Crystal Lake Mansion to Be Plaqued Saturday

A press release from the McHenry County Historical Society:

McHenry County Historical Society to Plaque the Lorimer Residence

(Union, Illinois-) The McHenry County Historical Society’s Historic Sites Committee will plaque the Josephine and William Lorimer Jr. House at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at 615 Lake Ave. in Crystal Lake.

The present owners, Rudolph Magnani and Lynn Lourie, have taken the utmost care in preserving and restoring this 1929 grand residence and will be awarded the plaque in a public ceremony.


Rudolph Magnani and Lynn Laurie have lovingly restored the William Lorimer mansion across from Crystal Lake’s Main Beach.

The year was 1929. The downtown sign, electrified with 80 light bulbs above the recently paved Williams Street, proclaimed: “Crystal Lake, A Good Place to Live.” It also stated “55 minutes to Chicago.”

Life was good and everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology.

Radio, telephones, and moving pictures with sound, were bringing ‘modernity’ to the most remote parts of our population.

Mickey Mouse spoke for the first time (“hot dog!”) and a color, talking movie debuted – all available at the Crystal Lake’s new El Tovar Theatre. Jazz and dancing rose in popularity, and Europe’s art deco movement was influencing not only art, but American architecture as well.

Across the border the Canadians proclaimed woman to be “persons,” and just 55 minutes away, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre shocked the nation.

The excessive Roaring Twenties were coming to a close, and with it, Wall Street’s crash. In France they proclaimed the era “années folles” (“Crazy Years”).

While clouds were rolling over this golden time, American’s discovered a board game called, The Landlord’s Game, later known as Monopoly.

During this time, a Chicago businessman, William Lorimer Jr., was doing rather well in the timber Industry.

His business required him to make frequent business trips south and he was often accompanied by his wife, Josephine.

The South’s pre-Civil War architecture greatly inspired Josephine and she dreamed of building such an estate up North.

Eventually the Lorimer’s bought several acres just across the street from Crystal Lake’s, Main Beach, bordered by Lake Avenue, Country Club and Ringling Roads.

By 1928 they hired a local builder, W. Frank Robbin, who claimed the “W” stood for “willing.”

Unaware of the hard financial times ahead, Josephine and Mr. Robbin broke ground to create a bit of Natchez, Miss. in Crystal Lake: The Lorimer mansion.

Completed in 1929 this 5,000-square-foot plus Federal Revival home, with its truly magnificent white portico, centrally located Palladian window, and unique white glazed brick Duntile walls, often was referred to as the “White House.”

Front hall of the now little-used Lorimer house across from Crystal Lake's Main Beach.

Front hall of the now little-used Lorimer house across from Crystal Lake’s Main Beach.

Upon entering this home one is greeting by a two-story foyer and rather grand open staircase with original balustrade.

To the right the foyer opens up to a formal dining room with adjoining kitchen, sitting room and simple back staircase.

To the left a large formal living room and adjoining music room awaits you.

These formal areas all retain their original bold black and white checkerboard terrazzo flooring and arched windows with segmental pediments.

Midway up the stairs a large landing and the exquisite Palladian window with three Gothic arches in the pediment provides a panoramic view of Crystal Lake.

The second level, with its original hardwood floors, houses the master and guest bedrooms, and baths.

The silver door hardware, plaster work and trim details, reflect a touch of an art-deco inspiration.

A separate simple staircase in the back services all floors, including the kitchen, garage, and basement.

It is here, in the basement, one can find the origin of the unique white bricks used to build this home. The Duntile logo can be seen on several of the exposed basement bricks.

This is what the study of the re-furbished Lorimer house looks like.

This is what the study of the re-furbished Lorimer house looks like.

These special bricks were locally produced from 1928 to 1936 at the site of the old Oak Industries building on the southeast corner of Main Street and Crystal Lake Avenue. [See also 800 Broadway for the same bricks.]

The Lorimer home was a perfect fit for William, Josephine and their six children. Unfortunately their luxurious White-House lifestyle was short-lived.

The Depression took its toll on their business and by 1930 they were forced to leave Josephine’s Natchez mansion.

Through the years several families came and went and sadly the home was divided into a rather neglected duplex. Today, thanks to the talent and dedicated restoration efforts of Rudy and Lynn, the Lorimer Home can once again proudly hold the “White House” title.

Winston Churchill said “First we shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

This is very true, but unfortunately few of us in McHenry County know the historical background of the buildings that surround and shape us, such as the Lorimer residence. Your McHenry County Historical Society is working to change that.

To the right the foyer opens up to a formal dining room with adjoining kitchen, sitting room and simple back staircase.

Your McHenry County Historical Society is working to change that. We invite people with architectural and/or historically significant buildings, homes, businesses, farms, to apply for a plaque. Please contact the McHenry County Historical Society at 815-023-2267, [email protected] or go to

= = = = =

A former owner told me that former U.S. Senator William Lorimer, Sr., lived there.

The Crystal Lake Historical Society disagrees.

William Lorimer died in 1934 at age 74, under a cloud of suspicion.

Following his appointment as a U.S. Senator – from June 18, 1909, until July 13, 1912 – the Senate adopted a resolution declaring “that corrupt methods and practices were employed in his election, and that the election, therefore, was invalid.”

Lorimer, nicknamed the “blond boss” in Chicago, was the last senator to be deprived of office for corrupting a state legislature.

In May 1913 the 17th Amendment providing for direct election of U.S. senators became part of the U.S. Constitution.

Lorimer served as president of the La Salle Street Trust & Savings Bank after leaving political office.

Our much more modest stucco home down the street (the one with the tree house) must have been built about the same time.  We have bathroom tile that is similar to that of the Lorimer house, as do several homes in the neighborhood.

For more on William Lorimer, you might be interested in reading

How About a Historical Marker for a Republican Crook with a Crystal Lake Connection?


Crystal Lake Mansion to Be Plaqued Saturday — 5 Comments

  1. Love the article. Had no idea of the history behind this house.

    I do remember being “shown” the house when it was on the market many years ago. (I saw just about every house in McHenry County.)

    Remember it as being dilapidated and antiquated.

    We passed on the deal because it didn’t seem like something for a young family with four children.

    How different your story would have been had we purchased the place!

  2. Nice house..but the history seems incorrect and some what misleading.

    Wm Lorimer (b 1861 d 1934) the lumber manufacturer, was married to Susan Mooney, who died in 1918.

    William didn’t remarry..was a widower until his death in 1934

  3. I see that you added 5 paragraphs of your own on Wiliam Lorimer Sr. to the publicity release given by the McHenry County Historical Society for the Josephine & William Lorimer Jr. House.

    This gives the impression that it was the Lorimer Sr. house which is not correct.

    Patrick King who serves on the Historic Sites Committee would not appreciate the distortion of his writing.

    As Chairperson of the Historic Sites Committee, I was the one who submitted his work & know that additions were made.

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