Harley Clarke has been off limits to the public since the Evanston Arts Center vacated the City-owned property in 2015. The City’s Preservation Commission was allowed to tour the grounds on Oct. 20, 2018, in preparation for its consideration of the City’s application to demolish the property. The Commission denied the City’s application on Oct. 23 in a unanimous 10-0 vote, stating the City had not met any of the standards for approval. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the City would appeal, but Evanston City Council ultimately voted to accept the Commission’s findings.
Video courtesy of Worth Saving group
The City-owned building will stand for now, with future options including protecting and mothballing until a permanent use can be decided, made publicly accessible as a community building or privately sold or leased. In the Nov. 6, 2018 election, more than 80 percent of Evanston voters said the buildings and gardens should be preserved for use and access as public property, at minimal or no cost to Evanston taxpayers. Of the 61 public comments and written statements by individuals and groups to the Commission for the Oct. 23 meeting, 60 were in favor of preserving the building and denying the City’s application to demolish.
Commission noted “Discrepancies” in City’s Application to Demolish
At the Oct. 23 meeting, Commissioner Tim Schmitt referenced inaccuracies in the City’s application, specifically in reference to economic hardship and hazard conditions.
The City had previously reported renovation costs of up to $2.3 million, and another $400,00 for the coach house, in order for the buildings to be usable. However, the most recent building inspections estimated the cost of bringing the building up to code for usability at $430,000.
Schmitt also referenced what the City had noted were “hazardous conditions.” He said that description also conflicted with the inspection report, which did not mention any public hazards, and stated “No major structural deficiencies were observed,” that “the interior of the house appears to be in good structural condition,” and that “the conditions observed are generally a result of deferred maintenance and material degradation.”
Commissioner Elliott Dudnik asked Bobkiewicz what maintenance work the City had performed under the terms of their lease with Evanston Art Center to maintain the mansion’s exterior. Bobkiewiczsaid maintenance was mostly on window issues and moisture issues. No evidence of such maintenance was presented in the City’s application. Dudnik stated he had not observed any hazardous conditions and that many of the items listed in the City’s application were recommendations and not code violations, were trivial, and did not represent dangerous or hazardous conditions. He also stated the conditions of the mansion were in good or better condition than was described in the 2012 report.
Commissioner Julie Hacker said she was very concerned that the building was not being maintained in any way, and that ongoing delays would continue the building’s deterioration.
Also chastising the City for its care of the property was Commissioner Ken Itle. “It is unfortunate over the past 50 years the City has not done what they should have done to properly maintain the mansion as well as it could have easily been, but it still is very salvageable and very repairable,” Itle said. He said the buildings were in surprisingly sound condition and could very easily be protected and mothballed for five to 10 years while the City determined a renovation plan and permanent use for the building. Commission Chair Diane Williams agreed with the mothballing option, stating she had not found any issues associated with the physical condition of the buildings that would necessitate its demolition.
Commissioner Vogel said it was critical that people see the inside of the house, describing the interior as “incredible.” Commissioner Rob Bady said he did not see where the building was structurally unsound, and said he found the interior “breath taking.” Commissioner Sally Riessen Hunt said she saw very little, if any, structural damage.