The enormous brick building with the funny name Roos is being demolished, and with it, brick-by-brick, an era of history in Forest Park comes to an end.
The Roos Cedar Chest factory was, at one time the largest industrial concern in Forest Park, employing 400 people. The company created wooden bridal hope chests, marketed around the world. Three million feet of cedar a year were used, which required 1,200 trees per day to be cut.
The factory was forced to slow down during World War II, and reopened for a few years until it was sold in 1951 and all 150 employees were laid off.
The Roos name reaches back to the early years of Forest Park, previously known as Harlem. In 1868, Bernard Roos was a founder of German Waldheim (now Forest Home) Cemetery, consecrated in 1871. His son Albert founded the A. Roos and Sons Bank, which became the Harlem Savings Bank (later Forest Park State Bank), in 1897. Albert’s son, Fred B. Roos, became an Illinois State Representative, while son Albert C. formed the singing group Harlem Maennerchor, which exists to this day.
Albert C. helped found the Forest Park Businessmen’s Assoc. in 1912 (today’s Forest Park Chamber of Commerce) and was later president of the Kiwanis Club and served as Treasurer for the Proviso Township School District. Both Fred and Albert C. were village officers: Albert C., Collector and Fred, Attorney.
Their uncle Edward owned Ed Roos Manufacturing, a small Chicago wooden chest company at the turn of the century.
Edward died in 1907, but his sons Edward and Otto took over the Chicago business at 1024 S. Van Buren. In 1916 during World War I, the government shut down the business because the product was considered a luxury.
In 1918, Edward Roos joined his cousins in Forest Park, where he built the first Roos cedar chest factory with a $100,000 investment. By 1928 the brick building on Harrison Street exceeded 85,000 square feet. The company employed 400 people and was the town’s “largest local manufactury.” Shrewd magazine marketing and a sales force made the cedar chest a “must-have” item for new brides.
But Edward Roos died in 1943 at age 62, and the business never really bounced back after the government once more curtailed manufacturing during World War II.
The factory later housed the Fisher Pen Co. and Castle Soap Co.
In the 1990s the brick behemoth became vacant and underused. In 2005, developer Alex Troyanovsky went broke after taking out a $15 million construction loan to convert the Roos building into lofts and townhomes. As commercial foreclosure wound its way through banks and courts for years, the building fell into disrepair.
The Park District of Forest Park acquired the building in May for $499,000. When part of the ceiling collapsed in a late June storm, the village issued an emergency order to demolish the structure.
Thanks to Historical Society of Forest Park Director Diane Hansen Grah for historical details.