I’m so tired of Harley Clarke. After seven years of trying to decide what to do with it, Evanstonians still can’t agree.


And that is why I’ll be voting no on the “Save Harley Clarke” referendum Nov. 6.

Jennifer Pritzker offered in 2013 to expand the mansion into what most likely would have been an attractive and economically viable boutique hotel.

But aldermen, cowed by the screams of outrage from the “No Park Sale” crowd, rejected the proposal before seriously considering it.

Our local lawmakers, trolling for votes, are now saying the state or federal government could fund a new use for the mansion.

But we’ve heard that song before, and saw the idea of turning it into offices for the Department of Natural Resources evaporate in 2014 when the governorship changed hands.

The Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens group last year proposed what might have been a plausible new use as an environmental education center — but then they got cold feet about their fundraising capacity.

That led aldermen, burned by the 50 years of deferred maintenance under the prior lease to the Evanston Arts Center, to turn down the Lakehouse plan.

If the 3,300 people who signed the petition to put the Harley Clarke referendum on the November ballot had each signed a check to ELHG for $1,500 instead, the Lakehouse plan would be funded.

But it seems most of them want somebody else to pay for their place on the lake.

As for me, I have no desire to see tax dollars spent to memorialize the architectural excess of a 1920s utilities magnate.

People should be free to build a nearly 20,000-square-foot monument to their own sense of self-importance if they choose. But don’t use my tax dollars to preserve it.

The “passive-use-only” lakefront crowd has mobilized against any financially self-sustaining use for the building.

The “preservationists” don’t have the money to save the building without a financially self-sustaining use.

In a time when we’re considering laying off firefighters and police officers to balance the budget so middle-income residents can still afford to live in Evanston, making taxpayers shoulder the burden for saving the mansion is ridiculous.

We have an offer from a group of residents to pay for the mansion’s demolition.

It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it seems at this point that it’s the best option we’ve got.

More open space parkland is not a bad thing for our landlocked city.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. The Harley Clarke referendum

    The Harley Clarke referendum question is poorly worded as well.

    “…at little or no cost to taxpayers…”

    Little or no cost to taxpayers is all in the eyes of the beholder.  The only way to save Harley Clarke is to make it economically viable or as you bravely noted have each of the 3300 residences with a Save Harley Clarke sign pony up $1,500 of their own money to save Harley Clarke.

    1. Well said. We don’t need

      Well said. We don’t need Harley Clark. we need fully staffed Police and Fire. departments!

    2. Save Harley Clarke

      Hi Bill

      Go to your toilet,  open your wallet and dump all your money into the toilet, then flush.   Do you feel like you’ve just lost something – or thrown away money?  That’s how I view this demo proposal.  A flushing of valuable city assets.

      Those two lakefront buildings are already bought and paid for, the city already paid for them years ago – and they are the last remaining city buildings on the lake.  Ask any realtor in Evanston what those buildings are still worth…millions, many millions of dollars….even in their current state, which according to structural engineers is “great condition” (Tribune).  

      It’s unfortunate (some of) our city leaders consider their only lakefront buildings a maintenance headache and want to rip them down.  I view this as total insanity. It’s the opposite of being fiscally responsible.

      This same type of thinking almost got our iconic lighthouse ripped down 70 years ago…the city wanted to demo the Lighthouse for fear of maintenance…but now that lighthouse logo appears on every city document in Evanston…even the demo proposal, how’s that for irony.

      Come on Bill…why not encourage your viewers to save their historic lakefront building.  Saving those buildings will be a fun, exciting project for Evanston.  Something to look forward to and see happen in real time.  Ripping them down is unimaginative and wasteful.  Your idea to find 3,000 people to donate $1,500 is excellent and realistic…if only you were being serious.

      The city just spent $7 Million on fountain square and is about to spend 80 million (?) on 2 ice rinks and a Library.  The Harley Clarke / Lakehouse proposal was going to cost the city nothing but it needed time – and the city said no.  While I hope the fountain eventually works (needs $1M to fix it) and I look forward to 2 new ice rinks… it’s incredibly short-sighted and a mistake to rip down Harley.    

      Vote yes to Save Harley, let’s keep making Evanston fun, interesting, historic and beautiful.

      Sincerely, Pat Donnelly
      Evanston Resident

    3. Albatross

      thank you for your comments. 250 million unfunded pension liability.  Says it all.  We’re really talking about spending money on a dilapidated mansion?

  2. Harley Clarke Mansion

    Bill,  Thanks for laying out the case for a no vote so clearly and logically.   Those who want to save the mansion have given us nothing of substance to support their position.    As you point out, the demolition and conversion to park land is the best option we have.

  3. Well said

    No money spent should be the goal. The same NIMBYs would be screaming if parkland were scheduled for a building. I suspect that for every sign, there are 2 residents of Evanston who favor the parkland. Vote NO!!


    1. The Dismal Demolition Plan

      The orchestrated pro-demo propoganda obscures the simple truth: the partially funded  “scorched earrth”  demolition agreement leaves the citty with unlimited liability for cost overruns and environmental damage.  Demolition will cost the city morre and leave it with less… a treeless and contaminated beach.  

      1. Orchestra

        Hi Jeremy,

        The orchestrated anti-demolition propoganda obscures the simple truth that the advocates of preserving the mansion have raised only a tiny fraction of the estimated $5 million needed to pull off their project — potentially leaving taxpayers stuck with a far larger tab than any possible cost of demolition.

        — Bill

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