Dawes House transferred to Evanston History Center

Grace Johnson

In a change from earlier discussions, Northwestern has agreed to transfer ownership of the Charles Gates Dawes House, as well as part of the Dawes endowment, to the Evanston History Center.

“We’re very, very pleased,” said Eden Juron Pearlman, the center’s director. “It’s one of those rare situations where everyone wins.”

In April 2008, the house, which is a national historic landmark, was closed for renovations and NU officials considered permanently closing it because of the costs to keep the the house up to code regulations, said Eugene Sunshine, NU’s senior vice president for business and finance.

“I wouldn’t call it a turnaround,” he said. “I would call it an evolution in thinking.”

Controversy arose when NU considered closing the house, so the History Center and NU officials began sit-down conversations to remedy the situation, Sunshine said.

The Evanston Fire Department came up with improvements that were more limited in scope but would allow the house to reopen, Sunshine said. He added that the department’s interim solution allowed both NU and Evanston History Center officials to sit down and discuss the future of the Dawes House.

The agreement between the History Center and NU, which has already been approved by the state attorney general, still awaits approval by the county court, according to a statement released by the university at noon Wednesday. Approval is required because this new agreement’s terms are not included in the original gift agreement.

After being closed for more than a year, the Dawes House reopened May 8 after the renovations were complete. The center celebrated with a re-opening party and free tours.

“The reopening allowed us to expand the story and change how we do business,” Pearlman said.

One area of change was the kitchen where the focus shifted to telling the life of the domestic help, Pearlman said. An interactive exhibit allowed visitors to test the weight of a tray full of china, and a light-up switch board on display allowed servants to respond immediately to requests throughout the three floors of the house.

The house has been under the University’s control since 1957, according to the press release.

The chateau-style house was bestowed on NU in a gift agreement by Charles Dawes, U.S. vice president under Calvin Coolidge, said volunteer docent Maureen Gleason in a tour of the house. Dawes also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925 for his work in orchestrating reparations for World War I.

Although only the first floor is available for tours, the imposing scale of the house is on display. Dawes’s accomplishments rest in a library comparable to NU’s Deering, which stretches across one wing of the house, and a baroque-style musician’s stage still visible in the dining room. With the Dawes House completely under the control of the Evanston History Center, new opportunities will be available, Pearlman said.

“I think this will give us more power and leverage in fundraising opportunities,” she said. “It also puts more pressure on us to act quickly to make changes.”

Pearlman said she believes the Dawes House is important for the community of Evanston.

“It’s really well presented and it shows a slice of life at a certain time,” she said. “It tells an interesting story of an important man.”

[email protected]