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The stickiest of stickiest problems plaguing the City for more than four years has apparently been solved at last. City Council agreed at its last meeting to accept the latest response to a request for proposals regarding the shuttered Harley Clarke Mansion, one that combines the best of both worlds by preserving the historic structure while at the same time returning the site on which it sits to open green space by moving the building to another troubled location – the library parking lot.
At this point, it has become routine to see homes moved through Evanston streets to their eventual resting places. The high school’s Geometry in Construction program builds a home every year in the high school parking lot only to move the completed house to a pre-selected site the following summer.
Recent advances in technology permit the moving of ever larger structures. It is actually the Geometry in Construction program that hatched the idea to move Harley Clarke in developer Guiseppe LaPisa’s head. “My son actually took the course, and he told me one day after class, ‘Why don’t you just move that building everyone is always complaining about? If we can do it in high school, why can’t you?’” he recalled. “I looked out at the sign in my yard and thought, hey what better way to save Harley Clarke?”
The relocated building will sit on what will be dubbed “Evanston’s History Row,” nestled between the Woman’s Club to the south and the Frances Willard complex to the north. Plans call for an expansion of the Evanston History museum and Women’s Club programming, though the City sounded unclear as to whether it would provide programming in part of the facility as well. Preliminary thoughts seemed to focus on programming similar to that at the Gibbs-Morrison facility, which to date has consisted of, well….
The proposal also eliminates much of the concern raised by the defeated office tower proposal slated for the library parking lot space. Resident Allana Pampoose, a noted pedestrian safety specialist, protested vehemently against the office building when it came before Council. “The alley off of Emerson gets hundreds of pedestrian travelers every day,” she said at the time. “This building will only increase traffic at the expense of our precious pedestrians.”
However, even at its heyday, the Harley Clarke mansion only received about 75 visitors per day. “We believe this use will actually decrease the number of pedestrians in the alley,” said Ms. Pampoose. “More people now use the parking lot than we expect will go to the mansion, and many of those will use the front door and not the alley.”
Despite advances in technology, Mr. LaPisa described the actual process of moving the mansion as very precise, time consuming and potentially disruptive. “The first step is to drive what I call ‘pontoons’ under the existing structure. We then inflate the pontoon with a water-oil sludge like substance to lift the structure airborne,” he explained. “It is then possible to literally roll the building onto a waiting transport devise.”
The specially designed vehicle, one similar to those used to transport large jet airliners and the (now retired) space shuttle, will then roll down Sheridan to Harley’s new home.
The process will not be without its damaging aspects, admitted Mr. LaPisa. Local Evanston critic Jubal Rizby was quick to point out the central problem to an exasperated City Council. “We just resurfaced Sheridan Road,” he said. “Twenty tons rolling down the road, I don’t care how advanced our technology is, 20 tons is going to destroy the road.”
When asked about possible road damage, Evanston’s roadway czar Pearl LeBlanc merely shrugged her shoulders.”
“Nothing is more important to our community than the preservation of this building,” she said. “Can you say, ‘Two birds, one stone?’”
The initial pontoons were to be driven and inflated April 1. The entire process should be completed that very same day, said Mr. LaPisa.
The impending move of the Harley Clarke mansion from its current Sheridan Road perch to History Row next to the Frances Willard House and the Woman’s Club creates a question in many minds as to what happens to the Jens Jensen gardens on the same grounds, a landscape architecture masterpiece designed to blend and enhance the mansion and its environment. The answer, fortunately, is equally as bold, exciting and novel.
According to plans unveiled at the same meeting as the relocation, the garden will be partially relocated, and partially recreated, as part of a new Green Roof atop the adjacent main library building itself.
“What a fascinating, wonderful opportunity!” gloated the City’s Director of Public Arts and Tourism, Grafton Grant. “Rather than looking up at the mansion from ground level gardens, visitors will now be able to experience the garden while looking down at the mansion, a wonderful juxtaposition of the artistic vision, available here, and only here!”
An outline of the east side of the building and porch will spread across the west side of the library building. The building is not quite large enough to accommodate the entire garden layout, but a deck-like extension from the north side of the building, overlooking the driveway and dumpster containment area, will allow the full Jens Jensen experience, according to the plans. Due to safety concerns, a simulated firepit will replace the real fire circle. “We cannot have sparks raining down on all those alley-walking pedestrians,” said Pearl LeBlanc, the City’s director of alley safety, a new position created just to address the library parking lot alley usage.
The decision also allows the City to move up the International Green Village list by scoring points for a “green roof” on a public building. Green roofs are worth seven additional points allowing Evanston to leapfrog both Evanston, Wyo. – a bitter rival – and Gary, Indiana into the top 450. “Did I say something about two birds, one stone earlier?” queried Ms. LeBlanc rhetorically.
Construction times neatly with the library’s ongoing renovations. Elevators will soon take patrons all the way to the roof, and an exterior stairwell will deposit patrons conveniently at the new Harley Clarke’s back door.
Construction will begin right away – April 1, 2019
Plan B: Harley Clarke Towers and Lighthouse Restaurant
By U Gotta BLEEVE
Should the move to the library lot fall through, an alternative proposal is already before the City’s Planning and Exigency Commission.
Brought by the ad hoc group Citizens Who Care, the proposal envisions the tallest structure on the North Shore, with a revolving, high-end restaurant and observation deck taking in lake vistas, the Chicago skyline, O’Hare airport and the distant, far north lights and clear day sightings of Milwaukee. The 86-floor cylindrical structure will generate massive income, plus tax dollars for the City and will be a world class destination.
CWC (also nicknamed Citizens With Coin) would have the City retain ownership of the lakefront land, leasing it while agreeing to start-up tax incentives with the investors. Attorneys for the City see the massive project as a win-win situation. The Harley Clarke mansion itself will be part of the lower and main floor design, including Everything Evanston shops. “Since we couldn’t tear it down, we decided to build it up, up, up,” said Chase Chevystick, head of CWC.
Office space, affordable income units, limited student apartments and luxury condominiums on the higher levels will reflect the City’s commitment to diversity.
The developers expect some opposition from the well established group CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything) to the proposal will be more than persuasive.