Event space, offices and art bring life to former Perry Judd Printing building in Waterloo | State and Regional

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Waterloo Solarium

Nathan Zobel, property supervisor at the Solarium in Waterloo, hangs a piece of artwork in preparation for an upcoming exhibit by the Madison Artists Guild. The gallery is inside an event space in the former corporate headquarters building for Perry Judd Printing, once the largest employer in the city. The building has been largely empty since 2010 but is coming back to life with new uses.

WATERLOO — For the locals, it will always be known as the Crystal Palace.

The 42,000-square-foot office building is where since 1984 glass walls and atriums have made the structure stand out on a ridge overlooking the Maunesha River just west of this city’s downtown.

For the past 12 years, the former corporate headquarters of Perry Judd Printing has been largely vacant, void of the life that once made the company the largest employer in this Jefferson County community.

There is no hope that 700 jobs will magically reappear since the printing plant and its warehouses were removed in 2014. But life has slowly begun to creep back into the former corporate headquarters building that shuttered in 2010.

Waterloo Solarium

The main lobby and other parts of the Solarium are flooded with natural light. The building, which has office and event space for rent, opened in 1984 in Waterloo.

A New York company that helps businesses deliver sensitive data but also has invested in real estate is transforming the sprawling two-story building into The Solarium, a multi-use facility for weddings and other events, art exhibits and those looking to rent office space. There is talk of a coffee or wine and cheese shop, while one tenant plans to install banks of computer servers into a corner of the underground parking garage for a Bitcoin mining operation.

“I hope it works. Something has to work,” said Mayor Jenifer Quimby, a lifelong resident of Waterloo. “I don’t think that size of a building can just count on weddings only. We’ve always hoped someone would do something with it. There’s a lot of square footage there.”

Waterloo Solarium

Workers hang artwork and prepare for an upcoming open house of the Solarium in the former Perry Judd Printing building in Waterloo. A reception is set for 2 to 5 p.m. May 1.

And beginning next weekend, the public will get a chance to explore much of the building’s interior during a reception for the opening of an exhibit featuring the work of four artists from the Madison Artists Guild.

The free event, from 2 to 5 p.m. May 1, will include complimentary Wisconsin wine and cheese and show the works in the building’s lobby and in an area designated for weddings and other events. Some of the work, on display through August, will also be displayed in the building’s lobby and an atrium adjacent to an outdoor deck that offers up scenic views to the east.

Arriving artists

The work of Roann Mathias, a New Orleans native who lived for 25 years in Memphis, Tennessee, before moving to Madison in 2019, will include colorful and lyrical paintings inspired by abstract expressionism. PS Nelson, a lifelong Madisonian, revived his painting in 2020 during the start of COVID-19 and layers pastels with epoxy resin on sandpaper. Timothy Seery, of Sun Prairie, uses plywood, acrylic and pastels to create portraits, while David O. Williams’ work in the exhibit uses watercolors to create collections of people, which reflects on the exhibit’s theme of community.

Waterloo Solarium

Watercolorist Dave Williams, president of the Madison Artists Guild, helps hang one of his paintings in the Solarium in Waterloo in preparation of an art exhibit that will open May 1 with three other Dane County artists.

Williams is a Madison artist and a former computer programmer who has been showing for the past 12 years and is now president of the Madison Artists Guild. Williams typically shows 10 or fewer paintings at a time due to space restrictions at other venues, which over the years have included University Hospital, dental and doctor clinics, churches, hair salons and some galleries.

Williams said vast wall space at the Solarium will allow artists more freedom to share their work, even though it’s in a small community outside of Dane County.

“This is crazy unusual to have such a large space like this,” Williams said, during a break last week of overseeing the installation of his work. “You don’t have big spaces in Madison, so this may be the wave of the future. This could end up being a very, very interesting space.”

Waterloo is home to Trek Bicycles, Van Holten’s pickles, McKay Nursery and a beloved antique carousel in Firemen’s Park. But the former printing complex was a massive economic and social engine for the community of 3,400 people, much like General Motors Assembly in Janesville, Bethesda in Watertown and APV Crepaco in Lake Mills, all of which have disappeared from their communities.

Waterloo Solarium

A former conference room on the second level of the Solarium is being pegged for a dressing room for brides who have their weddings in the building.

Boom, bust, rebirth

Perry Judd’s Wisconsin roots date to 1931, when L.E. Perry purchased the Waterloo Courier newspaper for $12,000. The business grew to include printing work from a wide array of businesses that forced the printing operations to move from below the post office to land along Madison Street. The construction of the $2.5 million headquarters building came when the company had revenues of $117 million in 1984 and had printing operations in four other locations around the Midwest.

“It’s hard to believe anything like this could happen,” Perry said in a 1985 interview printed in a publication touting the new office building. “How could it be any better.”

Waterloo Solarium

The second-level event space at the Solarium, in the former Perry Judd Printing building in Waterloo, overlooks the Maunesha River.

The company bought Judd — founded in 1868 in Washington, D.C., and the first printer of National Geographic magazine — in 1998, but despair soon followed. In 2003, the company lost its contract with Time Warner to print magazines such as Time, People and Sports Illustrated, and 550 people in Waterloo lost their jobs. A year later, the printing plant in Waterloo was shuttered before the company was sold in 2006 to RR Donnelly & Sons, of Chicago. In 2010, the final cut was made when the Waterloo administrative offices were closed.

The city of Waterloo acquired the property in 2013 and a year later removed the manufacturing facility on the east side of the river. That land is now home to Riverwalk Senior Living, which opened in 2020. A pair of developers took ownership of the office building in 2014 from the city with some of the office space used by a subsidiary of Trek, the parking garage rented for vehicle storage and some of the space rented out for the occasional estate sale. At one point, apartments were considered for the building but never materialized.

Waterloo Solarium

This door in a basement office is one of the few reminders that the building was home to the corporate office of Perry Judd Printing. The company traces its roots to 1931 in Waterloo.

But in late 2020, Charles River Communications in New York purchased the property for $593,300. The 2021 assessed value was $1.2 million, but as of Saturday, the $22,832 property tax bill remained delinquent, according to Jefferson County land records.

Joshua Wurzburger, who founded Charles River Communications in 1979 while in graduate school at Cornell University, told the Wisconsin State Journal on Thursday that he was unaware of the unpaid bill but that “by the time you go to press hopefully they won’t be” delinquent. Wurzburger, whose company also has office buildings in Ohio and Indiana, was attracted to the Waterloo building since it’s adjacent to the river and is flooded with natural light. It’s location in a small community isn’t a worry.

“There’s huge advantages,” Wurzburger said. “It’s a great place, and I’m sure it’s going to be very successful.”

Waterloo Solarium

The 42,000-square-foot Solarium in Waterloo is envisioned as a new site for weddings.

Momentum builds

Wurzburger initially had thought of creating a call center in the building for his company, but as technology has moved towards more automation in the industry, he chose to make it more of a public space. Since April 1, three office tenants have signed leases, and advertising for weddings and other events has begun. The second floor features space for both grooms and brides to have their own large areas for dressing, while the main floor offers up a spacious hall now lined with art.

Over the last year, an artificial intelligence security system that allows access with face recognition has been installed, along with Wi-Fi. Windows have been sealed, leaks in the roof repaired, and stained or missing carpet squares replaced. It’s undergone a thorough cleaning, the Waterloo Fire Department came out to help fix a flagpole’s pulley system, and an Amish landscaping crew was scheduled to be on site Saturday.

A stage will be built in the event space, and outside the deck will be cleaned and stained.

“We’re just trying to make it more welcoming,” said Nathan Zobel, the property supervisor, as he gave a tour of the building. “It’s an impressive building, but it was time for it to be spruced up and brought back to its former glory.”

Barry Adams covers regional news for the Wisconsin State Journal. Send him ideas for On Wisconsin at 608-252-6148 or by email at [email protected].


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