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By Jean Lotus
The Roos building was once a grand edifice. Three stories of solid brick, capped with a multi-story water tower stood over Forest Park, adorned with a majestic pillared entranceway, carved with the words "ED Roos."
But time, neglect and the elements have destroyed the building past any hope of being repurposed, said Larry Piekarz, executive director of the Park District of Forest Park on Thursday.
"My advice to the board is to tear it down, the sooner the better," Piekarz said.
The 2.45 acre site was once a tribute to industry and success, then marketed as chic loft space. It is now a dangerous eyesore, Piekarz said.
"It's beyond disrepair," Piekarz said. "The park doesn't officially own it yet, but I'm preparing bids for demolition to present to the board. We don't want it to fall onto the train tracks [north of the property]."
Piekarz led reporters through the building Thursday morning.
The three-story brick L-shaped former factory has been stripped to the brick and all internal walls removed. What remains is a derelict cavernous space, filled with dust, pigeon feathers, rat droppings and mold.
"See there, the mold going up the wall?" Piekarz asked. "I don't know how we could fix that to have a safe space to use here for a preschool," he said.
Evidence of human occupation exists here too, including a pile of fiberglass insulation that Piekarz said was used by a homeless man for bedding over the winter. Some walls and windows are splashed with spray-painted graffiti, empty aerosol cans left on the floor. Dust covered wine bottles and crushed beer cans litter the floors.
The floors themselves are "dangerous" and "spongy" as Piekarz described them. Floor boards buckle up from water damage and there are holes to the floors below.
"It's really dangerous to be in here at night," Piekarz said. But he observed that some of the graffiti appeared new and said teenagers clearly looking for mischief had managed to break in. "You could fall right through these floors in the dark," Piekarz said.
Keeping the property secure has been a problem for the park and the village since the developers folded. Boarded windows were pried open, police have chased homeless people and partiers out of the building over the years.
Piekarz said the worst event recently was when teenagers broke into the building last year during the 4th of July fireworks and perched on the walls to watch the display.
"They were up there, in the dark. It was really scary," he said.
Leading reporters up the stairs, Piekarz pointed out some of the most unstable areas of the building. On the second and third floors, 10 x 10 yellow pine support timbers, weakened by water damage from holes in the roof, are snapped like matchsticks by the weight of the floors above.
Building supplies from the developers were scattered throughout: Block windows, doorframes and glass. Piekarz said he hopes he can donate them to Habitat for Humanity or some other charity. The windows installed before the developers went bust are unsalvageable, Piekarz believes. Many are spray painted and shattered by rocks thrown from the Circle Avenue bridge. Exposed wiring springs out from the walls.
Piekarz points to a ladder leading to the roof, three stories above.
"That was closed earlier this week. That means someone's been in here recently." The blacktop roof is damaged and filled with holes. Pallets of bricks are stored on top, adding weight to the already weak supports.
Piekarz said it's a shame the building can't be restored. He pointed out the support beams, vertical supports and joists.
"Those are all made of yellow pine," he said. The lumber was milled in the south and brought north on the Illinois Central railroad at the turn of the last century. According to Piekarz, the wood was overharvested early in the century. It's now used in upscale construction as vintage salvage wood.
Piekarz said the salvage value of the bricks and wood may bring down the cost of demolition.
The Roos Company began in Forest Park 1918 and that's when the building was started. It was completed in 1934, Piekarz said. The tower in the middle of the structure is hollow and lined with a glass-like coating "similar to a thermos" Piekarz said. The tower was filled for water use in the factory, he added. The tower is unused now, except as a support for cellphone antennas.
The Roos Manufacturing Co. of Chicago was established in 1871 by Edward Roos who was born in Germany and died in 1906. Roos's sons Otto (born 1877) and Edward (born 1880) took over the business.
The Forest Park location was opened by son Edward Roos in 1918. The Roos family was prominent in Forest Park and the factory employed 400 people in its heyday, according to a letter from Gail Roos sent to the Forest Park Historical Society in 2004.
A son, Frederick Roos was elected state senator during the Prohibition era. When Forest Park businessmen started the Forest Park Kiwanis Club in 1923, Frederick Roos was its first president.
The Roos Company ceased operations in Forest Park in the early 1950s. After that, the building served as a warehouse, and later housed an envelope company.
Developer Alex Troyanovsky defaulted on a 2007 $15 million construction loan from Amcorp Bank. The village declared Troyanovsky in default in June 2009 and revoked his building permits.
When Amcorp went bust and was acquired by Harris BMO Bank, the property was valued at $4.5 million. The park district initially made an offer for $1.3 million, when the property was in fit shape to rehab. But the longer the foreclosure and bankruptcy proceedings dragged on the less the property was worth.
The Park District of Forest Park was able to acquire the building for $499,000, the 2005 marketed price of a single proposed 3-bedroom loft apartment on the site.
But that's because by sitting vacant with open walls and roof for three years, the value of the existing building as a potential rehab was driven to zero. Now only the construction salvage value remains, Piekarz said.
The parcel west of the building was cleared by developers, who tore down a chunk of the factory purportedly to construct 28 townhomes. Ground was never broken on that project, but Piekarz said he envisions it as a grassy area.
Piekarz said he hopes to preserve the pillars and doorway of the Roos entrance for use as some sort of entranceway to the park as a historic reminder.
"Of course the people of Forest Park are going to have to decide. It's their park," Piekarz said.
The Park Board will meet next on Thursday, May 16 at 6:30 p.m.