start a privately funded  "campaign to maintain" it.  But,, I have to ask: What was the City of Evanston city council thinking about when they didn't sell it? Pathetic leadership that they did not to either sell it or have a plan in hand on how to maintain it.

  3. To the Council anything can be historic or ‘important’

    "But the house is a landmark and should be respected."


    Recall the Council even made the NU Foster Walker [built in 1970s(?) complex part of the 'Historical District' and subject to same regulation as 100 year old homes.  While of course reversing themselves and letting the homes north of Lincoln off the list—but then those folks had $$$ !

    They will want to 'preserve' or 'respect' any building in sight.

  4. What about EAC?

    EAC has to be approached, if not legally forced, to help underwrite these repairs.

    This group has lived virtually rent free as a non profit, yet continues to raise dollars from donations and class proceeds.

    Now we find out EAC has been in code violation for the past 7 years as a tenant.

    I'm glad the funding recommendation was turned down.

    Well, for you 1% in that area who protested the Pritzker deal, and for the City, and finally for EAC who used the City for decades… This is your mess, you clean it up without involving the taxpayers.

    Congratulations on killing the Pritzker deal, your chickens have come home to roost.

  5. Trade a theater building for a park

    We spent $325,000 for a vacant building on Haward Street to house a theater that loses money every year and proposed to spend $1.6 Million to "renovate" it. Fortunately that was voted down but we still spent the original money for a dead property.

    How about we sell that Howard street property to fund this project? Or use the funds to "renovate" the mansion into a green park space with little future maintenance costs?

  6. City is not broke by broken

    The City Council and the Mayor, can always find money for their pet projects.  Why are they now going to hire an Arts Czar for $100,000- over ten years that will add up to over $1million dollars.  Wally has hired many new positions that are questionable.

    If we account for the council and staff mistakes there are many.  The city gave Skokie hundred of thousand of dollars for them to renovate a fire training facility, with little intelligent discussion.

    The Harley Clarke will cost money to renovate, for public use for the reality is the city has the funds, the council and Mayor are now just upset the public stop their deal to sell it for pennies on the dollar.

  7. The Mansion

    Few simple thoughts:

    1.  Tenants are only required to upgrade base building systems if it is stipulated in their lease.  Regardless of that, EAC should not be on the hook for these repairs.

    2.  The City (residents and gov) want highest and best use and/or top dollar for the building.  If the land is not included, the building should be marketed with an option to tear down and re-zone or the building should be delivered to the next owner or tenant as a vanilla box with base building systems addressed for a commercial use.

    3.  The Pritzker deal was not good or bad:  it was preliminary.  If the Col. returns with an updated proposal, it will be after the City knows a great deal more about the value of the property.  Thus, it will not be speculative on the City's part.   Do not make the rookie developer mistake of trusting the appraisal.

  8. Something like Navy Pier

    Create a park to include merry Go Round and small petting ZOO. Change the House into a variety of restaurants and shops. Offer paddle boat roads perhaps even Venice Style.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *