Harley Clarke demolition application denied by Preservation Commission


Brian Meng / Daily Senior Staffer

Preservation Commission chair Diane Williams at a meeting. Members on Tuesday voted unanimously to deny the city’s certificate of appropriateness to demolish Harley Clarke Mansion.

Danny Vesurai, Reporter

The Evanston Preservation Commission unanimously denied the city’s application to demolish the Harley Clarke Mansion at Tuesday’s Preservation Commission meeting.

A total of 35 expert architects and historians, as well as Evanston residents — arranged by statewide nonprofit Landmarks Illinois — urged the commission to deny the certificate of appropriation application during public comment after city manager Wally Bobkiewicz formally presented the application.

“The presentation by this city shows a total lack of respect for the preservation commission and for this process,” said Brad White, co-author of Evanston’s Preservation Ordinance, who attended the meeting. “They haven’t even presented a case that shows they would even have an iota of trying to meet the standards. No information on what the financial hardship is, no experts, nothing.”

The 11-member commission — absent one member — voted based on five standards found in the city’s Preservation’s Ordinance. Commission vice chair Ken Itle moved to deny the city’s application on the grounds that it did not meet any of the five standards.

Harley Clarke Mansion, which sits along the lakefront in north Evanston, has been vacant since 2015 when the Evanston Arts 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.

In July, City Council voted 5-3 to move forward with demolition of the mansion. On Oct. 9, they voted to allow commissioners to inspect the mansion’s interior but rejected a similar application made on behalf of architects and engineers from Landmarks Illinois.

Commissioners visited the building last Saturday. Commissioner Robert Bady said he had not seen the interior before and said it was “breathtaking.”

The commission directed staff to create a findings of fact report for their next meeting on Nov. 13. Following that meeting, city staff can either appeal the decision directly to City Council or pursue a certificate of special merit or certificate of economic hardship.

“I’m very pleased the Preservation Commission came out so strongly in support of preserving the mansion,” Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) told The Daily after the meeting.

As the commission read the roll call vote on the motion, some audience members pulled out their phones to record the decision. The room broke out in applause when commission chair Diane Williams said the motion passed unanimously.

“It feels awesome to be in this room and have a win,” Lori Keenan, Save Harley Clarke member and 7th Ward resident, told The Daily after the meeting. “For a lot of the council meetings on this issue, we’re here feeling extremely frustrated and not heard. It was great to be in front of the Preservation Commission — people who understand the value of this building — and get the outcome that we did tonight.”

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