Church, historic commission have different views on how to restore Geneva's Larrabee House

  • Restoration of the historic Larrabee House on the St. Mark's Lutheran Church campus continues in Geneva, although St. Mark's is clashing with the Geneva Historic Commission on whether to repair or replace damaged siding.

      Restoration of the historic Larrabee House on the St. Mark's Lutheran Church campus continues in Geneva, although St. Mark's is clashing with the Geneva Historic Commission on whether to repair or replace damaged siding. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Posted10/4/2019 1:45 PM

David Walker is hoping the restoration of the historic Larrabee House on the St. Mark's Episcopal Church campus in Geneva doesn't turn into a building just covered in tarps and plastic until well into next year.

As the parishioner in charge of the project at 327 S. Fourth St. to convert the house into a meeting/activity center for the congregation and community, Walker was hoping to see the restoration completed in time for Geneva's Christmas Walk.


He has to hope for some intervention on behalf of the Geneva City Council to have a shot at making that happen. Otherwise, those involved in the project will be in a stalemate of sorts with the Geneva Historic Preservation Commission over what to do about the siding on the building, much of which is in disrepair.

If the details surrounding restoration of a historic building is something that trips your trigger, sitting through three hours of a historic preservation committee meeting would be right up your alley.

But developers and construction foremen overseeing restoration jobs on historic sites may not consider these meetings too pleasant because a massive amount of attention to detail and following commission standards often counter general building practices when trying to modernize old structures with efficient windows, roofs and siding.

Let's be clear about something upfront, though. The Geneva Historic Preservation Commission has an important role and its members care a lot about the city's historic district.

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They also know a lot about the standards they follow to shape their mission. So much so, that they aren't likely to be easily swayed from following those standards.

On the other hand, it is understandable that Walker has frustration setting in over his request to replace the siding on the house and keep church costs to a minimum.

In a Sept. 17 historic preservation meeting, those involved with the restoration of the 1854 house explained that significant problems with the siding are forcing them to consider replacing it, rather than a more costly restoration and paint job.

After much debate, the commission denied that request in a 3-1 vote, so it moves to the city council for a second opinion Oct. 7, and what the church hopes will result in approval.


"The commission is following its mandate and standards, but 30 percent of the siding, at minimum, has to be replaced," Walker said. "There are many parts that are rotten."

Walker estimates trying to repair the siding and repaint it would cost about $30,000 more than the $57,000 he feels would be spent to tear it off and replace it.

Alan Hiller of the commission summed up a long meeting by saying the commission's mantra essentially is to "allow preservation and restoration." When a request forces the commission to consider replacing parts of historic buildings, "that's a hard pill to swallow," Hiller said.

For now, Walker wants the city council to consider a key factor.

"We are spending a lot of money to keep it historical and we are spending parishioner money," he said. "If the city doesn't approve what we want to do, we can't work on the exterior of that building or find someone who can do it, maybe, until next summer."

Readers share gems:

In response to my columns last week about "tucked away" gems in the Tri-Cities area, readers chimed in on some spots they consider worthy of mention.

One reader noted two in the Charleston Center retail strip along North Second Street in St. Charles, where the Arandas Jalisco Tacos restaurant is located, as well as the E&S Fish Company fish market. We've heard good things about both of these spots, and I wrote about the fish market a few years ago now.

Another mentioned the Johnson's Statuary at 316 Cedar St. in the area termed "Old St. Charles," noting the cement flowerpots and other stone garden decor available at this business that has been in operation since 1972.

A small business in Sugar Grove called Nanette's Boutique earned accolades from a reader who said this shop at 50 Cross St. has all sorts of nice clothing, accessories and gifts. Owner Nanette Elliott-Michalec opened this shop in mid-2017.

Finally, one of the few places in which yarn skeins and knitting supplies are available, one reader sang the praises of Wool and Co. in St. Charles.

This spot at 107A W. Main St. has become a go-to place for ladies to "gather to gab, sip coffee, learn new stitches and knit," the reader noted.

The business is truly tucked away, amid a row of shops with a front facade that looks like an old bank and a rear entrance not entirely easy to find.

Spaghetti galore:

My friends at the Tri-Cities Exchange Club will host one of their key fundraisers of the year with the annual Spaghetti Dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 8, at the St. Charles Moose Lodge, 2250 Route 38.

Cost is $10 or $6 for children 12 and younger for spaghetti and meatballs, salad, bread, coffee or milk, and cake.

Those who support this event will be helping the club fund various organizations such as CASA, Lazarus House, TriCity Family Services, Embrace a Family, Mutual Ground, Royal Family Kids Camp and Riverwoods Summer Camp.

The club also uses money from its fundraisers to purchase the American flags that members hand out at local parades.

River cleanup 'pays':

Finding a $20 bill that had floated ashore on the Fox River was a signal to numerous volunteers conducting a cleanup along the river shores that "trash collection really does pay."

That was a joke John Rabchuk of the St. Charles River Corridor Foundation shared when letting me know that the volunteer cleanup efforts last weekend were a big success.

More than 50 people showed up for the "Love Your River" cleanup despite a rainy day along the Fox in St. Charles.

"We plan on making this an annual event and are hopeful of expanding our efforts into Geneva and Batavia," Rabchuk said.

Even though the river waters were high and the volunteers couldn't actually get into the river too far, they did collect numerous large bags of trash and found a sunken boat with a motor, a blanket, and a complete dock that had floated down the river.

The park district and St. Charles Kiwanis Club and other organizations helped make this happen, and we should be grateful to those who care enough about the river to put in the time to keep it clean.

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