Extra fundraising and construction time for the Artists Book House non-profit to fix up the Harley Clarke mansion will again be on city council members’ agenda Monday.

The non-profit group first asked to amend its lease for the city-owned lakefront mansion last September — 16 months after the lease was initially approved — saying the pandemic had disrupted fundraising efforts

In October the City Council bounced the issue back to the Administration and Public Works Committee for further discussion — which is finally scheduled to happen Monday.

In addition to more time for fundraising and a higher ultimate fundraising goal, the group also is seeking to extend the time to complete renovation work on the building from May 2026 to December 2027.

The city staff memo doesn’t indicate what progress the group has made on fundraising since September, and as of Sunday morning there appeared to be no recent fundraising update on the Artists Book House website.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Without a clear plan of needed construction to complete the repairs/renovation, a budget, multiple bids from capable contractors and a clear viable vision as to how to fund the maintenance of this historic lakefront mansion, nobody is going to sign up to give their money to this fund. What we lack as a community is a realistic understanding of cost, and until we can get our head out of the clouds, nothing concrete will happen. We have an emotionally derived wish with no means to make that wish come true.
    Honestly, I will point out candidly that we missed out on a huge opportunity to tap into Jennifer Pritzker’s generous offer to undertake the renovations and create a boutique hotel. We could have negotiated to house some art related rooms within that hotel. But instead we have always to fight and responds emotionally without any realistic understanding of what it takes to do major renovation.
    I speak from experience as I have just completed a $600,000 restoration/rebuild of my front porch on my historic landmark home in Evanston. It took lots of planning, lots of money, expert contractors, and fastidious attention to detail and original architectural design. I hired the best architect for the job, Moshe Calamaro, as well as general contractor, Bulley & Andrew’s. If you do not yourself own a historic landmark iconic property, you can’t fully comprehend the responsibility that you have to improve and maintain it. We need a long term funding plan in addition to a short term fix. This is tremendously expensive option to restore it and until we have someone stepping forward to fund it, I believe we would be best suited to be flexible, as we are not in a financial position to be too opinionated. Let’s for once try and use prudence rather than emotional exuberance in our city planning starting now in 2023.

    1. I so agree with you, Blair, and thank you for speaking out. As others have noted, we do already have the Noyes building for artists’ studios, a small auditorium there, and space for books, too, plus, of course, our fantastic Evanston Art Center on Central St. Along with former Mayor Hagerty at the time, I was a strong advocate for the Jenny Pritzker renovation and development of the Clarke House into a rare upscale lakefront restaurant, small inn/hotel, plus enough underground parking to supplement the limited parking for public use of Lighthouse Beach.This development would also, of course, bring in tax revenue and be a nice addition for the public. Since the Pritzker bed and breakfast mansion was closed, along with Margarita Inn, the development of the Clarke Mansion would be an asset to offset our liabilities.

  2. Blair, Gayle,
    Thank you for your clear headed comments. The current conundrum is not surprising, and plays into the hands of the status quo crowd who would rather see the property decay and remain unimproved.

  3. I agree completely with the opinions above. I feel sad for the people who so earnestly wanted this to work but it was originally, and is moreso now, an extremely unrealistic venture. Covid did not help at all, for sure, but costs of materials for even simple decks on people’s homes (as an easy example) are crazy high. The money for this renovation is simply not available. And almost certainly won’t be. And the loss of the Pritzker option is such a shame. I wish I knew what would be best now to save this gorgeous property… but it needs help soon. So many places and causes need whatever we can give… it is a tough time for visionaries.

  4. Sad that this is the outcome and even sadder no one could see this except a few of us… sometimes you just have to “let it go”…

  5. Those of us who dared to say aloud that saving the Harley Clarke was noble but unrealistic were labeled “Trumpians” and even bullied on social media. Years later, here we are, with more excuses and a still vacant house. Yes, the pandemic is partly to blame. But let’s not forget that pre-pandemic there was a laundry list of reasons why fundraising was a failure with the previous bidder. “Give us more time” they said. The non-binding petition/referendum to save the mansion was signed by a huge number of residents who were promised “the people’s mansion” that would be renovated for all to enjoy. In other words, “magical thinking.” I don’t have a crystal ball but here’s my prediction – 5-10 years from now, Harley Clarke still be empty and the same folks will still be bickering about why it needs to be saved

  6. For years the property was a mess and you couldn’t go in the building. Since this new group took over, they raised a lot of money, it looks nice, they have events in the building and it is finally being used. You can see they have done a lot of work. My kids have had fun there, and I see hundreds of people there at the property enjoying themselves. I’m not sad that it is not an upscale boutique hotel. I’m happy that my friends and family and I can comfortably spend time in the building and on the grounds. Let them finish. They are off to a great start.

    About that hotel proposal. You can’t blame people for misunderstanding when the press and social media rewrote the story so well. The actual Pritzker proposal was to buy 2 1/2 acres of lakefront property and buildings for only 1.2 million. It was not just to restore the mansion. It was to develop an “upper-upscale boutique hotel” (their words) with 57 rooms, a restaurant and lounge, and event space. A 36 room “Annex” would have made up the extra rooms. So much for the lake views. There was supposed to be a 200 car parking garage. Maybe we could have been paying the hotel for the privilege of parking at our own beach. On top of all of that, they wanted property tax concessions and for the City to pay the cost of permits and licensing. The other Pritzker B&B in Evanston went out of business. Would this have suffered the same fate? Facts are important and it just doesn’t seem like it was a good deal for Evanston.

    The current project seems like a great idea. Let’s just support the hard work that is getting results.

  7. Let us not forget that the former Cook County Hospital took two decades before it saw success. If success isn’t found with this proposal and lessee, it will happen with someone else down the road. Timing is everything, and unfortunately the timing for this proposal were very bad.

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 *