Harley Clarke Mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road, from east of building.                                     Photo by Mary Mumbrue

At their second meeting, held on Feb. 26, members of the Harley Clarke Mansion Committee put some order to the 20 comments received via email and a few additional ones presented during the citizen comment portion of the meeting.

Committee Chair Steve Hagerty restated some of the “givens” from the previous meeting: that the committee is advisory only and will present recommendations to the City Council by June; that the committee’s mission is “to identify, develop and evaluate the viability of options in the context of the criteria developed by the committee;” and that the committee will not consider any option that does not preserve the public beach or blocks public access to the beach.

The property in question, 2603 Sheridan Road, consists of the mansion, a coach house and a greenhouse. Just to the south are the Grosse Point Light Station and its two fog houses. Gardens and a grotto designed by Jens Jensen – the grotto recently renovated through a private donation – also grace the surroundings. Ownership of property is split, though not evenly, between the City and the Lighthouse Landing Park District. North of the parking lot is a strip of Lighthouse Park and the City-owned Lawson Park. Lighthouse Landing Park District is one of two park districts in Evanston – the other is Ridgeville Park District – that levy taxes for and maintain parks separate from the nearly 90 City-owned parks.

The proposals fell roughly into two categories, said committee member Garry Shumaker, who served as scribe for the meeting: those suggesting specific future uses and those suggesting ways to generate income or offset costs of rehabbing the mansion.

Among the emailed options about future use are demolishing the mansion (suggested three or four times) and either keeping the space for parkland or building a water park or a swimming pool; using the space for a restaurant (suggested twice), gallery space, a hotel, an organic gardening/learning center or a Lake Michigan learning center, a cooking center, an amphitheater, garden conservancy, a youth hostel, a community art center or an indoor market.

Ways to generate income or offset costs included leasing the space temporarily to a company for laser tag; and using the space for Evanston Township High School students to learn about rehabbing a building, similar to the Geometry in Construction class, in which students build a house.

The name of Colonel Jennifer Pritzker was mentioned twice in the emailed suggestions: one suggesting that the City return to her proposal for a boutique hotel and another suggesting that the City ask her to fund the rehab of the mansion and keep it public.

Several residents spoke during citizen comment, held this time at the start of the meeting. Speakers talked of expanding the park district, examining City expenditures on other City-owned properties and considering additional uses for the property.

“You should think about this property and how it fits into the context of its surroundings,” said urban planner Jeanne Lindwall. “ I suggest you have a context map that extends a block or two in each direction. These [properties] are all zoned OS [open space] or R- [single-family residential]. … Instead of thinking about it in separate plots, think about it as an activity zone. … Instead of thinking of it in terms of ownership, think about how you might configure uses,” she added.

The City should expand the reach of the Lighthouse Landing Park District, said Junad Rizki, an architect and a frequent critic of City policies.

Jeff Smith, former general counsel for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Revenue, said he felt the area should become a “co-activity generator” to attract more visitors to the area. “The largest space [of the mansion] should be available for meetings and events.” He also said that he “would dispute that the IDNR withdrew all intentions [to use the property] … The public would be served by seeing the discussion with the City resume.” He said the City and IDNR could “build on the existing structure and create a state park by leveraging the mansion and the lighthouse and the fog houses.”

Carl Bova, an engineer, suggested that  the committee ask for revenue and expenditure details for other City-owned buildings, such as the Chandler-Newberger Center, the Ecology Center, Levy Center, Robert Crown Center and its ice rinks, Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, Noyes Cultural Arts Center and the beaches.

“I think as we go through the options that we need to get our arms around funding,” said Mr. Hagerty. “Our mission is about the viability, so we’ve got to get really deep into these ideas.”

The zoning report requested by the committee took less than a minute to present: The present OS zoning, was preceded by an R-1 zoning, said Lori Pearson of the zoning division.

The next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on March 11 in room 2200 of the Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave. There will be citizen comment during the last 15 minutes of the 90-minute meeting.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...