Family's history provides foundation of redevelopment

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By Bob Skolnik

Walking the length of the expansive but vacant brick factory building proved to be a sentimental moment for Gail Roos. Her grandfather erected the hulking structure at 7329 Harrison St. in 1919 where, after several additions in 1928, some 400 workers labored over the assembly of the now famous Roos cedar chests.

"It's sentimental," Roos, 59, said of her recent tour of the building. "It's great memories."

The building still bears the name of her grandfather and father, Ed Roos, Sr. and Ed Roos, Jr. But there hasn't been a cedar chest produced at the site since 1953. Now the old brick factory at Circle and Harrison streets is being transformed into high end lofts using a design that incorporates many facets of the original structure.

Roos, who lives in Santa Fe, N.M., returned to the area to visit cousins and toured the Roos building with Rich Vitton earlier this month. Vitton, the president of the Forest Park Historical Society, was joined by architect Tomasz Litwicki, who designed the lofts for Regency Development.

Roos said she's glad the building is being preserved and is impressed with the project.

"I'm pleased he is keeping the integrity of the building," Roos said. "I'm very pleased with the whole thing."

Vitton has kept Roos informed of the massive redevelopment through letters, phone calls and e-mails during what has been a long struggle to save the building. It was once marked for demolition by a previous owner. Roos' 95-year-old mother, Lucille, who also lives in Santa Fe, is equally pleased that the building is being preserved.

"If we tear down buildings we lose our past," Roos said. "None of us wanted to see it torn down and razed. It's a great building. It is an important historical structure."

Roos is working with Litwicki and Vitton to incorporate as much of the building's history into the redevelopment. She plans to donate an etching of the original construction plans, which will be hung in the lobby. She also intends to donate a plaque that her father received as the president of the Furniture Club of America. A photo of Ed Roos, Jr. will also be displayed in the lobby.

Gail Roos said that although she never spent much time in the building, she was always aware of it and always enjoyed seeing it. She was born in 1949 and her father died just two years later. Soon after, the company was sold. But she heard many stories about the factory from her mother, she said.

The factory eventually was owned by the Fisher Pen Company and later, the Castle Soap Company. Several more owners followed and by the 1990s the building was underutilized and decaying.

Vitton and a number of other Forest Park residents worked to save the building from being demolished, but they also recognized that the property could not sit empty to decay. After several years of proposals and discussions, the municipality gave its approval to Litwicki's firm to rehab the property.

Vitton said he sees the project as being the best of both worlds.

"We were able to save the building and put it to reuse," Vitton said.

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