More than 100 people gathered into the Parasol Room in Evanston‘s Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center last week to start coming up with new ideas ideas for what to do with the famous Harley Clarke mansion,a landmark that hasn’t been in use since 2005. The lakefront mansion,near short term rentals and other city landmarks,could possibly be transformed into a museum,education center or event space activists say. And after last year’s ballot initiative went through,the plans are becoming even more real by the day.

“We want to put this house into the hands of people like you. Make a difference,” said Art Norman,master of ceremonies for the event. Norman is a longtime anchor for Downtown Chicago’s NBC affiliate and is passionate about this project being done the right way.

Located near Northwestern University and furnished rentals,the mansion has been used for a variety of things over the years. At one point it was a private residence and believe it or not,it was once a frat house too.

Plans stalled over the last year or so as the city of Evanston struggled to come to a consensus on what to do,but the 2018 midterm elections that saw Democrats take back the house and a wave of progressive politicians into office proved to be just what the mansion needed. A non-binding referendum was passed during the election,with 80 percent of voters saying that it should be preserved,but with little taxpayer money.

“I never felt more a part of any community than when I heard the results of the referendum,” said Evanston resident Charles Smith. “I have imagined programs and activities going on in that building. I thought they were the greatest thing that could happen,” Smith said. “I’m anxious to hear what the motivation was that inspired so many people.”

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