If you are an Evanston resident, you own a piece of the 1920s Tudor revival style mansion with lakefront access and views at 2603 Sheridan Rd. The Harley Clarke mansion, with its Jens Jensen prairie school-designed landscape, is a local landmark, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a public asset owned by all Evanston taxpayers, which currently costs just 20 cents per year, per person. Despite this, a plan has emerged for demolition of the house in a Memorandum of Understanding with the City that was signed by five individuals who live in close proximity to the house. In a City of 75,000 people, we believe this is wrong and have worked to ensure that democracy will play a part in this decision when, on Nov. 6 the issue will be on the ballot in an advisory referendum which asks:
“Shall the City of Evanston protect from demolition and preserve the landmark Harley Clarke buildings and gardens next to Lighthouse Beach, for use and access as public property, consistent with the Evanston Lakefront Master Plan, at minimal or no cost to Evanston taxpayers?”
We urge you to vote YES to preserve this unique public asset for the enjoyment of our families and future generations. Voting YES makes Harley Clarke more accessible, useful and profitable for our City – and all its residents.
Voting YES for preservation means you join supporters such as Jan Schakowsky, Robyn Gabel, Cam Davis, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Landmarks Illinois, Open Lands, The Cultural Landscape Foundation and many more important organizations, educators, and experts who believe in equity of the lakefront for all citizens, no matter their ward, address or income level. It means you believe the lakefront shouldn’t be restricted to certain communities, or individuals, and that Evanston should preserve and protect the only publicly owned lakefront house between Lake Cook Road and Chicago.
Voting YES for preservation is the most cost-effective solution and will not be a burden on taxpayers. Currently the City spends $15,000 per year for annual maintenance, and not one extra dollar will be asked now or in the future for the mansion. In fact, citizens have now come forward to offer to cover this nominal cost. In fact, “mothballing” the mansion is not “kicking the can” on a problem, but a strategy advised by experts – including Pulitzer Prize winning architecture critic Blair Kamin and Landmarks Illinois – that should be put in place until a solution can be found. Hugely inflated numbers of nearly $10 million (taken from a previous plan to convert it to a commercial-use hotel) have been advanced by proponents of demolition, but an engineering report on the City’s own website found $660,000 would open the mansion safely. These figures may need to be updated, but they show a path forward and debunk other discouraging and prohibitively high numbers being shared.
Voting YES for preservation means you believe in reuse and repurpose of this historic property in a model that has been successful worldwide, like so many projects in recent days in the city of Chicago bringing new uses to historic places, including time-honored success stories such as Cafe Brauer, Berger Mansion, Cheney Mansion, The Grove, and thousands more across the country and around the world. Adaptively re-used buildings become economic engines in their communities – for every $1 invested, $2.44 is returned. The historic significance of the house makes it eligible for a number of national and state preservation grants. Demolishing Harley Clarke jeopardizes Evanston’s Certified Local Government status and the potential funding it provides, and eliminates cultural tourism dollars that a preserved space would most certainly bring.
Voting YES for preservation is a vote for sound ecological decisions. For cities like Evanston, concerned with green practices and sustainability, re-use is the greenest practice possible for a building.
Voting YES means you honor the Lakefront Master Plan, which included preservation, celebration and utilization of the structures in a way that upholds and respects the public process and community voices that worked to develop that plan.
Voting YES for preservation means exploring all options in a long, thoughtful view. Currently an extremely viable solution is being explored by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois State Historic Preservation Agency, and may be part of the reason Rep. Robyn Gabel has encouraged the City not to make any decisions until after the November election, when shifting political winds can impact budgets.
Voting YES for preservation, means not rushing to a destructive and irreversible decision. We urge you to learn more in the coming weeks and to VOTE YES to Save Harley Clarke. For more information, visit saveharleyclarke.org.
Allie Harned is founder of Save Harley Clarke.