Evanston aldermen agreed Monday to have the mayor appoint a special committee to suggest solutions for what to do with the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion.

As proposed by Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, the group would include aldermen, Preservation Commission members and other citizens. The aldermen gave the panel a deadline to come up with recommendations before the Evanston Art Center moves out of the building June 1.

During public comment at the council meeting several people urged that a way be found to preserve the mansion. Some of those speakers also urged that it remain publicly owned.

Linda Damashek, of 1318 Judson St., an activist with the Evanston Parks and Lakefront Alliance, said the group had investigated four publicly-owned mansion properties in the region. She said all four — the Berger Park Cultural Center in Chicago, the Cheney Mansion in Oak Park, the Dole Mansion in Crystal Lake and The Grove in Glenview — are what she called “break-even” operations.

Mary Rosinski, of 1729 Chancellor St., suggested the main mansion building — minus the conservatory — could be moved down Sheridan Road to a city-owned lot adjacent to the water plant.

And Carl Bova, 1322 Roasalee St., said that if the city took a step-by-step approach to improvements to the mansion –as it’s done with the Civic Center — it could afford the rehab cost. Bova also proposed combining the two independent park districts in the city and spinning off the city’s parks department to form a new independent park district that could be headquartered in the mansion.

But Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said it’s a waste of time to have a committee “come up with fanciful ideas” about what to do. The panel, she said, needed to come up solutions on how to make any proposed new use self-supporting, because the city can’t afford to subsidize it.

And the math on an event space — like the Cheney Mansion — just doesn’t work out, Burrus added.

On the other hand, Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said the group should be able to explore whatever is out there. “If they come back with a terrible idea, we can reject it,” Wilson said.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Keep it! Put a Restaurant / Tavern in there!
    The mansion is a cool building and adds to the charm of lighthouse beach / park.
    Can the city lease it out to a restaurant / tavern group that could pay rent that contributes to building upkeep?
    Could part of the space be reserved for public art exhibitions?

    How cool would it be to have a restaurant / bar facing the dunes and the lake – one of the only ones on the North Shore!

    People could still enjoy the space, it would be a great destination for people to dine from other towns, events could be booked there… and the city gets revenue from rent to maintain the building.

    1. Chris, you have a plan to

      Chris, you have a plan to finance the upkeep but do you have a plan to raise the millions it will take to rehab the building up to code or make it handicap accessible?

  2. If the committee can come up

    If the committee can come up with a good idea that does not use Evanston taxpayer dollars and does not involve a government agency,  I am all for it. If it wasn't for the location the mansion would have been demolished years ago. You can't save every mansion in Evanston. There are too many.

    Most Evanston taxpayers are feedup with the whole affair. The city had a chace to make the Pritzker offer a real plus for Evanston that would be paying off for decades. The city government blew it. Now the mansion is at best, a drag on the city's finances.

    As far as the IDNR is concerned that would be a real negative to the taxpayers. Whether they bought or rented the mansion the taxpayers would be paying for it. In addition, they would not  be paying any taxes. If they spent millions fixing the mansion, the taxpayers would be paying for it.

    I only see 3 options that are fair to all of Evanston:

    1. Start a fund raiser to "save the mansion". I'm sure that the groups that screamed to not sell it to Pritzker would be able and willing kick 100's of thousands. How about the group that kicked 1.5 million for the EAC would give at least an equal amount to support the mansion. After all, it was the EAC that let the interior of the mansion go to ruin.
    2. Find some private sector business or person, like Pritzker, who would cut an acceptable deal to buy or lease the mansion and some portion of land. They would need to have millions of dollars to make it work. Maybe somebody knows a wealthy lottery winner.
    3. Tear down the mansion the cheapest way possible. Before doing so, try to sell off fixtures that can be used by others to offset the cost.
    1. Option #4 – Sell the land to Northwestern U

      Northwestern has a pretty decent record of erecting architecuraly pleasing buildings (in the eye of the beholder, of course).  Sell the land to them, but not the the beachfront, for the price that would totally fund the unfunded police and fire pension 100%.  This would be an indirect was of taxing NU and save us taxpayers a bundle in future tax increases

  3. It Should Be for Everyone
    I understand everyone’s financial concerns about the mansion – and they are all valid. Bringing the building up to code, and having the finances to maintain the building and the property should already be “baked in” to whatever decision is made.

    My primary concern is utilizing the property and and grounds to it’s maximum potential for the residents of Evanston. Lakefront property – and our old mansions are part of the charm of Evanston – and tearing it down is very unimaginative. I think I like the idea of the city maintaining ownership of the property – and leasing it out for someone to have a tavern/restaurant/event space on the lakefront (think of how cool that would be!) – and having it stipulated in the lease that the lessee is responsible for both bringing the building up to public code, and maintaining the property. Whoever opens a business there is going to do very well – many people will like to eat, have a beer, and simply stop by to enjoy the beauty of the property. I think it’s garaunteed to do well, if it’s leased to the right party. The lessee maintains the property, the city collects the tax revenue, and the residents of Evanston get a great new place to hang out.

    I do have to say I’m not impressed with our government – it seems they have messed up each phase of deciding what to do with the mansion – and lately the only thing they can come up with is “tear it down”. Is that really the best you can come up with? They seem to lack vision – and creativity to come up with viable solutions that benefit the residents of Evanston, the possibility of generating some tax revenue for the city, and fun solutions that best utilize this amazing space and property. We need to hold them accountable to do better.

    1. Lakefront Mansion
      pmongeon73 – I have to agree with everything you’ve said. Further, if the building were to be developed as a tavern, the full cost of bringing it up to code could be done in phases. After all, the tavern could initially open on the first floor and could expand upward as the other floors are repaired. This is one instance where I wouldn’t mind seeing a patio put in where I could enjoy a summer afternoon sipping something cool and refreshing. Let’s be creative and make this location a jewel on the northshore. Where else, other than North Avenue Beach, are we able to enjoy a view of Lake Michigan while having a nice dinner/drink? If this idea gets any traction, Evanstonians who support it need to come out in force to show their support. Many of us supported the Pritzker plan, but because only the naysayers came out to shout it down, many of our aldermen backed away. Pritzker had a great plan and it should have been given a great deal of consideration.

      1. Lakefront Mansion
        The NIMBY people don’t want any Commercial Businesses operating near them. Didn’t 400 or so of them storm the City Council meeting to get the proposed Boutique Hotel rejected?

  4. Never too late.
    It is never too late to go back, hat in hand, and ask Jennifer Pritzker nicely to reconsider her bid for the property. That was a win, win for the city. The Mansion would be refurbished and even after the sale, the city would have been collecting sales tax for a long time. Strike a deal to allow unlimited access to the beach and make everyone happy.

    1. Hat in Hand

      In complete agreement that the city should go hat in hand on blended knee back to Ms. Pritzger to restore the mansion at her expense and to our benefit. She's already shown that she can do a wonderful restoration job with a Evanston property.

      1. Yes to Jennifer Pritzker & Harley Clarke Mansion

        Jennifer Pritzker does a great job restoring architecturally notable buildings. Her work is impeccable. Before you comment or form an opinion, go look at the 3 properties she has recently restored: Stone Porch B&B at 300 Church Street, Evanston Frank Lloyd Wright designed Emil Bach house at 7415 N. Sheridan Road Pritzker Military Museum & Library at 104 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago As many people have commented, neither The City of Evanston nor the State of Illinois has extra money to refurbish the mansion and pay for future upkeep. Many people are understandably opposed to selling lakefront property, so instead of selling it to Ms. Pritzker, arrange a long term lease. The City of Evanston controls title to the property and the community gains by having a person who has the proven resources and expertise to remodel the Harley Clarke Mansion into a gem on the lake. This can be a win/win for the community. But if Ms. Pritzker isn't amenable or community opposition is adamantly opposed to this idea, then tear down the mansion and move on. The City of Evanston should try and re-visit this idea with Jennifer Pritzker. By the way, how many people who have commented on this issue or campaigned against Ms. Pritzker have actually visited the 3 sites I listed? Take the time to visit.


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