Harley Clarke supporters discuss forming coalition for preservation efforts


Julia Esparza/Daily Senior Staffer

Harley Clarke supporters meet at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center. Residents discussed working together to operate Harley Clarke Mansion.

Julia Esparza, City Editor

Supporters of Harley Clarke are taking a new approach in their efforts to save the mansion: collaboration.

In the past, many groups have submitted varying proposals for what to do with the historic lakefront mansion, but failed to reach either consensus or enough monetary support.

Over the past year, there has been much uncertainty as to what will happen to the mansion, which has sat vacant since the Evanston Art Center moved out in 2015. In July 2018, City Council voted in favor of a proposal that would demolish the mansion. Four months later, citizens participated in a referendum that showed about 80 percent of voters wanted to preserve it. Most recently, aldermen approved a draft of the request for proposal for the long-term lease of the Harley Clarke Mansion.

The city plans on releasing the request for proposal May 16 and in preparation, a coalition of Harley Clarke supporters have come together to draft a request.

Evanston resident Audrey Niffenegger said she is interested in the prospect of having different stakeholders work together to operate the building.

“There is so much to this,” Niffenegger said. “The group that is good at raising money for the house might not be the most genius gardeners and that the group that has wonderful ideas for reviving Jens Jensen Garden may not necessarily have enough programming to fill a 20,000 square foot house.”

During the meeting, community members discussed possible issues that could arise, including a lack of wheelchair accessibility in the mansion and the availability of public transportation. But despite these concerns, the group agreed the mansion should be a community space.

Ideas for programming in the space ranged from cooking classes to art studios to a welcome center, and the group embraced the possibility of them all.

Resident Clare Kelly, who has long been a supporter of preserving the mansion, emphasized the need for an event space in the mansion. She said providing that option would help to make communities that are traditionally excluded from the lakefront feel welcomed.

“It’s really important because that’s such a rarified part of town,” Kelly said. “I mean, who has been enjoying our beautiful coveted lakefront… I think we know who it is,” Kelly said.

Resident Bennett Johnson echoed this commitment to minority access.

“Whatever happens we want to work together because, as we said, we want to keep all wards involved and this particular area has always been a center for the black community,” Johnson said.

Residents also discussed the issue of financing the project. Resident Mary Rosinski said she compared the cost of maintaining the building with the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, which is much bigger. She estimated it would cost about $100,000 a year for utilities – similar to the cost of maintaining the Noyes Center – and about $5 million for renovations.

The group has not begun planning the financing for the mansion but discussed the possibility of applying for federal funding and working with other community groups to raise donations.

The group also emphasized the importance of providing youth programming in Harley Clarke. Resident Bob Crews encouraged the idea of devising transportation to the mansion from Evanston schools and other community centers so kids have greater access to the building.

“These kids are going to vote after we’re done voting and their going to inherit the place and so this would help develop their interests in saving it because they’ll have a say,” Crews said.

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