What Should Fill the Pure Oil Building?

Visions for Vacancies: What should fill a filling station? The Pure Oil building dates back to the 1930s, but should it be preserved or redeveloped?

  • Editor's note: I'm writing this before I go on vacation. The Geneva City Council Committee of the Whole was expected to discuss the possible demotion of the Pure Oil Building, 502 W. State St., at a meeting scheduled for Monday, March 26. The discussion or decisions made at that meeting could render this article moot. But unless there is a clear mandate to move forward with the proposed bank drive-through, the question of how the property should be developed will be more pertinent than ever.


There is no pure solution to the problem of how to develop the former Pure Oil Building property at 524 W. State St.

On one hand, you have a building with a limited square footage—not enough to attract most retail businesses. It's a building without insulation and a facade that is falling apart in places. It was built in the 1930s, heated with steam, and its owner, Joe Stanton, says it would cost $360,000 to restore.

And that's if there were a buyer out there who would want to spend that kind of money.

On the other hand, you have one of the few remaining "English cottage" style gas stations built by the Pure Oil Company in the 1920s and '30s. Many of the remaining stations are on national, state and local registers of historic places—and this one was deemed "significant" to the Geneva Historic District and "contributing" to our National Historic District.

This Pure Oil station was built by August Wilson, a well-known Geneva general contractor, who was "complimented on the excellent work done thruout the job," according to a Dec. 3, 1937, edition of The Geneva Republican. (The word "thruout" was spelled that way purposefully, using the old Chicago style popularized by the Chicago Tribune.)

What's proposed right now is to tear down the former service station and attach a bank drive-through to the building next door, the first floor of which would become the home of the St. Charles Bank & Trust. The artist's renderings show a modern drive-through with a historic architectural flavor, landscaping and a good deal of additional parking that would help the downtown area.

Neither the status quo nor the proposed bank drive-through are perfect. Any and all creative solutions are welcomed.

Should the building be preserved, and if so, what would be a practical use for it? Is its present use as the home of The Pure Gardener something that should continue? Is the bank drive-through the best possible solution to a thorny problem? Or is there are better answer, some idea that could save the history and help the property to become more economically viable?

Patch is asking you: What would you like to see in the Pure Oil property? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Noel G. Rooks March 31, 2012 at 03:28 AM
I'm hearing that the Council is possibly reconsidering the decision now? Is this true? From the PURE Gardener's page : It seems that the city of Geneva is going to reconsider the March 26 vote from the COW for the demolition of the Pure Oil building on Monday April 2nd at 7PM. Anyone interested is saving the PURE Oil building should attend this meeting. Monday, April 2, 2012 7:00 p.m. City Hall Council Chambers 109 James Street Geneva, IL 60134
Colin C. March 31, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Noel, you are correct. The owner has asked that this issue be placed on the agenda of the City Council meeting for this Monday night. It will come up once again and once again we are hoping that those who care to preserve Geneva's unique, iconic, and historic buildings come and bear witness and, if they wish, express their opinions. We want to save the Pure Oil building, of course, as several towns across the country have saved there own. They have been turned into bakeries, stores, cafes, and many other uses. Quite a few are on the National Register of Historic Places. These have become truly rare buildings and their importance extends well beyond the town in which they reside. Ours, right on the Lincoln Highway, the first fully paved, transcontinental highway, is especially important. I really fear that If the City allows the destruction of this particular building the flood gates will open. Every developer who wants to demolish yet another parcel of our historic past will cite this precedent and we will lose the historic district that makes this City so attractive to people from out of town. So, yes, please come to City Hall, 7 pm Monday and help us try once again to save Geneva from a developer who places his own economic interests over those of our City.
Colin C. March 31, 2012 at 12:36 PM
For those who would like to see actual uses of other Pure Oil Stations in other cities, simple google "Pure Oil Cottage Style Gas Stations" and see for yourself the many ways in which they have been preserved and are being successfully utilized today. Does anyone actually believe that this cannot be done here in Geneva? There is a popular and successful business there right now. If they are not allowed to stay it is the responsibility of the owner, who knowingly purchased an historic building in our historic district, to restore and adapt it to another use. That is the regulation in and the purpose of having an Historic District. There is no adequate reason to waive that regulation for this owner in this case.
Patrick Ryan March 31, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Here's a great example of a conversion to a cafe in Virginia called 'Pure Eats' http://www.flickr.com/photos/23711298@N07/6523022867/in/photostream/
Patrick Ryan March 31, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Here's one in Minneapolis very similar to Pure Gardener http://www.flickr.com/photos/23711298@N07/4581974863/in/pool-pureoilcottages
Patrick Ryan March 31, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Awesome wine shop in North Carolina http://www.flickr.com/photos/29276830@N02/6160382935/in/pool-pureoilcottages
Patrick Ryan March 31, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Coffee house in Pennsylvania http://www.flickr.com/photos/38915448@N05/5948264074/in/pool-pureoilcottages
Patrick Ryan March 31, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Pizza at the 'Mellow Mushroom' in North Carolina http://www.flickr.com/photos/38915448@N05/4431626192/in/pool-pureoilcottages/
Patrick Ryan March 31, 2012 at 01:20 PM
tricia stewart March 31, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Thanks, Patrick for so many examples of adaptive uses. These are fantastic!
Susan Tegeler March 31, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Here is another great example... http://articles.philly.com/2011-11-07/news/30369879_1_bon-jovi-vouchers-restaurant
Storm Nielsen March 31, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Isn't it rather remarkable that Geneva is blessed with 2 examples of classic filling station architecture? Besides that, they sit kitty-corner from each other. The old Standard Oil gas station has been adapted twice (to my knowledge) after its service as a filling station ended. First, was the restaurant venture known as Koopie's and then as a dry cleaner. To me, it demonstrates that a business can survive in these historic buildings. Now, Geneva's city fathers need to understand that a city's uniqueness and character are a result of its people and their care of its history. The two historic districts with the many examples of period homes are an example of that care. The Pure oil building is no different. First impressions are lasting and difficult to change. Just as the corner of State and Third Streets are gateways to the Third Street shopping district, the Pure Oil building is another gateway. As one enters the business district proper, from the west, they are greeted by the little building that once was a gas station. With its overflowing plants and flowers. I'm certain a coffe shop, bakery or any other business that preserves the building's character would be just as welcoming. To a visitor, they say, "let's stop and visit". cont'd
Storm Nielsen March 31, 2012 at 02:42 PM
cont'd However, a bank with drive-ups are just another faceless building on the main drag. Need some quick cash, let's go through the drive-up ATM and keep rolling. Certainly, that is not conducive to bringing business to the central district or imparting a sense of exploration. When I viewed the repeat of "Check Please" where they reviewed the Bien Trucha restaurant, I heard the host, Alpana Singh remark that "Geneva out-Mayberrys, Mayberry". Although one might think she was saying that Geneva rolls up its sidewalks after a certain hour (merchants close their doors around 5 or 5:30), I lean more towards her thinking that Geneva exudes quaintness and charm. Moreover, a place you would want to visit and explore. Some tell me how a bank with drive-ups helps that image. Think long and hard on your decision City Council!
Mike Bruno March 31, 2012 at 04:40 PM
The US Postal Service has been looking to relocate to a small storefront since all our local mail is now processed in St. Charles and Carol Stream. I could see the Historic Preservation Commission considering a compromise and allowing a demolition of the "non-contributing" house to the south which would provide city parking and an alley for truck to access the post office. Maybe a land swap would allow Mr. Stanton to develop the current post office and put the Pure Oil building in federal hands (more sympathetic to preservation).
Robert Jr. March 31, 2012 at 10:47 PM
Why can't we live in America and let the business owner decide? I am surprised that the local business owners want socialism in Geneva. Maybe that's why there are so many vacancies - there aren't real business owners, only people wanting to sell things, but no business sense. Let the building owner decide - that is business. All the monuments in the world, reflecting back on "the good old days" mean nothing. the pictures of Old Geneva show that a whole lot has changed in the Downtown - trying to focus on an old run down building and calling it in icon is laughable. It is ugly, and the owner of the property should have the American right to do with the property what he wants. I wanted to get a water heater, and found out Kane county has an "immediate issue permit" (taxation without representation). It is time to get government out of the personal lives, and if someone wants to preserve the building, buy it from Joe. It is hi9s right to do what he wants.
Robert Jr. March 31, 2012 at 10:50 PM
And as for taxes (permits) for water heaters - that is just absurd. Control your government spending and get your benefits in line with the private sector - don't tax people for what they do with their personal property. This is exactly the thing that led to the Boston Tea Parrty and the new Tea PArty movement. If my property is not my personal property, then return the taxes that I paid each year to live in my property, with the deed that has my name. As for the water heater - I can manage the purchase and installation of my heater just fine without Kane County getting their taxes (permit fees) attached. Pretty soon you'll need a permit to use toilet paper and flush.
Robert Jr. March 31, 2012 at 11:02 PM
How about converting it into a museum of failed businesses that failed because local protestors preferred to keep old, rotted relics of a past that is irrelevant and an eye sore rather than allow businesses to flourish. It could be called "The museum of Monuments and Old things over commerce and Jobs " and it could show the people of the future how Geneva was unable to pull itself out of a recession because it valued black and white photos and old buildings rather than modern business and entrepreneurial support!
Charles Emout March 31, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Baring a major shift in opinion among the council members, it would seem the vote to deny demolition will be upheld. If that in fact is the case, would this property be eligible for TIF funds to help offset costs to Mr. Stanton for rehabilitation & remodel for creative reuse of the structure, and if a TIF District doesn't already exist - will the council consider creating one to benefit the future of this iconic property? That seems to me where this discussion is headed. While such a discussion would no doubt fan the "Mayor paying back a loyal political supporter" sentiment that has already appeared in various new stories, it might very well be the best case "compromise solution" to this situation. Additionally, I believe certain historic residential properties can be eligible for a "property tax freeze" incentive through the state if certain conditions are met regarding rehabilitation ... is it possible that a similar incentive is offered for historically significant commercial structures?
Charles Emout April 01, 2012 at 12:12 AM
As to the question of what should go in the building if demolition is denied, my first thought was an "outside the box" creativity oriented business (like a marketing firm or architect) ... unfortunately, I doubt the revenue generated by businesses like these would be enough to support the carry cost of the property post renovation. A restaurant/bar would probably have the best chance of covering the post renovation rent (and the tenant would likely be responsible for a good share of the build-out costs). Something that incorporates the outdoor patio concept of the Filling Station in St. Charles with possible reuse of the Pure Oil's overhead doors (to be opened on nice days similar to the setup at the Old Town Pub in Wasco) would seem ideal. Given what Mr. Stanton paid for the property at the height of the market, any renovation is going to require a longer term "buy and hold" economic perspective, though demolishing a property you have $485k wrapped up in to build a drive-through canopy, dive-through blacktop & parking, landscaping, and architectural improvements to the neighboring structure would seem to come with a sizable "total project" price tag as well.
Rob Brundige April 01, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Keep it where it is. It's part of Geneva's history and charm. To remove it for greed, would be a travesty.
Colin C. April 01, 2012 at 04:08 AM
We live in a community that is governed by a representative council that operates on the principals of democracy: the majority rules, the rights of the minority are to be protected, and the rule of law prevails. In order to protect us all there are regulations that determine many things about what property owners can do with their property: where we can build what (zoning) and the standards that govern how things are built (codes) are two examples. These protect me from having someone put up a bowling alley next to my home (unless I'm foolish enough to own a home in a zone that allows it), and also from dangerous construction. They limit what I can do with my own property and I accept them because the majority want them and they are, for the most part, good for me. More than thirty years ago the majority of people in Geneva decided that they wanted a Historic District in our downtown area because we believed, correctly, that it attracts shoppers. This city, state, and federal governments have guidelines and regulations concerning what owners can do to their properties in this district. We asked for this because, like zoning and codes, we feel that it helps us and out City. People who do not wish to abide by these regulations should avoid buying property in the district. It's just that simple. We put this in place. Government did not force it on us. All we want is that the City not make an exception to these regulations in this instance.
Terry April 01, 2012 at 04:12 AM
Is there any reason why this issue is being re-evaluated? has some new information come to light since the council made it's decision on 3/26?
Mike Bruno April 01, 2012 at 12:43 PM
It's a very impassioned argument you make Ralph, but it fails awkwardly upon cursory inspection. If business are failing because the city "preferred to keep old, rotted relics of a past", then how do you explain all the business vacancies OUTSIDE the historic district. Everyone is suffering and studies show that historic districts are MORE economically vibrant. Indeed the MORE draconian historic restrictions are, the MORE economically vibrant they are. As to why we are discussing these things here; it's because there are concerned citizens that would like to help our property owners locate tenants. Is that really a bad thing?
Storm Nielsen April 01, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Actually Ralph, from what I was taught (via public school education), the Boston Tea Party was a result of citizens angry over taxes imposed upon them by those who did not represent them: "Taxation Without Representation" As Colin rightly asserts, the issue in question here is about a piece of property in which a citizen purchased that is within a publicly decided upon district in which additional restrictions have been placed. Sadly, Mr Stanton appears to have purchased the property before the current economic downturn occurred. Yet, he should have been aware (and I believe he was) that there were additional restriction upon the property. It is my opinion that Mr Stanton purchased the property with hopes of making additional profits, not for the preservation of the property itself. This seems to be more a case of "Caveat Emptor" than government run amok or lack of reasonable representation. As for the permit for using toilet paper and flushing, i suggest you contact your county representative posthaste.
Donald Kein April 01, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Maybe we can find a buggy wip company or a manual typewriter busness.
Tooth Fairy April 02, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Like your response!


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