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City’s response to Harley Clarke Mansion plan: A sigh of relief

City+Council+allocated+funding+to+make+masonry+and+roof+repairs+to+the+fog+houses+next+to+the+Harley+Clarke+mansion+in+the+2017+budget.+The+fog+houses+are+used+for+summer+parks+programming.+%0A
City Council allocated funding to make masonry and roof repairs to the fog houses next to the Harley Clarke mansion in the 2017 budget. The fog houses are used for summer parks programming.

City Council allocated funding to make masonry and roof repairs to the fog houses next to the Harley Clarke mansion in the 2017 budget. The fog houses are used for summer parks programming.

Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

City Council allocated funding to make masonry and roof repairs to the fog houses next to the Harley Clarke mansion in the 2017 budget. The fog houses are used for summer parks programming.

Nora Shelly, City Editor

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After four years of debate over the fate of the Harley Clarke Mansion — a hulking, ivy-colored structure on Sheridan Road — City Council finally struck a deal, albeit temporary.

“We were trying to come up with … any type of solution … anything to kind of have a plan and a path,” Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said.

Last week, City Council unanimously voted on a plan that will fund up to $250,000 in repairs for the building, keeping the building in city control. Aldermen also decided to set up summer programming there in the future and directed the Parks and Recreation Board and the Lighthouse Landing Committee to come up with a long-term plan for the mansion.

This plan follows years of uncertainty surrounding the building, which used to house the Evanston Arts Center, before the city decided to seek a buyer for the building. The Arts Foundation moved locations, and the council never approved any plan for the building. One potential sale included a bed-and-breakfast proposal from philanthropist Jennifer Pritzker.

Last fall, Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) moved that discussions be held until after the state budget impasse was resolved.

Wilson — who originated the plan passed last fall — said the focus was saving the building from further deterioration.

“The building was obviously not in perfect shape, but it certainly wasn’t actually falling down,” Wilson said. “If something comes along in two years or ten years … at least we’re not letting it fall apart.”

Wilson, who said he has gotten positive feedback about the plan, wants the space to be available and open to everyone — potentially for summer parks programing.

Tom Hodgman, a board member at Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens — a nonprofit that has advocated for the preservation of the building — said the group was happy with the council’s decision, although they feel there is still a long way to go in determining the future for the building.

“The ship is now pointed in the right direction,” he said. “But we still haven’t come to dock.”

Hodgman, whose day job is at the Nature Conservancy, said the group believes the building should be used for environmental education.

The area surrounding Harley Clarke is unique, Hodgman said, in that it is the intersection of four ecosystems: dunes, beach, water, and woods. It’s location on Lake Michigan was key, he said.

“We sit on the largest body of freshwater in the world, which is amazing,” he said. “The Great Lakes are our best natural resource.”

Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois, which works to preserve historic buildings and spaces in the state, said she was pleased with the decision to allocate city resources to the building and believes the city should be able to find a number of uses for the mansion.

“Whatever gets people into the building” she said. “The opportunities are really open for that building to be continually appreciated by and used by the citizens of Evanston.”

Although she realizes Evanston residents may not be in favor of private use or ownership of the building, McDonald said the building could be put to recreational use that would go along with its location along the lakeshore, such as for yoga or fitness classes.

Evanston resident Ellen Gibbons, who said she visits the beach near Harley Clarke with frequency, said she would like the space to be preserved and not turned into a commercial entity.

Gibbons, who said she was not in favor of the previous proposals to sell the building to a private party, said it should be put toward a public use, such as childcare or education.

“It needs to be preserved — everything,” Gibbons said. “It needs to be supported by the citizenry.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @noracshelly

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