What once was the heartbeat of the community may soon lay in rubble as demolition crews prepare to tear down the former Perry Printing plant in Waterloo.

For many years, Perry Printing Corp. was the city’s largest business, according to the Waterloo Area Historical Society’s Sesquicentennial book published in 2009. It once employed 800 people at its headquarters and printing plant located in a complex of buildings centered near West Madison and Jackson streets.

Those buildings are currently in the hands of the city with two large redevelopment proposals in the works.

The proposed projects, from two separate developers, include an assisted living facility and residential housing unit on the old printing site and the redevelopment of the corporate office into residential and commercial space.

Hawthorn & Stone Development Inc. plans to raze the buildings on the 12-acre printing plant site and construct assisted living facilities and residential housing units.

The city acquired the properties and buildings from RR Donnelley at the end of May. The city council entered into an agreement with Hawthorne & Stone to lease the property. The city is listed as the landlord and Hawthorne and Stone as the tenant. Under the lease, the developer can terminate the agreement for any of the following: environmental problems are discovered that would cost more than $20,000 to remediate; tenant determines the construction of the proposed project is not feasible due to failure to obtain government approval or financing; or the tenant is unable to have the property removed from the floodplain district.

Lang Group LLC plans to remodel the 50,000-square-foot corporate building for residential and commercial use. Lang Group plans to purchase and take ownership in January 2014.

The printing facility has been vacant since 2004 and the corporate office was downsized until it was vacated in 2010, according to Andy Hanson, former facility worker for both buildings.

“There were a lot of people that worked there,” Hanson said of the buildings. Hanson was released from his position in May when RR Donnelley sold the buildings. “You had customer service, bindery, press and maintenance, a lot of people. It supported a lot of households … It was the mainstay of their lives and now it is going away.

“You hate to see something like that go away that supported so many lives through the years,” Hanson said. “If you can get elderly housing and make the property work, that’s good.”

Roots of the company go back to 1931 when Waterloo’s Lawrence E. Perry and H.P. Thompson of Pardeeville bought out the Waterloo Courier from J. Lewis. The first print shop was located in the basement of the Archie Building at 100 E. Madison St. After a year, Perry became the sole owner until 1940 when the name was changed to Courier Printing Co. Inc.

As the company grew, it became more than a newspaper publisher. A building was constructed at West Madison and Jackson streets to house the growing firm. Several additions were constructed, all from east to west, Hanson said.

During the 1940s, Perry Printing began to partition the business, according to the historical society. Perry sold the print job machinery to Mikalson and Kylmanen who formed Artcraft Press. The Waterloo Courier part was leased in 1951 with Dan Royle later buying the paper.

The main company name was changed to Perry Printing Co. In 1956, Perry’s son, Roger, joined the company and expanded into web offset printing. In 1964, the Milwaukee Journal Company bought 40 percent of Perry and 10 years later took over the entire firm.

In 1982, Time Inc. had a contract with Perry Printing and for years, Times, Sports Illustrated and People magazines were printed in Waterloo. With the increase volume of business, another printing plant in Baraboo was established with a second heatset web offset operation. RR Donnelley still owns and operates the facility in Baraboo.

In 1985, a corporate headquarters was built at 565 W. Madison St. The building with multiple windows was soon nicknamed the “crystal palace.”

Roger Perry retired in 1990 and Craig Hutchison became president. Journal Communications separated the company into two divisions: the Waterloo and Baraboo printing operations and the North Star Print division for packing and promotion.

Bob and Paul Milhouse purchased the corporation in 1995 and the name soon was changed to Perry Graphic Communications.

Judd’s, a Virginia-based printer, was acquired in 1998 and Perry-Judd’s was formed. When the magazine contracts went to other printers, the printing operation closed. In 2006, the Perry holdings were purchased by RR Donnelley Sons Co. The firm pulled out its employees from the corporate office in 2010.

“The corporate office, that old gal has some life in it,” Hanson said. All the mechanicals, carpeting and fixtures date to 1985, he said.

“I think there is some life there,” he said. Hanson said the flat roof would need some repair. There was some leakage into a conference room on the second floor. The building still houses filing cabinets, desks and other furniture. Pictures still line the walls that haven’t seen a paintbrush in years.

Unlike the corporate office, most of equipment has been removed from the printing plant. A skeleton of a building remains along with one press. Over the years, water has trickled into the building. But soon that problem will be corrected as wrecking crews are expected to begin demolishing the structure soon.

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