Geneva to allow replacement siding on historic home

  • Crews working to restore the historic Larrabee House on the St. Mark's Lutheran Church campus in Geneva will be able to replace the siding rather than repair it.

      Crews working to restore the historic Larrabee House on the St. Mark's Lutheran Church campus in Geneva will be able to replace the siding rather than repair it. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • The Larrabee house in the 1920s.

    The Larrabee house in the 1920s. Courtesy Geneva History Museum

Updated 10/9/2019 6:33 PM

The Geneva City Council this week reversed the Historic Preservation Commission's ruling that would have required contractors to preserve original siding on a historic building.

The crowd that packed the city council chamber erupted in applause as aldermen voted 9-1 to allow replacement wood siding to be used for the restoration of the Larrabee House, 327 S. Fourth St., which will be connected to the worship center at St. Mark's Church.


David Walker, a parishioner at St. Mark's, and contractor Arney Silvestri, of Silvestri Custom Homes, speaking on behalf of the church, said the replacement siding will look just like the original.

"Everything would be exactly duplicated," Silvestri said.

They said replacing the siding will cost about $30,000 less than it would cost to repair it.

They estimated the ongoing exterior maintenance cost of the repaired siding to be nearly $75,000 over the next 25 years. They said replacing the siding would be more energy efficient and quicker.

While much of the damaged and missing materials need to be replaced regardless, repair of the siding would also include removal of lead paint, which would cost about $27,000, Silvestri said. Much of the expense would be the labor involved.

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"(Environmental Protection Agency) rules say you have to chemically scrape it off down to bare wood," Silvestri said.

Alan Hiller, of the Historic Preservation Commission, said keeping the original siding is a question of historic integrity.

"How much of the historic fabric of this house will be left?" he asked.

Hiller said allowing the replacement siding will set a "disturbing precedent" for historic preservation in Geneva.

"The home will become a facsimile of the original historic building," he said. "Looking original is not the same as being original."

At one point, Alderman Mike Bruno said he felt there needed to be more oversight of the replacement materials that would be used. He introduced an amendment that would have the historic preservation commission review all "replacement materials, profiles, installation and pertinent historical aspects" of the siding project.


The amendment, which would have sent the motion back to the historic preservation commission, was rejected in a 7-3 vote.

The home was built in 1854 for William M. Larrabee, according to the meeting packet. Larrabee, treasurer of the Galena and Chicago Railroad, moved to Geneva, along with many other railroad executives, when the train tracks were expanded, crossing the Fox River.

The Greek Revival look is credited to local builder Elbridge Hall. The home was enlarged and remodeled in 1902 and exterior modifications were completed around 1923.

After the meeting, Silvestri said he has received a lot of positive feedback from members of St. Mark's Church.

"This was near and dear to a lot of the parishioners," he said.

When they began the project, Silvestri said if the siding was in good shape, they would "scrape it, paint it and be done with it." But that wasn't the case so they feel it's best to replace it.

"It makes sense to let us do it the right way," he said.

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