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October 20, 2019

5/30/2018 4:13:00 PM
Resolution Proposing 'Deconstruction' of Harley Clarke Mansion Referred to City Council
2603 Sheridan Road without the Harley Clarke mansion. Submitted image

2603 Sheridan Road without the Harley Clarke mansion. Submitted image

By Shawn Jones

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asked that City Council consider an “immediate resolution” to be prepared by City Staff that would accept an offer from a community group to deconstruct the Harley Clarke mansion and restore the site to its natural state. The referral came after the group offered to pay all costs of deconstruction and site restoration during public comment at the May 29 City Council meeting.

The group, Evanston Lighthouse Dunes, is led by Nicole Kustok and Jeff Coney. In a prepared statement they said they are “members of a group of volunteers representing all wards, ages and socioeconomic groups in Evanston. We honor the lakefront as the place where the community, nature and history come together, a place where all Evanstonians can gather to learn, play and celebrate.

“We are here tonight to offer Evanston a gift from these citizens – an opportunity to restore the natural dunes, beach and parkland as part of a new public space with the iconic Grosse Point Lighthouse, a national historic landmark, as its centerpiece,” said Mr. Coney.

In an email to the RoundTable, Ms. Kustok wrote, “We have been working on this for over a year… and our hope is to gift the City with the funds to accomplish what we think is the only truly inclusive and fiscally sound answer to this long debate – sustainable green space. The amount we’ve raised exceeds bids for deconstruction, regrading and naturalizing the site.”

The plan would remove the mansion and coach house, but the use of recently renovated fog houses would be expanded. “... the current Ecology Center and District 65 programming at the fog houses are under-utilized and can be expanded once there is even more open space for all children to learn from and explore,” wrote Ms. Kustok.

“This is a spot with astonishing natural beauty and great historic significance that predates even the Lighthouse itself,” said Mr. Coney. He then quoted historian Viola Crouch Reeling and lighthouse keeper Donald J. Terras, describing journeys by French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet at Lighthouse Landing. “[A]s the men swung their canoes around the point where the lighthouse stands, the artist soul of Joliet and Marquette’s keen eye must have delighted in the beauty of that point…” he said, quoting Ms. Reeling.

The fate of the Harley Clarke Mansion has confounded Evanston’s City Council since at least 2011, when City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz first proposed “alternative uses” including actively exploring selling the mansion. At the time, Mr. Bobkiewicz told Council that “current deferred capital projects for the building exceed $400,000.”

Since 2011, estimated costs to return the building to code have soared, with recent estimates ranging from between $1.5 million and $5 million. Facing a budget crisis, Council has shown no appetite for spending any money at all on the mansion.

Last year, Council recently voted to allow another group of citizens, the Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens not-for-profit, to explore a long term lease of the premises provided the group could raise enough money to restore the mansion. But when the proposed lease came before Council in the spring, fundraising targets and insurance issues, along with a general skepticism and issue fatigue among some members of the Council, combined to derail the proposed lease. Council voted against entering into the lease on April 9.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, responded to Ald. Rainey’s request for a resolution by defending the ELHG group. “It is premature to talk about deconstructing the Harley Clarke Mansion,” she said. Council members have been in communication with ELHG and reached an informal arrangement under which they will give the group one year to raise $1 million in cash-on-hand. If ELHG can reach that target, the lease would be reconsidered.

It appears Council will face a choice, and one community group will be pitted against another. “It is time to move forward, and this is a limited time offer,” said Ald. Rainey, clearly staking out her position in the debate.

Ms. Kustok told the RoundTable that although her group has been working on a natural restoration solution for more than a year, they waited to bring their proposal forward until after Council voted on the ELGH lease. They did not want to compete or interfere with that group’s proposal, just to offer an alternative solution should Council decide not to move forward with the ELHG lease.

The natural restoration resolution will be back before Council on June 18 – a meeting likely to last well into the early morning hours of June 19.

Statement of the Evanston Lighthouse Dunes Group

Proposal presented at the May 29 City Council meeting, statement submitted to the RoundTable

We are Nicole Kustok and Jeff Coney-  members of a group of volunteers representing all wards, ages, and socioeconomic groups in Evanston. We honor the lakefront as the place where the community, nature and history come together, a place where all Evanstonians can gather to learn, play and celebrate.

We are here tonight to offer Evanston a gift from these citizens- an opportunity to restore the natural dunes, beach and parkland as part of a new public space with the iconic Grosse Point Lighthouse, a national historic landmark, as its centerpiece.

This is a spot with astonishing natural beauty and great historical significance that predates even the Lighthouse itself.

In her book published in 1928, Evanston, Its Land and Beginnings, historian Viola Crouch Reeling described how Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet disembarked at Lighthouse Landing. She wrote:

“Never getting far from land, but hugging the shore of this lake with their canoes, the travelers, no doubt, gazed with admiration on the lofty oaks, tamaracks and other varieties of trees that dotted the length of Evanston’s holdings of the men swung their canoes around the point where the lighthouse stands, the artist soul of Joliet and Marquette’s keen eye must have delighted in the beauty of that point, a point so beautiful that it gained the name from sailors in a later day of ‘Beauty’s Eyebrow.’”

She is describing the Grosse Point Lighthouse- site on the City's treasured lakefront. Quite an image for us to reflect on today.

In The Grosse Point Lighthouse, by Donald J. Terras in 1995, the author writes that, "Father Marquette paddled south along the western shore of Lake Michigan on his second voyage to the Chicago region. He was accompanied by two French companions and a band of Potawatomi and Illinois Indians…On December 3, Marquette made an entry in his diary indicating that the party was besieged by fog and was ‘compelled to make a point and land.’ Marquette’s map of the region.... strongly indicates that this famous wilderness pioneer camped on Grosse Point the night of December 3, 1674.

Recognizing centuries-old significance of this site, we realize that we have a opportunity to make it come alive again today and to broaden the appeal of this space for all of Evanston. Our vision is to restore the dunes to their natural state, to deconstruct the house and coach house and to utilize the two recently-renovated fog houses as environmental labs and classrooms for Evanston children.  

The mansion and coach house now obstruct both the lake and lighthouse from public view. We envision restoring key elements of Jens Jensen's historic 1920's garden and integrating them into the natural landscape while clearing and expanding the parkland and beach for the free enjoyment of all members of our City.

The primary goal of the City's Lakefront Master Plan, which the Council unanimously approved in 2008, is to preserve and enhance the lakefront's natural environment. Our plan is completely consistent with the community's consensus vision for Evanston and our most precious natural resource.

We are ready to move forward. Our gift has been secured through the generous contributions of numerous residents- no additional fundraising is required. No liability issues will persist and no prolonged construction period will be needed.  We are eager to meet with the city to finalize details so that we can move ahead.

We hope you share our vision and will act favorably on our offer. The future of this park and its dunes and beach have been debated for the last seven years.  It is time for a new vision. We look forward to working with you and the city’s garden and green space groups on what we think will be a wonderful project for Evanston.

Thank you for your consideration.


Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2018

It appears that many well-intentioned citizens lost site of a fundamental truth about the Hawley Clarke mansion completed in 1927, it is a large, poorly maintained building of no historical significance. Built by a utilities magnate, in 1949 it was sold to a fraternity and used as their national headquarters until 1965 when the City of Evanston assumed ownership. It was then, used by the Evanston Arts Center until 2015. This structure is not the Parthenon.

The Evanston Lighthouse Dunes group prepared a carefully reasoned and fully funded proposal to optimize usage of this space. Creation of new public space will resolve the issue in a fiscally sound manner while maintaining access to the beach, lighthouse, and fog houses. I strongly support the efforts of this group to effect restoration of this area to its natural state.

The City of Evanston is confronting a challenging financial future. Following many years of analysis and debate the matter of the “Hawley Clarke mansion” needs to be put to rest. This will enable City Council to focus on more urgent matters.

Posted: Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Comment by: Nancy Sreenan

The City Council must reject Evanston Lighthouse Dunes' wealth-fueled, uninspired, and likely self serving proposal to demolish the Harley Clarke mansion.

Instead, they must support the vision of Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens (ELHG). ELHG is a group that is completely up front about who they are, with a well-articulated, persuasive vision and a website that reflects their thoroughness. They have many credible endorsements and have raised funds despite the lack of a solid agreement with the City.

Evanston Lighthouse Dunes on the other hand, is an upstart group, suspect because they are so incredibly opaque. What are they hiding?

--Their website fails to answer how much money have they secured, from whom, and why.
--It was put together on Wordpress only recently—within the past 6-7 months—and so carelessly that the content wasn't even spell checked.
--A reading of their website indicates that they are bereft of any specific ideas beyond destruction, a fact that adds to my mistrust.
--Their website claims “We are a group of volunteers representing all wards, ages, and socioeconomic groups in Evanston” but it identifies no one in case I wanted to verify such a claim. News reports have named Nicole Kustock and Jeff Coney, both of whom who live within blocks of Harley Clarke.
--Evanston Lighthouse Dunes further identify themselves as “A concerned group of citizens who have come together to provide a fiscally sound, sustainable answer to the long-debated Harley Clarke estate - which is owned by the residents of Evanston.”

Evanston has no shortage of “concerned citizens”, so that hardly distinguishes them. What kind of ‘concerned citizen’ observes a “long debate”, the will of the residents and related years of effort by other equally ‘concerned citizens’, only to propose demolishing all that work by those other citizens who actually identify themselves? A concerned-for-oneself citizen who who lives within blocks of the Harley Clarke perhaps? Who might prefer to keep the area quiet once the beach closes for the season in order to enhance their own property values?

Besides their lack of transparency, other problems with their proposal include:

--Their high-handed “my-way-or-the-highway” proposal, complete with a deadline.

--Their thoughtless use of “sustainable”. They deem their idea “fiscally sound” and “sustainable”, but “sustainable” is one of the most overused and under defined words in current use. Is encouraging more car use via more parking, as they do, “sustainable”?

--Is sending an architecturally significant house made of irreplaceable materials to a landfill “sustainable”, especially when there is a dire need for money to fund that re-purposing?

--What informs valuing one historic structure over the other, and more to the point, who gets to choose? If naturalized parkland is such a priority, why not tear down both structures? For that matter, why not argue for tearing down every other structure on the lakefront, such as adjoining houses and Northwestern University?

--Evanston Lighthouse Dunes’ is only funding destruction. Everything else that they call their “vision” will in fact be up to either unnamed others, as in “The Jens Jensen Garden will be restored”, or volunteers, such as the Evanston Garden Club and ETHS Green Team, whose buy-in is *not* confirmed.

This proposal has all the hallmarks of a monied elite who live near the Harley Clarke mansion wanting to call the shots. They are trying to cover their selfishness with buzzword language excerpts lifted from two history books, one of which was published ninety years ago and whose title was misidentified and calling that mashup their "vision".

Evanston’s richest must not be allowed to follow the usual oligarch playbook of “We and our money decide what's best for us, and we’ll tell you it’s good for you too.” What a shame that this upstart, mystery group does not see the value in ELHG’s proposal, and donate their money accordingly.

Posted: Monday, June 4, 2018
Comment by: Allison Burnett

The destruction of something old and beautiful is almost never correct. And it certainly isn't here. There is unsoiled green enough in the area, but there can never be too much antique beauty. Once it is gone, its like will never return!

Posted: Monday, June 4, 2018
Comment by: Renee Moilien

"If we don't care about our past, we cannot hope for your future. I care desperately about saving old buildings." by Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis. Wise words. And tearing down this mansion is shortsighted. Once it's gone, it's forever lost. And for what. Truth: a better view and a small parcel of land. I'm sorry we missed an opportunity for renovation and repurposing, but I believe there are still visionaries out there who can do something wonderful with this building. In our world's climate today, we need to preserve this historic jewel more than ever. Please stop and think.

Posted: Monday, June 4, 2018
Comment by: Carol Robicheaux

I have no idea what the motivating factor is for this group to tear down an historic building but the stated reason of
adding green space seems extremely unlikely. The Dunes and gardens can exist with the current structure as they have for decades. I do think using the building as a restaurant or some other idea like that is a compromise - but given that this group probably wants to limit visitors to any new use of the building ( hence tearing it down) that also seems unlikely. Surely the creative minds that have shepherded Evanston during some turbulent times can find a solution.

Posted: Monday, June 4, 2018
Comment by: JoAnne Conroy

The Harley Clarke mansion is a masterpiece of design- the likes of which will never be seen again. The great majority of residents want it saved. It could be transformed in a myriad of ways to benefit the residents and visitors if Evanston. A tiny minority- who will not post any dissenting opinions on their website- will have it ripped down so their neighborhood is quieter or more valuable, or so they can see the lake from their homes. They have hijacked due process by fast tracking a possible quick demolition. This seems to be yet another example of the minority of the wealthy using their money to exert undue political influence. We already have mile after mile of open parkland along the lake. We don’t need to destroy this historically significant building to benefit the wealthy few. There is so much money in Evanston. We could find enough to save the building if we work together. Please donate today to the group trying to save it. The character and beauty of Evanston is slowly being destroyed by such shortsighted destructive actions.

Posted: Saturday, June 2, 2018
Comment by: Noreen Edwards

The dunes group ( has been working on this for over a year. They plan to save and re-do the Jensen gardens. and create more precious parkland and natural habitat, on our lakefront! I (and the birds) are a big supporter of more natural spaces. Since the mansion is not a federal landmark and will end up costing the city a lot of money, one way or another, this is a great opportunity to increase our natural areas, especially in such a critical location as the lakefront. It's not like they are proposing some new development there.

It would actually enhance the beauty of the Lighthouse, to be embraced by more dunes. The Lighthouse was built way before the mansion.
Also, I think that this new natural area will benefit all, and bring more residents and visitors into nature. The Fog houses can go on with student programs that will be enhanced by these new areas.

It is weird how the initial group "Save Our Parkland" became Save the Mansion, and now that there is a viable option to actually create more parkland, the Save Our Parkland group is opposed. The facebook letter was very offensive to many residents who have been working on creating more natural areas for a long time, and to Steve Hagerty.

I have known Jeff Coney, who made the presentation at council, for about 25 years. His daughter was in my daughter's class at Orrington. He and his wife Liz are normally quiet volunteers. He has been on the YJC board for a long time, and other boards. They live directly north of Orrington School and can not see the lake from their home. Slandering and assigning nefarious motives to other people is not a good way to have a discussion.

Please reconsider this option. Thanks.

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