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Evanston’s historic Harley Clarke Mansion spared from demolition

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Elected officials voted unanimously against a plan to tear down the 91-year-old lakefront manor

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In stark contrast to an earlier decision favoring demolition, Evanston’s city council reversed course to spare the Harley Clarke Mansion from the wrecking ball. Aldermen voted 9-0 on Monday night against a plan to tear down the English Tudor Revival structure, effectively saving the 91-year-old landmark for impending doom.

A coalition of residents known as Evanston Lighthouse Dunes had previously pledged $400,000 to the city to cover the mansion’s demolition costs in order to revert the prominent lakefront site to its “natural state.” That money will now be returned to the group, according to Evanston Now.

Listed to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and deemed a National Historic Landmark in 1998, the Harley Clarke residence served as a Northwestern University fraternity house from 1951 to 1966 before it sold to the city, who leased the space to the Evanston Art Center. The nonprofit moved out in 2015 after maintenance costs piled up.

It’s unclear what is next for the historic building at 2603 Sheridan Road. An Evanston official told the Chicago Tribune that the city had received various unsolicited offers from groups looking to revamp the old Harley Clarke mansion into everything from an event space to a film set or assisted living facility.

As in the past, concern over handing the lakefront property over to a private, for-profit group remains a hurdle unlikely to win city council support any time soon. Although a preservationist group known as Friends of Harley Clarke says it’s raised more than $300,000 to repair the neglected mansion, the total restoration cost reportedly tops $5 million.

Despite uncertainty over the structure’s reuse, Monday’s city council vote is still reason for celebration among Harley Clarke’s advocates. “Historic preservation victories are rarely any sweeter—or more democratic, small ‘d’—than this one,” wrote Tribune columnist Blair Kamin on Tuesday.