The historic American Wilber Vault building at 1015 Troost Avenue is being repurposed as a plumbing business.File 2011

A historic building that once housed a business dating all the way back to the founding of Forest Park finally has a new owner.

The imposing, 18,000 American Wilbert Vault building at 1015 Troost has finally been sold to a local plumber, after sitting vacant for two years.

“The sale took a long time,” said American Wilbert Chairman Emeritus, Gregory Reichle, who ran the vault company for 45 years before passing the reins to his son.

The company moved operations to Bridgeview in 2011, because the old-fashioned Forest Park plant no longer suited their needs.

The vault business was started in 1880 by Leo Hasse, the son of one of Forest Park’s founder’s Ferdinand Haase, who opened Waldheim (Forest Home) cemetery in the late 1870s.

Leo was an innovator in concrete and created the vault as a way to protect coffins from tampering. Leo’s nephew Wilbert took over the company in 1919 and benefitted from a run on vault demand when influenza outbreaks took place in Chicago in 1919 and again in 1922-23. American Wilbert also donated burial vaults for the 95 victims of the Our Lady of the Angels School fire in 1958.

Air-tight vault security for high-end coffins was a market American Wilbert quickly cornered. The company boasted that Luis Armstrong, John F. Kennedy and Elvis are all interred in Wilbert vaults.

The monster property with a factory space in back and two apartments in front was on the market for a year at $379,000, but there were no takers. It was even suggested as a home for the Forest Park Historical Society. On a residential street, the historic building predated the neighboring houses and was zoned B-2, or “Community Shopping District.”

Reichle said he thought the fact the building was on a residential street might have been part of the reason the property took so long to find a buyer.

“There was no way to sell that property to anyone other than an industrial user,” Reichle said. “We were there before the houses. There have been trucks coming in and out of that building for the last 100 years.”

Next door neighbor Ellen Buchanan said she never minded the vault company and didn’t really notice lots of industrial traffic.

“We’ve lived here a long time and they were always respectful of the neighborhood,” she said. She said she knew of no neighbors who wanted the building to be limited to residential use.

Ruth Stefl and her husband Forest Park plumber Tim Stefl looked at the property when it was first on the market, Ruth said, but it took a long time to get organized to make an offer and by then the parcel was off the market.

The plumbing company was finally able to make the purchase last month. According to MLS records the sale price was $325,000. Although Tim Stefl works primarily in Forest Park, Ruth said, the business was run from a family property in Berwyn.

“I’ll be glad to have an office to go to instead of taking phone calls in my living room,” she said.

That left a parking lot across the street at 1004 that the Stefls didn’t need, Reichle said.

“We wanted to be out of there,” Reichle said. “The property has been empty for two years.”

Frustrated with how long the process had taken, Reichle said he offered the 6,709 square foot parking lot to the village in a meeting with Mayor Anthony Calderone for $25,000.

The Forest Park Village Council approved the purchase of the 16-space lot at the Sept. 9 meeting.

“We wanted to be out and we gave a fair price to the village,” Reichle said.

Village Administrator Tim Gillian said in September the lot was perfect for night permit parking for nearby multi-unit residences. And the price was right.

“A lot you could build a house on for $25,000 is a pretty good deal for the village,” he said.

Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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