Jobs Homes Autos For Sale

Old and new builders come together
By Deborah Donovan | Daily Herald Staff

John Wozniak


James L. Chittaro


Ralph Smykal


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Published: 8/30/2008 12:10 AM

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Smykal Associates - one of Chicago's oldest builders - has been sold to one of the newest builders in the area.

J. Lawrence Homes, founded in 2007 in Naperville, purchased Smykal, which started after the Chicago Fire in 1871 and built West Suburban communities including Naperville and Wheaton, where it is currently based.

Ralph Smykal, whose family has owned the company for four generations, said in a news release that he is preparing to retire.

"I believe J. Lawrence Homes is the perfect choice to carry on the Smykal legacy," he said.

James L. Chittaro, co-founder of J. Lawrence and now co-chief executive officer of Smykal, said one reason for the purchase was to obtain the expertise of Smykal's executives.

"It's two strong organizations coming together to set the stage for what we think is time for a turnaround in the coming quarters," Chittaro said in an interview.

Chittaro and his partner, John Wozniak, are hoping new home sales will improve next spring, based on the number of people currently looking and not yet buying. But he admits any increase in sales will be gradual.

The merged companies will still operate under two names, said Chittaro, with J. Lawrence generally building homes for first-time buyers and Smykal specializing more in semi-custom houses.

Housing starts nationally are expected to be less than 1 million this year, compared with more than 2 million in 2005, according to the National Association of Home Builders. And sales might only be in the 500,000 range, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.

Chittaro said the purchase of Smykal puts him and Wozniak in a position to take advantage of land bargains.

"Some pricing is almost inappropriately low," said Chittaro. "That breeds opportunity from our standpoint with the company's combined strength, people, manpower and executive experience."

Smykal moved west out of Chicago and built its first home in Wheaton in 1947 and by 1961 had expanded to Naperville. Its 15,000 homes include Cress Creek, Aero Estates, Saddle Creek and Saybrook in Naperville; Lowell Manor, Dorchester Terrace, Pierce Highlands and Fairway Estates in Wheaton; Montview in West Chicago; Woods of Cantigny in Winfield; Brampton Place and Charter Oaks in Bartlett and Knolls of Yorktown in Lombard.

Smykal will close on about 50 houses this year while that number will be 30 for J. Lawrence, said Chittaro.

Smykal's history includes building several exhibition buildings for the Columbian Exposition or Chicago World's Fair of 1893. General Richard Smykal, Ralph's father, helped build the Burma Road linking what was then called Myanmar to China during World War II.

Ralph Smykal and his wife Betty helped establish Central DuPage Hospital and have been involved with the DuPage Airport Authority, The DuPage Community Foundation and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Chittaro's experience is in banking. He established the Midwestern home builder divisions for Bank of America and Royal Bank of Canada. Wozniak is a 25-year veteran of the housing industry, including executive positions with Summit Homes and Lennar.

Smykal is currently building four communities, Ashford Place in Joliet, River's Edge Landing in Minooka, and Ravine Woods and The Carriage Homes at Ravine Woods in Channahon. J. Lawrence Homes is building at Silver Leaf in Joliet and Midlane Club in Wadsworth.