Advocates for two proposals to reuse the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion in Evanston described their plans at a community meeting Tuesday evening at the Civic Center.

Audrey Niffenegger.

Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and other novels, described plans for an Artists Book House, which she described as an outgrowth of a since closed program she was involved with at Columbia College Chicago, the Center for Book and Paper Arts, that focused on the art of papermaking and the physical creation of books.

“It was so much fun,” Niffenegger said, “It’s such a shame Columbia’s not doing it any more.”

She said she envisioned having a letterpress printing press in the basement of the mansion and providing writing space for authors in some of the upstairs rooms while others could be used for book binding and creative writing classrooms.

Plants grown in the garden, she suggested, could be harvested and turned into paper. And she anticipates the facility would also include a library, bookshop, gallery and a cafe.

Residents who turned out to hear the presentations in the Parasol Room at the Civic Center.

Niffenegger, who has acquired significant wealth from her successful novels, said she was prepared to provide some of the funding for the project herself, but that it would require additional donors.

“We’re still working on nailing down hard numbers on what it will cost,” she said.

Patrick Donnelly.

Patrick Donnelly and several other members of the Evanston Community Lakehouse & Gardens group presented an updated version of their proposal. An earlier version was rejected by the city in a previous round of efforts to find a new use for the mansion.

Donnelly said the group envisions holding seasonal gatherings at the mansion — avoiding the summer months when the available parking is used by visitors to the adjacent Lighthouse Beach.

Bill Brown.

Also speaking for the Lakehouse group, Bill Brown a construction management consultant who’s done work at First United Methodist Church and the Chicago Botanic Garden, said the 18,500 square foot mansion “is not in bad shape” and restoration of the property “is well worth doing.”

He suggested renovations will need to be done in phases and ultimately may cost between $5 million and $10 million.

The city has set a deadline of Feb. 28 for groups interested in leasing the mansion to submit their proposals for its reuse.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Yes to Harley Clarke BUT zero tax dollars..NADA, ZILCH

    Interesting proposals to consider and more should be encouraged. If any group has a viable idea with a sustainable business model that requires ZERO/NADA/ZILCH tax dollars from Evanston tax residents, I think it should be approved and let that group give it a chance.

    From my impression it seems that the proposed ideas for Harley Clarke will appeal to wealthier Evanstonians and if so, then let them fund it.

    Harley Clarke is located in the northeastern corner of Evanston and has very limited accessibility for many in Evanston.

    1. Harley Clarke

      This is painful to watch.  It is time to either see if Northwestern will buy it and use it as a guest house (depriving our hotels of occupants and the city of tax revenue) or conference center or, since no one has been able to make HC economically viable in a manner that satisfies the residents and asks ZERO of taxpayers, it is time to put this old dog out of its misery.

      There are ways to make HC viable–high end guest house in conjunction with very fine dining along with catering for events/weddings, etc.  If an investor is going to sink $10 million into HC, they will need a 99 year lease among other things to justify the investment.

      Parking in front of HC will need to be expanded to accomodate up to 40 vehicles in front of HC as well.

      Oh wait…I remember the yard signs:  Parks not profits!  Second thought, shoot this sad puppy and put it out of its misery.

    1. It is an idea. Fabulous is
      It is an idea. Fabulous is based on subjective thoughts & feelings. Who funds it & for how long? There’s no way Evanston can afford to subsidize it given the current financial realities. Solve the money issue & then I’ll call it fabulous.

      1. $$$ matter

        Indeed – who will provide the funding? It’s ALWAYS easier to spend other people’s money.

        If people like the idea, and are passionate and committed to this idea, go out and raise the money.

        Harley Clarke has been sitting vacant for how many years?

        At some point in time, the mansion will pose a major safety risk, and it will have to be demolished.

        Let’s set a timeframe and process to reach a viable outcome for HC.

  2. Both proposals working together

    The lakehouse folks had a good idea in making the lighthouse and the duplex in front of it into a maritime museum. Tours of the lighthouse could be offered. This would not interfere with the great ideas for an Evanston Book House. Movies related to books and boats could be shown on the lawn in summer months, and the greenhouse could cultivate *legal* pot to provide some of the funding.

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