Owners of 136-year-old Palatine home want a historic preservation commission in their town

  • Nathan, left and Phillip Etter love their 136-year-old home in Palatine, and they're asking the village to establish a historic preservation commission that would protect homes like theirs.

    Nathan, left and Phillip Etter love their 136-year-old home in Palatine, and they're asking the village to establish a historic preservation commission that would protect homes like theirs. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Nathan, left and Phillip Etter bought a 136-year-old home in Palatine in October 2018. They're now asking the Palatine village council to establish a historic preservation commission to protect older buildings like theirs.

    Nathan, left and Phillip Etter bought a 136-year-old home in Palatine in October 2018. They're now asking the Palatine village council to establish a historic preservation commission to protect older buildings like theirs. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Nathan, left and Phillip Etter bought a 136-year-old home in Palatine in October 2018. They're now asking the Palatine village council to establish a historic preservation commission to protect older buildings like theirs.

    Nathan, left and Phillip Etter bought a 136-year-old home in Palatine in October 2018. They're now asking the Palatine village council to establish a historic preservation commission to protect older buildings like theirs. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Elgin's heritage commission recommended landmarking the historic the David C Cook building at 850 N. Grove Ave. against its owner's wishes, but the city council rejected the proposal.

    Elgin's heritage commission recommended landmarking the historic the David C Cook building at 850 N. Grove Ave. against its owner's wishes, but the city council rejected the proposal. Rick West | Staff Photographer, 2020

 
 
Posted11/15/2021 5:30 AM

Nathan and Philip Etter like to say that in the nearly five years since they moved from Chicago to Palatine, they've become some of the village's biggest fans.

They love their 136-year-old home, a Queen Anne Victorian at North Plum Grove Road and Colfax Street that has earned Hometown Pride awards since they've owned it. Their popular Instagram account, @HappilyEverEtter, entertains its 8,750 followers with charming photos of the couple, their home and its landscaping.

 

Built in 1885, the building became a nursing home in the 1950s, then an insurance agency and a law firm until it was bought by a contractor who renovated it and rented it to the Etters. The couple lived there for 1½ years before buying it in October 2018.

"We feel fortunate to own it," Nathan Etter said.

During a recent visit, the Etters pointed to original features, like an ornate wood banister, a favorite of Nathan's, and a fireplace mantle they tracked down and reinstalled in January thanks to an Instagram follower. They are especially fond of the home's turret.

Nathan and Phillip Etter were able to track down the fireplace mantle that had been removed from their 136-year-old home in Palatine.
Nathan and Phillip Etter were able to track down the fireplace mantle that had been removed from their 136-year-old home in Palatine. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

They've also come to love their neighborhood, which has many older homes, and they relish Palatine's pleasant and friendly vibe, they said.

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"Both our hearts are really into this village," said Nathan Etter, who serves on Palatine's beautification commission.

But they were shocked to find out that Palatine, unlike most of its neighboring municipalities, does not have a historic preservation program.

"If we wanted to tear this house down, the village couldn't stop us -- which is horrific," Nathan Etter said.

The Etters spoke at the village council meeting last week about the need to create a historic preservation commission in Palatine.

The couple envision a commission that would oversee a voluntary historic local landmark program. That means the owners of historic buildings could apply for local landmark designation, which would prohibit owners from razing the buildings and require permission to make architectural changes to the exterior of the home.

"We want to keep that feel in this community, especially downtown. It will lose that if these homes are torn down," Philip Etter said.

The ornate banister at the home of Nathan and Phillip Etter in Palatine.
The ornate banister at the home of Nathan and Phillip Etter in Palatine. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Palatine Historical Society supports the creation of a historic preservation commission with voluntary participation, said the group's board president, Joe Petykowski.

"The Etters are so passionate about the neighborhood and trying to bring people together for this," he said. "It takes a lot of time and it takes a lot of energy to do that. We support them and we support what they are trying to do."

Palatine has two buildings from the 1800s, the Charles H. Patten House and the George Clayson House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Palatine Historical Society runs a museum and library inside the Clayson House, which is owned by the Palatine Public Library District and maintained by the Palatine Park District.

However, the national designation, given by the National Park Service, does not protect buildings from alteration or teardown, said Brittany Niequist, a member of Crystal Lake's historic preservation commission.

"The only way you can legally protect a structure from being demolished or being altered in a significant way is to have a local governing body that oversees that process," said Niequist, who lives in a landmarked home in Crystal Lake.

Phillip Etter talks about he and his husband's love for their 136-year-old home in Palatine, with which they are pushing to establish a historic preservation commission.
Phillip Etter talks about he and his husband's love for their 136-year-old home in Palatine, with which they are pushing to establish a historic preservation commission. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Historic preservation commissions get applications for landmark designation and can make recommendations for approval, but the final decision is up to the city council or village board. Municipalities may have the authority to impose landmark status against owners' wishes, Niequist said, but she's never heard of that happening.

Crystal Lake "came close" with the 1865 Dole Mansion that ultimately was saved by fundraising, she said.

Last year, Elgin's heritage commission recommended landmarking a 119-year-old building against its owner's wishes, but the city council didn't endorse the move.

As for fears that historic preservation stunts economic growth, the Etters pointed to Arlington Heights and Barrington, which have "very active" historic preservation commissions and "booming" downtowns.

The historic Dole Mansion in Crystal Lake.
The historic Dole Mansion in Crystal Lake. - Daily Herald File Photo

"These villages have done a phenomenal job in capitalizing off their historic and quaint charm," Nathan Etter said.

Another example is Naperville, which adopted a historic preservation ordinance in 2011. The city now has three locally designated landmark buildings and about 320 properties within a locally designated historic district.

Landmarking homes is about respecting the valuable contributions of past generations while keeping an eye toward progress and the future, Niequist said.

"A lot of council members have this fear that by landmarking homes somehow it's going to take away from the city or deter people from buying these properties," she said. "What I am seeing right now is this growing trend, especially among younger people who are purposely looking for historic homes to purchase."

Nathan, left and Phillip Etter in their 136-year-old Queen Anne Victorian near downtown Palatine. "We feel fortunate to own it," Nathan Etter said.
Nathan, left and Phillip Etter in their 136-year-old Queen Anne Victorian near downtown Palatine. "We feel fortunate to own it," Nathan Etter said. - Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

The Etters said that in the last 18 months, four young couples from Chicago moved into old homes in their neighborhood.

"These new families are just the beginning of what can be a much larger wave of younger families that will be attracted to Palatine if we preserve or restore our historic buildings," Nathan Etter said.

The response from the village council was cautious but curious.

Councilman Tim Millar, who presided over last week's meeting in Mayor Jim Schwantz's absence, said the village staff should research the issue and give feedback for "a framework to have the discussion."

"Absolutely," Councilman Brad Helms said.

The Etters said they are happy the conversation will move forward.

"Whether people agree with it or not, people are talking about it," Nathan Etter said.

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