Four organizations have submitted proposals for adaptive re-use and renovation of the Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road. Photo by Mary Mumbrue

In July of 2017, then-RoundTable City Reporter Shawn Jones wrote “An Unfinished History of Evanston’s Harley Clarke Mansion.” Meeting the City’s Feb. 28 deadline, four groups have tendered proposals for the mansion at 2603 Sheridan Road, in hopes of writing the next chapter of that history.

Last fall, the City requested proposals for a long-term lease of the property to a group, either for-profit or not-for-profit, that would invest in the property, renovate it and “incorporate a public component as a meaningful component of its proposal.” That component could be the entire space or a portion of it, such as a café, a museum, one or more classrooms, or a meeting space.  

The City received proposals from Artists Book House, Evanston Community Lakehouse & Gardens, Evanston Conservancy and ONECommunity Museum.

The proposals can be found on the City’s website:

This article summarizes the proposals using the order in which they appear on the City’s website, which is the order in which the City received them.

Artists Book House 

The proposal for Artists Book House states it is “a new educational organization devoted to the literary and book arts.” The organization has applied for tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) charitable and education organization. Audrey Niffenegger, author of “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” is the founder of Artists Book House and its president.

Ms. Niffenegger grew up in Evanston, graduated from Evanston Township High School and taught at the Evanston Art Center during the years it occupied the Clarke mansion. In 1994, she helped found the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts.

The proposed use is for a “place where artists, writers, readers, and other thoughtful people gather to learn and create. Through education, exhibitions, publications, and events, Artists Book House expands our community. We promote the literary arts and the crafts of book making. …

“We celebrate diversity and are committed to empowering people to tell their stories, to transform their worlds into books.”

To make the book and paper arts accessible to everyone, the group will “endeavor to make all of our programming affordable or free to the public, with scholarship and internship opportunities.”

In addition to spaces allocated for classes, the group proposes The Book House Café in partnership with Curt’s Café, space for writers in residence, a small art gallery, a local book shop, a lecture hall and classrooms.

Open to the public and serving light snacks and beverages, the Book House Café would occupy the dining room and sunroom. The group proposes adding a terrace to the northeast of the building for summer use.

The Jens Jensen Gardens in Evanston organization would be housed in the Coach House. The group will create a Harley Clarke House Preservation Society to “raise money, awareness and camaraderie … so that interested Evanstonians and others who love the Harley Clarke House can play an active role in its future.”

Artists Book House, the proposal states, “fills a particular niche in an arts-rich community and turns an unused but treasured local building into a vibrant creative space with access for all.”

The group estimates it will spend between $8 million and $10 million on renovations to the mansion, between $1 million and $1.3 million on the coach house and between $600,000 and $900,000 on the gardens. Artists Book House also projects another $1 million in costs to hire staff; stock the book shop; begin the library; and purchase such specialized equipment as presses, bindery equipment, papermaking vats, and molds and deckles.

Artists Book House plans to raise the needed funds through private and foundation giving. The proposal lists foundations the group plans to solicit, as well as case studies of successful projects similar to this one.

Because the ongoing maintenance of the building will cost about $80,000 per year, Artists Book House proposes a 40-year lease with the City, paying “peppercorn rent” – token or minimal rent – in the first ten years, $1,000 per month for the next ten years, $2,000 per and $3,000 per month for the final ten years.

Evanston Community Lakehouse & Gardens

Emily Guthrie, President of Evanston Community Lakehouse & Gardens, presented the proposal for this not-for-profit entity with approval as a 501(c)(3) organization. On the cover page is a sentence by Chicago Tribune architectural critic Blair Kamin: “Evanston, you’ve got a treasure on your hands.” (April 22, 2018)

Ms. Guthrie, a former alderman, has been active in civic affairs for decades, most recently – in addition to this project – helping resurrect First Night Evanston.

Evanston Community Lakehouse & Gardens has “a diverse and active board that represents over two thousand supporters and has the endorsement of many civic and community organizations,” according to the proposal.

Its mission is “to preserve and renovate Evanston’s landmark public lakefront estate to create a welcoming and inclusive community space with events and programming generated by input from the community at three meetings in the spring of 2019,” the proposal states. Its core values are community, social justice and sustainability.

The group envisions its “community home on the lake” as part of an 11-acre “community campus” composed of the Harley Clarke property, Lighthouse Landing Park, Noah’s Playground and the Jens Jensen Gardens.

Proposed uses of the building include workshops; meetings; a light-fare café; performances; classes; museum; lakeside classes in yoga, dance or drama and the like; and ecological tours of the gardens.

At the three community meetings held in 2019, community members expressed interest in, among other things, environmental education such as a Great Lakes Coastal Ecosystem exhibit; guest lecturers speaking about architecture, urban planning, Native American and immigration history, and landscape design; language and literacy education; space for visual and performance arts; recreational and wellness activities; horticultural and gardening classes in the greenhouse; cooking classes; seasonal celebrations; and workforce development.

Most community-focused events will be free or carry a nominal charge; other activities will generate revenue. Examples of revenue-generating activities include medium-sized conferences, the seasonal light-fare café, and a limited number of group events held during the late fall through early spring season.

Evanston Community Lakehouse & Gardens “commits, as appropriate, to rebuild, reconstruct, and repair the mansion, the coach house, and the gardens.” The estimated cost is $4.9 million.

The group proposes a five-phase renovation plan a budget:

? Phase 1: First floor and Conservatory $1.4 million,

? Phase 2: Second and third Floors, 863,000

? Phase 3: Basement and Building Exterior, $1.262 million

? Phase 4: Coach House, 696,000

? Phase 5: Jens Jensen Gardens and Grounds, in cooperation with Jens Jensen Gardens in Evanston, no cost estimate given

Evanston Community Lakehouse and Gardens believes there is “significant donation capacity and excitement” for the project on the part of individuals, foundations and other organizations, particularly those interested in “environmental and other educational learning experiences, historic preservation and equitable community-building.”

A professional fundraiser developed a feasibility study for the group and estimated the donor capacity is more than $4 million. In addition, groups that wish to hold smaller events, symposiums, events, and programs “in the only publicly owned lakefront mansion in northern Illinois” might also be interested.

Evanston Community Lakehouse & Gardens proposes a 20-year lease with rent of $1 per month. The lease would have four ten-year options, to total 60 years for the group to lease the mansion. The minimal rent would represent an acknowledgement by the City of the value of the renovations. The group expects to break even in year 1; afterward, the group expects a net income increasing from $20,000 in year 2 to $100,000 in year five.

Evanston Conservancy

The Evanston Conservancy Benefit Corporation, spearheaded by Trish Stieglitz and Richard Murray, begins with a reflection from Jane Jacobs: “Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.” The group is a public benefits corporation and its full title is Evanston Conservancy Benefits Corporation

Ms. Stieglitz is founder of the Evanston-based, woman-owned Construction Concept Management Corporation and Vice President of Development and Construction for Midtown Athletic Clubs.

Mr. Murray is President of Equity Schools, Inc., an Illinois

benefit corporation, based in Evanston with a nationwide reach in solving  capital and operational funding problems for schools, businesses and other organizations. He created the nonlinear approach to project funding.

According to its proposal the Advisory Board “is comprised of multi-disciplined professionals from a variety of industries, with vast knowledge and expertise.”

The organization says its “project goals mirror the language of the City’s Request for Proposals, … closely aligns with the Lakefront Master Plan” and builds “on the original intent of this once-private residence to now house all functions of daily life, namely: nourishment, creating, comfort and family.”

The group says it will “create a welcoming and inclusive place to match Evanston’s diverse community through its tenants, users, events and strategic partnerships.”

Proposed uses include a farm-to-table light-fare café and kitchen on the first floor and patio and mindfulness and movement activities on the third floor. The ground floor would be used as a gallery and an event and exhibition space and a nature-based preschool. The lower level would have performance and maker spaces, including a black box theater, and the second floor would be dedicated to office uses – co-working and conference spaces. The greenhouse and conservatory would be used for classes by a local farm, and a “ride-up” bicycle/coffee shop would be located in the coach house.

The Evanston Conservancy’s proposal states it “has secured the written intention of eight businesses (two for the same café space) and organizations to become tenants.” Many of these have ties to Evanston. As examples, Covenant Nursery School would open a “nature school” branch in the mansion, and Creative Co-Working would relocate there.

Each tenant will have a “community-use” or give-back component, such as sharing space or offering job training or scholarships, as examples.

The proposal states the financial models project the Evanston Conservancy will be able to lease 60% of its designated rental space within one year; 75% in year two, 90% in year three, with further increases over time.

The group says it plans to invest nearly $5 million to restore the house, coach house and gardens. Funds from investors would cover about a third of the cost, with the remainder financed through donations, bank-financing and federal and state tax benefits.

The Evanston Conservancy says it has contacted several prospective investors who are “prepared to form the necessary investor group.” So far, the group has received pledges of donations, investments and in-kind work totaling $500,000.

The group proposes four phases of restoration and renovation work for the house, gardens and coach house. It also proposes three lease options, each for 99 years, with minimal rent, augmented by a percentage of any annual surplus after a certain number of years of operation.


ONECommunity, whose mission is nationwide, submitted a video as its proposal. Viewers to “imagine a free museum that locally develops global citizens.” The mission is “to improve the community in the areas of wellness, education, sustainability, and health. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.”

The video shows people gardening, painting, buying flowers and produce, socializing in a café or outside and engaging in “mindful” exercises such as yoga. These snippets are interspersed with photos of the mansion.

The ONECommunity Museum is a U.S. 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization incorporated in the state of Virginia. The three aspects of the organization are the museum, the exhibits and programming focused on sustainability or the community, architecture and the environment; the closet, which provides clothing, toys and books to families (returning the toys and books after they are no longer age-appropriate is encouraged); and the farm, manage by Terroir Farm & Market.

ONECommunity did not appear to provide financial estimates for renovations or resources for operations. Donations are tax-deductible, and, at the end of the video, viewers are asked to donate to the organization.  

Next Steps

Rather than have a citizens group review the proposals, aldermen voted at the March 2 City Council meeting that they would conduct the reviews. No date has been set for the reviews.

The link to Mr. Jones’s story is

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...