Mary Rosinski facilitates a group discussion about possibilities for the Harley Clarke mansion.

Harley Clarke mansion supporters invited the community to have a conversation about the next chapter for the lakefront property.

Community members responded enthusiastically to the brainstorming session held at the Lorraine Morton Civic Center Jan. 24, generating loads of ideas for future uses of the building and site.

A maritime museum? A Great Lakes Research Center? A cooking school? A music school?

Or all of the above, teamed with a café or restaurant, where the public can come and enjoy the lakefront.

How about a partnership with the schools and the Evanston Public Library for a special resource area for students to go to learn more about their community?

 “We send them on field trips all the time,” said longtime Evanston resident Judith Treadway, one of the citizens participating in the exercise.   “Why can’t they go on field trips to the Harley Clarke mansion?”

Whatever idea gains backing, it should be a community gathering place “welcoming and inclusive of everyone in this community – and also acceptable and affordable for everyone,” stressed Karli Butler, another resident.

The session, sponsored by the Harley Clarke Community group, was the first major meeting since an advisory referendum in November where voters delivered a resounding yes to saving the mansion, located at 2603 Sheridan Rd., adjacent to the Grosse Point Lighthouse.

“I have over the years imagined programs and activities going on in that building,” said Charles Smith, another longtime Evanston resident and former head of the Ladd Arboretum Committee, speaking at the meeting.

 “Now I want to know what your thoughts are,” he said, addressing the audience members. “I’m really anxious to hear what the motivation was that inspired so many people [in the referendum vote].”

Bennett Johnson, former head of the Evanston/North Branch NAACP and one of the members heading up the Harley Clarke Community group, joined NBC’s Art Norman, leading the discussion.

“It’s very important what you’re going to do today. This is our house, your house,” Mr. Johnson said about keeping the property public.

Mr. Johnson said the next step for the group is, “first, to prioritize the ideas generated at the session,” and secondly “talk about money – talk about how we’re going to do this thing.”

The group has scheduled a follow up meeting for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 28, also in the Parasol Room at the Lorraine Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.

“The next step is developing the funding sources and opportunities [revenue streams, donations, grants] to finance the wonderful ideas from the Jan. 24 meeting,” said Clare Kelly, another member of the Harley Clarke Community group.  In addition, groups will be identified by interest theme, she said, “so that residents can work together to further explore and research those particular areas of interest for the lakefront mansion.”

 Importantly, “whether it is a café, event space, museum or gallery, we want it to incorporate an equity component, so that Harley Clarke is a welcoming and accessible place for all Evanstonians,” Ms. Kelly said.

“It’s really neat to see all these people come out on a crazy cold night,” she said about the Jan. 24 meeting, “roll up our sleeves together and think about what as a community we would like to see in this lakefront space. This is Lake Michigan and we don’t have any other public indoor spaces on the lakefront. This is it,” she said.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.