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-----Pure Oil Research Lab
Crystal Lake, IL


The Pure Oil Research & Development Center was a large complex that dominated the Crystal Lake landscape for 35 years. It was located on the north side of Route 14, west of Main Street, where Hobby Lobby and Jewel are now located.

The Ohio Cities Gas Company was founded in 1914. The name was changed to Pure Oil in 1920, and the headquarters were moved to Chicago in 1926.

In 1946, the company purchased 68 acres on Route 14 in Crystal Lake, with plans to build a research lab. The land was originally owned by the Rosenthal family and was farmed by Carl Gulgren. The deal stipulated that construction could not begin until after the 1947 and 1948 grain crops had been harvested.

In 1947, Pure Oil families began to relocate to the area. Additional land was purchased, for a total of 145 acres. Part of the property was reserved for employee home sites, but this was never completed.

Construction began in 1948. 50 trees were planted and over 30 acres were set aside for lawns and landscaping.

In September 1950, the complex was ready for operation. Five red brick buildings provided 80,000 square feet of lab space.

Main building: administration offices and chemistry labs, three floors
Building #2: storeroom and supply center
Building #3: automotive lab for performance testing
Building #4: chemical engineering lab
Building #5: boiler plant

The buildings themselves required 19 carloads of brick. During construction, over 14 miles of pipe and nearly two miles of 40-watt flourescent tube were used. When the complex opened, 200 scientists, technicians and lab workers were on staff. More than 50 Pure Oil families had relocated to Crystal Lake, with others in nearby towns.

Over 5,000 people attended the open house on October 1, 1950.


In 1950, a Pure Oil service station was built at the southeast corner of the property. It can be seen in the bottom right corner of the aerial photo above. This spot is occupied today by Wendy's and King Wok.

Pure Oil played a big part in community life. In 1952, a Little League baseball diamond was built on the property and was dubbed Pure Oil Field. In the early 1960s, the Pure Oil Men's Glee Club gave concerts and made several TV appearances on WTTW Channel 11.

Pure Oil was purchased by Union Oil of California in 1965. All future research was conducted at their California plant, and the Crystal Lake location was closed.

In 1967, Union Oil gave the property and buildings to the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). The parcel did not include the Pure Oil service station or the acreage that had previously been deeded to the high school. The remaining property consisted of 107 acres, six large buildings and a number of storage buildings. IIT had tentative plans to use the Pure Oil property for research and classes, with the possibility of making it a residential campus in the future.

IIT's plans didn't materialize, and in 1968 the main building was leased by the newly-formed McHenry County College. Classes were held there between 1968 and 1976.


In 1979, the property had been vacant for three years and was becoming an eyesore. It was put into a land trust and an organization known as Crystal Lake Venture took over its development.

Preliminary plans called for the property to be converted into a mixture of retail space, single-family homes, townhomes and apartment buildings. The Pure Oil buildings would be donated to the city of Crystal Lake for use as a municipal center. Walkup Avenue would be extended to Route 14.

The city council approved the plans, and the new development was named The Commons. The Walkup Avenue extension was approved, the south 39 acres were zoned for retail, and a plat of subdivision was recorded in 1980. Kohl's Food Stores, McDade & Company and DeKoven Drugs expressed interest in renting space. Ziegler's Ace Hardware was also interested in purchasing a lot in the new subdivision.

Plans stalled at this point, and legal battles ensued when the developer filed for bankruptcy in 1981. In 1982, a judge awarded ownership of the property to IIT and Sears Bank, and the developer was given four months to buy back the property and begin making improvements. He failed to do this, and the land was promptly put into another land trust. All previous plans were scrapped and the buildings were torn down.

The site did retain the Commons name, however, and the Commons of Crystal Lake Resubdivision was recorded in 1986. The first stores opened on the site in 1987. The property behind the stores remained undeveloped until 2009, when Immanuel Lutheran Church built a new church and school on a parcel behind Hobby Lobby.

1950s: Intersection of Route 14 and Virginia Street, near the current
site of Walgreens. The Pure Oil building can be seen in the distance.

Late 1970s: the property after a violent wind storm

1979: IIT property sold to Crystal Lake Venture

The city council approved this site plan in 1979.
In the south, retail buildings cluster around the original
Pure Oil buildings. Apartments and townhouses are in the middle,
and single-family homes are in the north.
Walkup Avenue extends from the high school to Route 14.

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