We would like to add our voice to the many others asking City officials – Council members and administrators – to preserve the City’s physical assets and not sell the Harley Clarke mansion.
We understand that the building is dilapidating; we understand that the City believes it has no money to maintain, much less upgrade, it; but we do not believe that these reasons, separately or together, amount to a justification to sell any part of the building or the land.
Two questions, at least, arise: “How will the City get the money?” and “What is the proper use of public lakefront property?”
The City might legitimately ask how it can find the money to save the Clarke mansion. One change the City could make is to reallocate some portion of the entertainment or hotel tax to the building.
Whatever the next use of the building, as long as the property is City-owned, may likely involve some form of art and thus might legitimately qualify for receiving some of those funds.
Now, as to what the future use of the Clarke mansion should be: We would in general discourage commercial use of the lakefront and encourage the City to follow the Lakefront Master Plan.
That plan, adopted in 2008, said of the mansion and its outbuildings, “The historic nature of these facilities should be maintained and celebrated, and accordingly, the key elements of the master plan for this area focus on restoration of the historic structures and the Jens Jensen landscape. Two new activities are proposed, which are intended to increase awareness of the facilities and to provide modest revenue to support this restoration. … The cultural value of this landscape should be recognized, and future work should be undertaken with the intent to maintain Jensen’s original vision.
“The plan proposes to make use of the beautiful grounds of both the Arts Center and Lighthouse for low impact public functions such as weddings and small receptions, and an improved event lawn is proposed for the space east of the Lighthouse, between the Fog and Signal houses. This space should be available for reservation by the public for a fee, with the proceeds going to support the restoration of the buildings and grounds.
“The plan also proposes to make use of the existing Carriage House to provide space for an appropriately themed café and/or gift shop, which could generate more visits to the Arts Center, provide higher quality food than typical park concessions, and create a venue for local artists, musicians, and writers to share their work.
“While this would also generate additional revenue in support of restoration and maintenance, the plan recognizes that these funding sources alone will not be enough to cover all that is needed. Additional funding in the way of grants and private donations should be pursued to enable these facilities to make better use of the public funds already allocated.”
We simply do not believe that the City has vigorously pursued other means to preserve the mansion and adhere to its own 2008 Lakefront Master Plan.
It looks like the City nudged the Art Center to move, then grasped at some easy money, foregoing any thoughts of its own adopted plan and any concern for future Evanstonians.
Selling the mansion for a commercial use would violate the long-established tradition that the public’s land on the lakefront should remain public. One of the treasures of Evanston is its lakefront. And with only a handful of exceptions that date back to the 1800s, the lakefront is public land and is held in sacred trust for the present and future generations.
This is a cherished legacy. It is inconceivable to us that the City would sell lakefront property at all, much less for a commercial use. Doing so would cheapen the City, denigrate its residents and destroy the credibility of most City officials.
If Council members want to trade all that for one or two million bucks, we neither approve nor will help them out of this mess.
If City Council truly believes there is no way to maintain the Clarke mansion, we believe they should seriously consider tearing it down and preserving that land for the public.