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New Plan Would Turn Historic Mansion Into Offices, Education Center

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The Harley-Clarke Mansion, near Lighthouse Landing Park in Evanston. (Credit: Facebook)

The Harley-Clarke Mansion, near Lighthouse Landing Park in Evanston. (Credit: Facebook)

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EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) – Roughly 100 Evanston residents Wednesday night applauded a proposal to lease a historic mansion on Evanston’s lakefront to the state’s coastal management program for its offices and an education center.

The Evanstonians, who bitterly fought the city’s attempt last summer to sell the Harley-Clarke Mansion at Lighthouse Beach for conversion to a hotel, still asked tough questions of Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) personnel during the two-hour presentation, at Evanston’s Morton Civic Center.

“It’s got beautiful, historic structures and, of course, it’s got our Great Lake, it’s got sand dunes and woods, and I think DNR could be a good fit there,” said Jack Darin, who brings his family from south Evanston to swim at the beach.

Another frequent user of the beach, planner Diane Korling, said the proposal was “marvelous” and the purposes to which the buildings on the property would be put were “appropriate.”

“It’s almost unbelievable, the fit,” she said.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he was not sure what to expect when he went into the community meeting. Afterward, he was pleased.

“It looks like this could be a promising solution for an issue we’ve been dealing with for a few years here in Evanston,” he said.

DNR Coastal Management Program Manager Diane Tecic said the location, midway between the Wisconsin and Indiana state lines, is ideal, and said it makes sense for a coastal management program to have its home on the water’s edge.

Currently, the program’s 10 staff members are located in offices at the Bilandic Building, at 160 N. LaSalle St., in Chicago.

Several Evanston aldermen attended the meeting. Bobkiewicz said that the next stop for the proposal is a city council committee, which next month will take up the issue and the existing lease with the Evanston Arts Center.

The Arts Center contends that it cannot pay for the major repairs the mansion needs going forward, although it is attempting to find a way to stay in the mansion, and Bobkiewicz said the city faces similar constraints. Tecic said DNR would be interested only if the Arts Center moves.

If that were to occur soon, she said DNR could finish rehabilitation of the mansion and move in offices in about a year. She said that preparing the coastal management educational center she envisions could take an additional six months.

The English Tudor-style mansion, on Sheridan Road at the foot of Central Street, was a private home until the Sigma Chi national fraternity purchased it in 1951 and used it as its headquarters. In 1965, the city of Evanston purchased the property as part of the development of the Lighthouse Landing Park and beach.

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