Evanston City Council votes to move forward with demolition of Harley Clarke mansion


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Rd. Aldermen voted Monday to move forward with the demolition of the mansion.

Aldermen voted 5-3 to move forward with the demolition of Harley Clarke mansion at Monday’s City Council meeting.

The mansion, which sits along the lakefront in north Evanston, has been vacant since 2015 when the Evanston Art Center moved out of the facility. Since then, residents and city officials have been discussing possible renovation and restructuring of the facility, as well as options for demolition.

Aldermen approved a plan by a group of private donors under the name of Evanston Lighthouse Dunes, who proposed a self-funded demolition of the Harley Clarke mansion in favor of green space during a May City Council meeting. Aldermen passed a resolution in June for city staff to begin talks with the group about demolition, which resulted in the proposal submitted at Monday’s meeting.

The group plans to fund the demolition of the building entirely, leaving no cost to the city, and provide an additional $100,000 for landscaping costs once a design of the space is approved.

Nicole Kustok, a Evanston Lighthouse Dunes group member, said now that the plan has been approved, the group will start to formally bid out the project in order to raise the promised $500,000 in funds.

“It’s our intent, frankly, to come in under budget,” Kustok told The Daily after the meeting. “(We want to) devote some of the money to funding to ecological scholarships on the site and to really flesh out a landscaping project that has community involvement.”

Kustok told The Daily the Lighthouse Dunes group has always intended to fully fund the project, but the group is “not prepared to offer the city a blank check.” She added that previous bids to demolish the house have come in significantly lower than $400,000 and she wants to follow that trend.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st), who supported the demolition, said she hopes the land will be able to be used for additional park space in Evanston.

“There has never been an interest in keeping that building for any public use after the Arts Center no longer needed it,” Fiske said.

Fiske added that the Harley Clarke mansion was not well-kept by the Evanston Art Center and the city over the years. She said the ideas to increase parkland in the past were “forward thinking” and Evanston should try to add more if the city wants to become “America’s most livable city.”

The resolution suggesting the mansion be demolished was introduced after years of talks with Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens, a nonprofit dedicated to renovating and preserving the mansion.

Members of City Council had authorized a draft of a contract with the group last November, but the contract for the proposed 40-year lease was denied in April, with aldermen citing issues concerning fundraising and potential financial risk for the city.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) expressed her opposition to the demolition during Monday’s meeting. She said she could not support the demolition of the mansion if there were other viable options for preserving it and “(finding) a new second life for the amazing architectural features of this romantic building.”

“A small amount of additional grass just doesn’t do it for me,” Revelle said. “To restore and repurpose Harley Clarke would really benefit the whole community.”

In anticipation of Monday’s vote, Evanston residents formed a citizen group called Save Harley Clarke. The group has circulated a petition to add a public question regarding potential demolition of the Harley Clarke Mansion to the ballot for November’s midterm elections.

The petition, if filed, will result in an advisory referendum on the ballot, the results of which are not legally binding and merely represent the view of citizens, corporation counsel Michelle Masoncup said.

During Monday’s meeting, Evanston resident Allie Harned said the group had recorded 3,204 signatures on the petition at the time of public comment.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) agreed with having the proposed referendum on the November ballot. She said the referendum would be voted on before the possible demolition of Harley Clarke mansion was resolved by City Council.

Rainey also advocated for demolishing the mansion. She said the city and the Evanston Art Center didn’t care about the building previously and let it deteriorate.

“All of a sudden, this bundle of bricks is the most important thing in our city,” Rainey said. “There is nothing so special about this building. It’s one building.”

City staff will now move forward with a Memorandum of Understanding with Evanston Lighthouse Dunes to cover the demolition of the mansion, according to city documents. The group will also have to file a certificate of appropriateness with the Evanston Preservation Commission.

The commission will then decide to approve or deny the proposal.

This article was updated at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday to reflect additional information from Monday’s City Council meeting.

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