Dawes House scaffolded.

The Evanston History Center (EHC) is sprucing up Dawes House, the lakefront mansion at 225 Greenwood St. that was, once the home of Charles G. Dawes, the former U.S. vice president and Nobel Prize winner.

Sealing the structural envelope where the 117-year-old landmark house has sustained water penetration is the focus of the multi-year restoration project’s first phase, funded by a leadership grant from the Frank B. Foster Foundation. Mr. Foster was a former EHC board member and long-time Evanston realtor.

The first phase of the project includes rebuilding the conservatory foundation, tuckpointing the east wall, fixing the parapet over the dining room and addressing structural issues in the coach house. The terrace steps will also be repaired, fixing the damage sustained last summer when a large oak tree fell there during a thunderstorm. This first phase is expected to be finished by fall.

The conservatory, once a dazzling glass-walled room at the northeast corner of the 28-room mansion, was torn down in the 1950s, leaving only two terra cotta fountains thirsty for water on the south wall and a rickety floor and foundation. Cracked and broken from spending almost 60 years exposed to the elements, they have served as a conduit for water leaking into the house.

The conservatory will not be rebuilt altogether, says Kris Hartzell, EHC director of facilities. Instead, only the foundation and floor will be replaced – but they will be built, she said, so that the entire conservatory could be reconstructed some day. Until then, the area will continue to be outdoors and serve as an extension of the east terrace, its floor encircled by a handsome metal railing which replicates terra cotta railings that once adorned the house exterior.

Subsequent stages of restoration will upgrade the electrical system, replace broken roof tiles and replace wood on storm windows. The boiler, which Ms. Hartzell figures “probably dates from the ’60s,” will also be replaced, perhaps with a geothermal heating and cooling system.

Although EHC has made its home there since 1960, it took title to Dawes House from Northwestern University only two years ago. Dawes House is a National Historical Landmark and an Evanston landmark. “It is emblematic of our history,” says Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. “It is important to always remember the people who came before us, who made our community what it is. It’s tremendously important to keep Dawes House going and, of course, to keep the Evanston History Center going.”

On June 30 the Mayor took part in a ceremonial groundbreaking at Dawes House. She was joined by Illinois State Rep. Robyn Gabel and Tim Foster, an EHC volunteer representing the Frank Foster Foundation set up by his father. The restoration team from AltusWorks is headed by project architect Scott Utter, an Evanston resident and member of the Evanston Preservation Commission.