Harley Clarke renovation draws interest of new youth art organization


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

The Harley Clarke Mansion, located on Sheridan Road, has been vacant since 2015. Artists for Humanity and Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens proposed interest in operating the property.

Julia Esparza, Reporter

An Oct. 9 Request for Proposal deadline yielded a new contender in the bid for the Harley Clarke Mansion, Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said Wednesday.

Artists for Humanity, an organization that employs under-resourced teens to produce commissioned artwork, is now competing with Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens to renovate and operate the mansion, 2603 Sheridan Rd.

The Harley Clarke Mansion — which lies next to the emblematic Evanston Grosse Point Lighthouse and is located prominently on the lakefront — has changed hands at least three times since it was built in 1927, Revelle said.

Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens has been pitching its proposal to turn the mansion into a community center for the last two years. Artists for Humanity, however, recently expressed its interest to house an art studio and gallery at the property, said Maura Shea, founder of the organization’s Evanston branch.

Shea said the plan would give teenagers who wouldn’t otherwise have access to art programming an opportunity to earn money and express their talents.

“We’re very excited about this model and think Evanston’s entrepreneurial spirit and creative youth are a great fit,” Shea said.

However, Revelle said while Artists for Humanity is “interesting and exciting,” the Evanston branch is in the early stages of development. She said the organization doesn’t yet have a complete proposal to offer.

Since the city acted in 2012 to sell the property — which includes lakefront access, a greenhouse and a garden — community members rallied to keep the property open to the public.

In June, Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) said at a City Council meeting that she hopes the mansion is especially accessible to people who “will never own lakefront property.” She said all Evanston residents should have a lakefront home through Harley Clarke.

Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens Board president Tom Hodgman said the organization is committed to making the space accessible should it win the contract.

“It’s a public space today, and we want to keep it that way,” he said. “We have grass and sand, but it’s not engaging the full spectrum of our community.”

Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens was founded in 2015 with the purpose of restoring the Harley Clarke Mansion. The group has received more than $90,000 in pledges to contribute to the project, and City Council has budgeted $250,000 for the renovation, Hodgman said.

Under the organization’s proposal, he said, Evanston residents would receive engaging programming such as nature conservancy education and partnerships with community organizations like the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian. The proposal also includes spaces for community meetings and a light fare cafe.

“If we can give people certainty and work in partnership with the city, we would have more success than operating under this uncertain limbo,” Hodgman said.

City Council will discuss the two proposals at its Nov. 13 meeting. Revelle said the next step will be to develop a letter of agreement, which could take up to nine months.

Revelle added that she believes City Council is largely concerned with the project’s funding. Though it is currently budgeted at $250,000, she estimates $5 million will be needed for the restoration.

“Nobody wants to see it take 10 years to raise that money before Harley Clarke begins to be renovated,” she said. “I’m eager to see this process move along.”

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