State officials late Monday pulled out of discussions with Evanston about turning the city-owned Harley Clarke mansion into offices for the state’s Coastal Management Program.

In a letter delivered by email to City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, Todd Main, chief of staff for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, gave two reasons for the decision:

  • That the city’s desire to retain ownership of the land under the mansion would severely limit the state’s ability to find grant funding to rehab the building.
  • That with the inauguration of a new governor next week the agency may have new leadership and the department’s current staff “must defer to the new administration as they determine their priorities for state investments.”

After the letter was read at Monday night’s Human Services Committee meeting, committee members voted to move discussion of what to do next about the mansion to next Monday’s meeting of the full City Council.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz — concened about liability risks if the building remains vacant after the Evanston Art Center moves out in June — had asked the committee to recommend that he be authorized to seek estimates for the cost of dismantling the building.

The committee didn’t vote on what steps to take next, but at least gathering information about the cost of demolition appeared likely to be one of the options on the table next week.

News that demolition was being considered brought out several preservationists to the session.

Diane Williams.

Diane Williams, the incoming chair of the Preservation Commission, said, “What to do remains a vexing challenge fo the City Council and city staff and that many concerned citizens have a lot of different points of view on the mansion.”

“But there are multiple resources out there that can help identify best practices and the most viable set of use options for the property,” Williams added.

She suggested that the roughly six month time frame before the mansion is vacant provides time “to think about and potentially re-look at issues assocated with reuse of the property.”

Garry Shumaker, the outgoing chair of the commission, suggested formation of a group representing the city’s economic development and parks and recreation units along with some of the many architects and designers in the community to try to come up with solutions.

And long-time preservation activist Mary Brugliara suggested the Elizabeth Cheney mansion, owned by the Park District of Oak Park, could provide a model for turning the Harley Clarke mansion into a venue for weddings and other events that could be a good revenue source.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. A perfect place to house the homeless

    May I sugest that the mansion would be a most appreciated domicile for the homeless in Evanston and surrounding communities.  Since the mansion is still being used by the Evanston Arts Center we know that it is up to all code ordinances.  Why tear down a building that could be a home for hundreds (mabye a thousand?) of our most unfortunate brethren.  Donated sleeping bags and a small soup kitchen are all that is needed to get this project up and running! 

    1. a homeless shelter would be

      a homeless shelter would be priceless – imagine the NIMBY response to that when they could have at least had weathy B&B guests. The only thing worse might be "transient academics"


    2. Excellent Suggestion

      I'm sure all of the North Shore liberals would be more than willing to fund this since they always "say" how the poor are neglected and need help.  Likewise the Council.

    3. Why stop there….divide the
      Why stop there….divide the space half for the homeless and the balance for registered sex offenders. Why not share the bounty with multiple groups that have difficulty finding housing?

    4. Great use for mansion

      Why not sell it to the Federal Government. They can convert it to a prison for the terrorists that are now being held at Guantanamo Bay. They will need to make room for about 100 prisoners. Barack Obama and Eric Holder will thank you. After Homeland Security rehabs the terrioists, Obama can use an executive order to make them American citizens and release them into society. The mayor can go to the prison with each released prisoner and enjoy a photo op.

      When the prison begins to empty, it can be refitted as a prison for the  criminally insane. People like the fictional Michael Myers and the members of the city council who voted down the Pritzker offer can be held there until they can safely be released without doing more harm to Evanston taxpayers. 

    5. How many people would take Pritzkers $1.2 million now?

      Sorry people, Evanston has no extra money to fix this building up! We all have to live in reality here.  We should have sold the whole thing to Pritzker and collected the additional taxes and the purchase price. We likely would have a top notch hotel/B&B very close to Northwestern drawing people to spend money at Evanston businesses. Pritzker would have let us get to the beach and the lake. Structure the transaction/deed in a manner that they had to give us the access.

      Let all the "Parks not Profit" people pay for this loser. I don’t see people lining up to donate their own money to save this place (millions not hundreds). This is another "Feels Good" project "Gone to Hell"!

      Evanston City Officials will give money to build bars on Howard Street  and loan money to build Chicken & Waffle restaurants all in the hopes of making a bigger tax base, but when a private business that wants to pay its own way and develop something that will help Evanston. No way! Pritzker wanted to take a money pit from tax payers and pay $1,200,000 for it. Then spend $22 million or so to build a hotel or high end B&B.

      Who cares if Pritzker made money. The Evanston City Official would rather pass rules requiring contractors to hire Evanston workers on $10,000 road projects. Sorry, we just don’t have the money to fix this place. Having the State of IL take it and pay for the repair? IL is in more debt then Evanston! Run (I mean fast!) and see if Pritzker is still interested. This is nothing more than a beautiful place on a great piece of property that we can't afford to keep-up. Sell and move on.

  2. Weddings, Parties, other Events

    City should maintain ownership of the building.  The city should keep the building up to code.

    It should be a city park – but should be rentable for weddings, parties, or other events.  This income could be used to maintain the building.

    The grounds should be for the community of Evanston to enjoy.  It's our building.  Don't let our government sell it, or bulldoze.  We have final say.



    1. You got

      You got to be kidding.

      Isn't it a little unethical for the city to compete against other businesses in Evanston that offer their space for events. Jennifer Pritzker offered to do this.

      At this time, if you want to save the mansion, why don't you start a save the mansion fund to raise 4 to 5 million or ask Jenifer Pritzker if she has any ideas. She did try about 18 months ago.

  3. Shelter/DayCare/Kennel
    City should consider converting the building into the NEW Animal Shelter. Also operate a Doggie Daycare/Kennel here. The land surrounding the building would be great places for the animals to play and be exercised. This would create some jobs for pet friendly residents

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