Evanston residents propose demolition plan for Harley Clarke mansion


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Rd. Members of the Evanston Lighthouse Dunes group announced Monday that they had secured funds to deconstruct the mansion and restore the parkland.

Samantha Handler, Assistant City Editor

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) requested at a council meeting Monday that aldermen consider a proposal to demolish the Harley Clarke mansion after a group announced it had secured sufficient funding from donations.

Nicole Kustok and Jeff Coney, members of the Evanston Lighthouse Dunes group, announced during the public comment section that they have the funds necessary to restore the Jens Jensen historic garden and take down the mansion and coach house. The fate of the mansion — located in north Evanston at 2603 Sheridan Rd. — has remained uncertain since aldermen in April denied a proposal from Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens to restore the property.

Kustok said the group’s vision is to integrate key aspects of the gardens into the natural landscape, restore the dunes to their natural state and use the two fog houses as environmental labs and classrooms. She added that with this plan, there are no liability issues for the city, no prolonged construction periods and no additional fundraising required.

“The future of this park and its dunes have been debated for over seven years,” Kustok said, “and we think it’s time for a new vision.”

Rainey requested that city staff draft a resolution that aldermen can review at the next council meeting. She added that the offer is limited and “it’s time to move forward.”

However, some aldermen are not in favor of demolishing the mansion. Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said aldermen have been “informally” suggesting to the Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens group — who want to save the mansion — that the city would consider entering into a lease agreement if they can raise $1 million in the next year.

“It’s premature to talk about deconstructing the Harley Clarke mansion,” Revelle said. “We need to give them a chance to test the waters with their vision.”

Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens President Tom Hodgman said in an April 29 news release that the group is willing to finalize a lease with the city. He said the group’s plan to restore the mansion is not just about “saving the structure” but about saving it to “become something.”

However, Coney said deconstructing Harley Clarke offers residents an opportunity to have a new public space and an unobstructed view of the “iconic” Grosse Point Lighthouse. He added that the spot has “astonishing natural beauty” along with a great historical significance.

“We honor the lakefront as a place where the community, nature and history come together, a place where all Evanstonians can gather to learn, play and celebrate,” Coney said. “Recognizing the century-old significance of the site, we realize the opportunity to make it come alive again and to broaden the appeal of the space for all Evanston.”

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