“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized.

“Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistence.

“Remember that our sons and our grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us.

“Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.” 

— Daniel Burnham, American architect, Urban designer, Director of Works for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and former Evanston resident

Some days I think that Daniel Burnham might be rolling over in his grave if he knew what was happening in Evanston these days. Certainly he would be staggered by some of what has been proposed for the Harley Clarke house and its iconic Jens Jensen landscape and gardens.

The indisputable Father of the City Beautiful movement, Burnham prepared The Plan of Chicago in 1909. It was the first comprehensive urban plan for the controlled growth of an American city. Burnham’s plan declared that every citizen should be within walking distance of a park, among other revolutionary ideas.

“Not a foot of its shores should be appropriated by individuals to the exclusion of the people … thus fitting it for the part it has to play inthe life of the whole city… to the end that the loveliness intended for all may be protected.”   –  Burnham, Page 50, Plan of Chicago, 1909, (The Commercial Club of Chicago)

I wonder how Mr. Burnham might feel today if he knew that an Evanston landmark, and one of its most treasured open spaces, was potentially being sold for R1 zoning special use for McMansions, or a boutique hotel for wealthy vacationers, or maybe even an assisted living community. Staggering, right?

I wonder how Jens Jensen, might feel.  Jensen was another amazing Chicago talent – think: Frank Lloyd Wright of landscape architecture. Jensen-designed the grounds and gardens surrounding the Harley Clarke house.

In addition to creating many of Chicago’s most historic parks, Jensen also organized and inspired the early conservation movements that led to the creation of the Cook County Forest Preserve District, the Illinois state park system, the Indiana Dunes State Park and National Lakeshore. Jensen believed strongly in the renewing and civilizing power of nature, that people must have some contact with the “living green, – flowers and plants native to their home.”

Recently, a group of Evanston residents had the opportunity to walk the grounds of Harley Clarke with Jens Jensen as he pointed out plantings and stonework that were most likely original to the landscape plan. Great, great-grandson of the original Jens, modern-day Jens is also an environmental steward, Principal Ecologist and owner of Jensen Ecology in Madison, Wisconsin. 

Afterwards, Jens shared this with us, “It was clear after walking the Harley Clarke grounds there are some remnants of the original landscape design intact. There is also a diverse native plant community along with some very nice specimen trees (which could be from the original installation). Knowing that Jens was always interested in public parks and re-connecting people to nature, it is very appropriate that one of his private estate projects is now a public park.”

The Harley Clarke landscape has been well-documented by architectural and landscape photographers, historians, authors, students and visitors throughout its nearly 90-year history, and one of Jensen’s signature elements, a council ring (or what most Evanstonians know as the ‘Fire Pit’) is still there today.

With a strong City plan such as Burnham might have provided, Harley Clarke could serve as a valuable future asset. But if we’re not good stewards of what we value, this cultural treasure may be lost. 

Imagine recreating the Harley Clarke property in a way that provides enriching experiences for future generations of Evanston residents and students, while also serving as an economic engine.

The people I’ve worked with in many volunteer capacities here in Evanston, are so smart, creative, resourceful, collaborative and talented that they could run a small nation. The numerous individuals and multiple groups working to save the Harley Clarke property for public use for all of Evanston, are no exception. 

I hope that the Harley Clarke Committee and the City Council will heed the unique energy and enthusiasm which our community has, to preserve and enrich this beautiful historic site and make it an important part of, not only Evanston’s past, but also its present and future. Similar models in less beautiful settings have realized amazing successes.

This month is National Preservation Month – what better time to get involved to preserve, restore, and reinvigorate one of Evanston’s legacies and treasured open spaces by the lake?

With Harley Clarke, Evanston has an architectural and environmental gem, placed in an idyllic setting.  We should make the most of the opportunity which it provides. We think Daniel Burnham and Jens Jensen would agree, and we hope you’ll join us in support of this big plan. Visit harleyclarke.com to learn more.