Roula Alakiotou, FAIA, guest speaker, discussed her successful development plan for the Berger Park Cultural Center and its two mansions.Photo by Mary Mumbrue

NoParkSale organizers urged a large audience at the Civic Center on Sept. 18 to start a process of thinking broadly, not only about the future of the Harley Clarke Mansion, but also about the four parcels of park land that make up the Grosse Point Lighthouse area.  Two of the parcels are owned by the City of Evanston, and two are part of the Lighthouse Park District, which is a separate taxing entity.  

NoParkSale is an ad-hoc residents’ group founded in response to the possible sale of 2½  acres of the Grosse Point Lighthouse area, including the Harley Clarke mansion, to a developer.

More than two years ago, the City issued requests for proposals to rehab and develop the mansion itself. The only “responsive” reply, according to the City, was from Tawani Enterprises. That proposal included the purchase of 2½  acres of land and the construction of a 57-room “boutique” hotel.

The Evanston Art Center, the current tenant of the Harley Clarke mansion, has leased it from the City since 1969 for $1 a year. The lease expires in June 2021 but is terminable by either party with 280 days’ notice. At a press conference in July, Norah Diedrich, executive director of the EAC, said that since 2007 EAC board members and key staff have been discussing “the need for a larger, more updated facility” and have been working with the City to find a suitable facility to which to relocate. A new home for the Art Center, Ms. Diedrich said in July, would have to be about 35,000 square feet,  “ideally,” with an area for Mom-&-Tots classes, an area for teens, a wood-working studio and a studio or area for 3-D printing.

Although she indicated at the July press conference that the EAC intended to remain in Evanston, at the Sept. 18 meeting she said the Art Center serves a much wider “community” than just the City of Evanston – “84 zip codes.”  She said none of the potential locations has worked out and the EAC is currently reconsidering its options. 

In addition to being in need of repair, the mansion is in violation of several City codes. Ms. Diedrich said  she had only recently received a copy of a report, commissioned by the City in 2012, on building and safety code violations at the mansion. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told the RoundTable that, although the City “has had general conversations with EAC about the condition of the building,” the conversations did not relate to “specifics. We had been focused instead on moving forward with future uses of the building.” (See related story on page 4.)

At the Sept. 18 meeting, members of NoParkSale presented several examples of other situations in which a restored and repurposed mansion became a community asset and part of a larger public community park.  Audience members were encouraged to view large photo displays of such successes as:

• The Grove Redfield Estate, Glenview (used for weddings, parties, meetings, retreats and as a nature center),

• The Cheney Mansion, Oak Park (used for weddings/receptions, private parties, corporate meetings and events, concerts and recitals, not-for-profit events and fundraisers and memorial services),

• The Dole Mansion in the Legacy Arts Center, Crystal Lake (used for special events, artist and musician studios,

• The Berger Park Cultural Center, Chicago (used for weddings, movies, an outdoor café, senior citizen and family programs).

The evening’s guest speaker, Chicago architect Roula Alakiotou, was instrumental in the successful community effort to acquire and develop the Berger Park Community Center at North Sheridan Road and Granville Avenue in Chicago.  She encouraged the audience to have faith in the process, adding that it took nine years for her group to accomplish its goals.  

Ms. Alakiotou said to expect opposition, and that there must be a shared vision and strong determination to accomplish what the group wants. She strongly urged that the group get engagement and support from elected officials at all levels. The Berger Park Cultural Center is now owned and operated by the Chicago Park District, and local community members still serve on an advisory council. The Lookingglass Theatre Company got its start there. 

Rick Weiland, president of the Southeast Evanston Association (SEA) one of the sponsors of the event, said he opposes the sale or long-term leasing of any of the property, and he opposes any private use that would impair public access. John Walsh, president of the Central Street Neighbors Association, another sponsor, said this is not just a northeast Evanston issue and that it is important to have the entire community’s involvement.  

The NoParkSale group is eager for more citizen involvement as well as involvement by local groups such as garden clubs and local businesses in coming up with possible public uses for this important public space. The next NoParkSale event will take place at 7 p.m. on Oct. 23 at the Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave. The NoParkSale group encourages all those interested in this civic project to attend this open meeting. 

More information is availabe by contacting info@noparksale.org.