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June 21, 2018

5/30/2018 4:13:00 PM
Resolution Proposing 'Deconstruction' of Harley Clarke Mansion Referred to City Council
2603 Sheridan Road without the Harley Clarke mansion. Submitted image

2603 Sheridan Road without the Harley Clarke mansion. Submitted image

By Shawn Jones

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked that City Council consider an “immediate resolution” to be prepared by City Staff that would accept an offer from a community group to deconstruct the Harley Clarke mansion and restore the site to its natural state. The referral came after the group offered to pay all costs of deconstruction and site restoration during public comment at the May 29 City Council meeting.

The group, Evanston Lighthouse Dunes, is led by Nicole Kustok and Jeff Coney. In a prepared statement they said they are “members of a group of volunteers representing all wards, ages and socioeconomic groups in Evanston. We honor the lakefront as the place where the community, nature and history come together, a place where all Evanstonians can gather to learn, play and celebrate.

“We are here tonight to offer Evanston a gift from these citizens – an opportunity to restore the natural dunes, beach and parkland as part of a new public space with the iconic Grosse Point Lighthouse, a national historic landmark, as its centerpiece,” said Mr. Coney.

In an email to the RoundTable, Ms. Kustok wrote, “We have been working on this for over a year… and our hope is to gift the City with the funds to accomplish what we think is the only truly inclusive and fiscally sound answer to this long debate – sustainable green space. The amount we’ve raised exceeds bids for deconstruction, regrading and naturalizing the site.”

The plan would remove the mansion and coach house, but the use of recently renovated fog houses would be expanded. “... the current Ecology Center and District 65 programming at the fog houses are under-utilized and can be expanded once there is even more open space for all children to learn from and explore,” wrote Ms. Kustok.

“This is a spot with astonishing natural beauty and great historic significance that predates even the Lighthouse itself,” said Mr. Coney. He then quoted historian Viola Crouch Reeling and lighthouse keeper Donald J. Terras, describing journeys by French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet at Lighthouse Landing. “[A]s the men swung their canoes around the point where the lighthouse stands, the artist soul of Joliet and Marquette’s keen eye must have delighted in the beauty of that point…” he said, quoting Ms. Reeling.

The fate of the Harley Clarke Mansion has confounded Evanston’s City Council since at least 2011, when City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz first proposed “alternative uses” including actively exploring selling the mansion. At the time, Mr. Bobkiewicz told Council that “current deferred capital projects for the building exceed $400,000.”

Since 2011, estimated costs to return the building to code have soared, with recent estimates ranging from between $1.5 million and $5 million. Facing a budget crisis, Council has shown no appetite for spending any money at all on the mansion.

Last year, Council recently voted to allow another group of citizens, the Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens not-for-profit, to explore a long term lease of the premises provided the group could raise enough money to restore the mansion. But when the proposed lease came before Council in the spring, fundraising targets and insurance issues, along with a general skepticism and issue fatigue among some members of the Council, combined to derail the proposed lease. Council voted against entering into the lease on April 9.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, responded to Ald. Rainey’s request for a resolution by defending the ELHG group. “It is premature to talk about deconstructing the Harley Clarke Mansion,” she said. Council members have been in communication with ELHG and reached an informal arrangement under which they will give the group one year to raise $1 million in cash-on-hand. If ELHG can reach that target, the lease would be reconsidered.

It appears Council will face a choice, and one community group will be pitted against another. “It is time to move forward, and this is a limited time offer,” said Ald. Rainey, clearly staking out her position in the debate.

Ms. Kustok told the RoundTable that although her group has been working on a natural restoration solution for more than a year, they waited to bring their proposal forward until after Council voted on the ELGH lease. They did not want to compete or interfere with that group’s proposal, just to offer an alternative solution should Council decide not to move forward with the ELHG lease.

The natural restoration resolution will be back before Council on June 18 – a meeting likely to last well into the early morning hours of June 19.

Statement of the Evanston Lighthouse Dunes Group

Proposal presented at the May 29 City Council meeting, statement submitted to the RoundTable

We are Nicole Kustok and Jeff Coney-  members of a group of volunteers representing all wards, ages, and socioeconomic groups in Evanston. We honor the lakefront as the place where the community, nature and history come together, a place where all Evanstonians can gather to learn, play and celebrate.

We are here tonight to offer Evanston a gift from these citizens- an opportunity to restore the natural dunes, beach and parkland as part of a new public space with the iconic Grosse Point Lighthouse, a national historic landmark, as its centerpiece.

This is a spot with astonishing natural beauty and great historical significance that predates even the Lighthouse itself.

In her book published in 1928, Evanston, Its Land and Beginnings, historian Viola Crouch Reeling described how Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet disembarked at Lighthouse Landing. She wrote:

“Never getting far from land, but hugging the shore of this lake with their canoes, the travelers, no doubt, gazed with admiration on the lofty oaks, tamaracks and other varieties of trees that dotted the length of Evanston’s holdings of the men swung their canoes around the point where the lighthouse stands, the artist soul of Joliet and Marquette’s keen eye must have delighted in the beauty of that point, a point so beautiful that it gained the name from sailors in a later day of ‘Beauty’s Eyebrow.’”

She is describing the Grosse Point Lighthouse- site on the City's treasured lakefront. Quite an image for us to reflect on today.

In The Grosse Point Lighthouse, by Donald J. Terras in 1995, the author writes that, "Father Marquette paddled south along the western shore of Lake Michigan on his second voyage to the Chicago region. He was accompanied by two French companions and a band of Potawatomi and Illinois Indians…On December 3, Marquette made an entry in his diary indicating that the party was besieged by fog and was ‘compelled to make a point and land.’ Marquette’s map of the region.... strongly indicates that this famous wilderness pioneer camped on Grosse Point the night of December 3, 1674.

Recognizing centuries-old significance of this site, we realize that we have a opportunity to make it come alive again today and to broaden the appeal of this space for all of Evanston. Our vision is to restore the dunes to their natural state, to deconstruct the house and coach house and to utilize the two recently-renovated fog houses as environmental labs and classrooms for Evanston children.  

The mansion and coach house now obstruct both the lake and lighthouse from public view. We envision restoring key elements of Jens Jensen's historic 1920's garden and integrating them into the natural landscape while clearing and expanding the parkland and beach for the free enjoyment of all members of our City.

The primary goal of the City's Lakefront Master Plan, which the Council unanimously approved in 2008, is to preserve and enhance the lakefront's natural environment. Our plan is completely consistent with the community's consensus vision for Evanston and our most precious natural resource.

We are ready to move forward. Our gift has been secured through the generous contributions of numerous residents- no additional fundraising is required. No liability issues will persist and no prolonged construction period will be needed.  We are eager to meet with the city to finalize details so that we can move ahead.

We hope you share our vision and will act favorably on our offer. The future of this park and its dunes and beach have been debated for the last seven years.  It is time for a new vision. We look forward to working with you and the city’s garden and green space groups on what we think will be a wonderful project for Evanston.

Thank you for your consideration.


Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2018
Comment by: Tom Hodgman

I represent Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens, the local non-profit whose plan for Harley Clarke the City Council voted for in November 2017 by an 8-1 vote following a rigorous public process. We feel it is important to respond to the recent efforts by a group calling itself “Evanston Lighthouse Dunes” that has offered to fund demolition of Harley Clarke and the Coach House. There are four primary issues with the tear down advocates’ plan.

The Lighthouse Dunes group is not transparent and could stand to privately benefit from demolition. From their website and public searches, it does not appear that they are a non-profit, so it is not clear if they have any obligation to serve the public good. In contrast, Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens is a 501 c 3 non-profit – which means that we are required to operate for public benefit. The website also does not identify who is part of the group, if they have a board and who that board is, who their supporters are, or who is proposing to donate money to pay for demolition. From what we know based on reporting by Evanston Patch, several of the supporters live in close proximity to Harley Clarke - some directly across the street - and could potentially stand to benefit from demolition of the structure. Demolition advocates suggest that, “The mansion and coach house now obstruct both the lake and lighthouse from public view”. The lighthouse is not obstructed as it is the tallest structure around. Who would actually stand to benefit most from an ‘improved view of the lake’? It is not appropriate to allow private citizens to pay for destruction of public assets, especially where they stand to benefit privately.

The Lighthouse Dunes group did not to participate in the open and public process over the past several years, and are now trying to derail the progress we have made as a community to save this asset. The public process has shown that a majority of residents in Evanston do not want the building to be demolished as confirmed in several public settings over the past 3+ years. In the survey from the 2015 Citizens Committee, chaired by Steve Hagerty, demolition only received 12% of first place votes. Compare this to 67% voting to save the building for public or non-profit uses. City Council subsequently voted unanimously on September 12, 2016 to retain the building and reserve $250,000 for building repairs and to put programming in the building – this was not done. Why not? It is also very telling that Alderman Revelle who represents the 7th Ward where the building is located – and where the Dunes proponents live – does not support demolition or the Dunes group plan.
The demolition advocates suggest that their plan is
Tearing down a local landmark building that is on the National Register of Historic Places would set a terrible precedent for Evanston’s Historic Preservation goals more broadly. It was just two weeks ago that Evanston was celebrating National Historic Preservation Month and handing out awards at City Council. The public owns the building, they should have a say in its fate. Not just a small group of people. It is inappropriate for the City to have run public, transparent processes related to Harley Clarke for years, and then to put demolition on the table with no debate by Council or the Public.
If the City votes for demolition the City would be required to apply for a certificate of appropriateness from the Evanston Preservation Commission. Demolition should be subjected to the same level of scrutiny that saving the building for public use has. Who will pay for the garden maintenance going forward? Who will fund new educational programs? Who will restore the Jensen Garden after it is trampled by bulldozers during demolition? Will this increase the City’s costs?

We agree that the Jens Jensen Gardens and dunes next to lighthouse beach should be restored. This has been a central element of our plan from the beginning – the demolition group has basically adopted this component of our plan for their own. Saving a historical landmark building in no way precludes restoring the gardens and dunes. In fact no dunes ever existed wither the building is, and the gardens never existed before the building either – they were designed together. We have been promoting restoration of the gardens and enhancing educational and recreation opportunities for years. We are even working with Jens Jensen – the original landscape architect’s great-grandson…and he certainly does not believe that demolition is an appropriate means of restoration. Jensen designed the grounds with the House as the centerpiece – the significance of the site relies on the interaction between the built and natural environment. Experts say the gardens are unlikely to survive demolition of the building.
On the contrary, preservation of the Harley Clarke house is essential to educational uses of the property. If the building is demolished we will lose a landmark, we lose opportunities for education at a Great Lakes education center, we lose our public Lakehouse that belongs to everyone, we lose the economic engine of the site, which has been proven successful time and again throughout the US and Europe and would drive much needed economic activity in our community. And what will we gain? A quarter acre of grass. The limiting factor on environmental education programming at the site is not another quarter acre of grass.

There have been many estimates regarding the cost to get the building operational. The Evanston Art Center was operating in the building in its current condition up until the day they left. Cleary upgrades are required and there is deferred maintenance, but the building is very well constructed. Historic Preservation Experts Wiss Janney Elstner provided the City of Evanston with an assessment of the building that described $250,000 of repairs that were necessary to make the building operational. In November 2016, the City of Evanston prepared their own estimate to open the building for Parks and Recreation programs, which was $660,000. Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens has a vision that goes well beyond these repairs, and we are committed to doing that, but a lot can be accomplished for reasonable sums of money.
Who will pay for new educational programs in the gardens if the building – the economic engine of the site – is gone? When the City accepted the 125+ page proposal from Evanston Lakehouse to turn part of the space into an experiential learning center, they did so knowing that we would create and maintain that space. Will the Dunes group do the same? Or will Evanston taxpayers once again be on the hook for maintenance, upkeep, and programming.
If instead of demolition, the Dunes group contributed towards the publicly-supported plan, the building could be opened even sooner.
For more information about Evanston Lakehouse & Garden’s plan, our Board of Directors, our partners, the process, or our 501c3 status, we invite you to visit on the web at We are grateful to the community for their enduring support and look forward to working with the City to bring the plan they voted to accept to fruition.

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2018
Comment by: Patricia Stankovic

No Fun? Why Not? Several years ago the City of Evanston launched Ev150 and solicited suggestions from the community to come up with 10 Big Ideas. A very popular theme had to do with Water/Beach recreation and General Community recreation.
Essentially Fun amenities for the Young and the Young-At-Heart. And, although Ev residents submitted over 2,000 great ideas, few came out to vote. And then they were displeased with the results. (Sound familiar?)

Then more recently, when the RoundTable published an article about the City of Chicago announcing the opening of their Waterfront cafe, a lakeside restaurant, Evanston's Alderpeople said "Never in Evanston". The residents shot back with (read the comments) WHY NOT? and got no answer BTW.

Though this idea may not resonate with those who want to keep the beach "my own private retreat", and whether the Harley-Clark building is demolished, why not make/build a revenue producing, fun lakeside amenity to really take advantage of our biggest asset ? It could even be much smaller than Harley Clarke currently is!

So Why No Fun? Why not compromise?

Just to name some fun ideas people asked for:

- A beach with resort amenities such as rentable beach chairs and umbrella tables
-Beach-side cafes or restaurant, and concessions
-a boardwalk,
- a banquet hall with lake views for weddings and bar mitzvahs, corporate events, and fundraiser benefits,
-rooms for cooking classes, and the like
-a night club-style restaurant,
- a small B&B
- A small water playground or community pool
-A Marina

The possibilities are endless.

In any case, the project would create jobs and revenue while providing residents with amenities they've been asking for. The facility would serve the community, produce revenue, and create jobs.

The design could keep the setting natural, (like Wilmette's Gilson beach which is full of dunes and prairie grass, or the Chicago Botanic Gardens) and The northern portion of Lighthouse beach could be kept as is for those who want more quiet.

Who's going to fund it? Although the people may not be revved up to open their wallets for the eco/enviro/education vision currently proposed for Harley-Clarke, I would guess that many restaurateurs and business people in the fun industry would jump at the opportunity if given, even if it's with a clean slate. Perhaps even We the People.

Many residents want to keep our lakefront untouched and, In general, I agree that a natural setting is ideal. However, we have a diverse population with different interests to serve and not all of our lakefront (5 beaches?) needs to be left as is. Again, the design could be focused on keeping it as natural as possible.

Who's in for fun?

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2018
Comment by: Lori Keenan

It is ironic to me that last week at the Council meeting the City was bestowing Historic Preservation Awards for people who had built esthetically pleasing porches on their homes, and this week they are talking about tearing down a landmark building which a not for profit has offered to invest $5M to improve, this during Historic Preservation Month. Making Evanston Great Again!

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