Rare look inside the Rath Administration Building - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Rare look inside the Rath Administration Building

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Once a national leader in American industry, now the empire that was Waterloo's Rath Meat Packing remains only in memories and the few buildings left standing. A titanic of the city once known as The Factory City of Iowa.

The future of the old Rath Administration Building is back in the hands of the city.

For the past decade the the building on Sycamore Street has been owned by a California developer. With little work done to the building since the purchase, the City of Waterloo has taken back the deed.

From the outside, the nearly 100-year-old brick stands tall, but the boarded up windows and no trespass signs are just the beginning clues of how far the Rath empire has fallen.

Along with City Planner II Tim Andera and a few of Waterloo's finest, KWWL  stepped through doors that once welcomed hundreds of employees to take a look inside.

The vast expanse of the main floor is still grand, but its clear its just a skeleton of what once was.

"The executive offices for the heads of Rath were just down that way," said Andera, pointing to South corner of the first floor.

The walls, floors, and ceilings have been stripped down with hopes of restoration that never came.

Mother nature, also took her toll on the building. The building full of water damaged and rusted out cabinets, electrical boxes and shelves that once held the records of Rath's national-wide distribution.

It is far from the days in the 1940's and 50's when the building headquartered one of the largest employers in Iowa.

"I never thought it would shut down. Rath, I thought, had the best meat you could ever get," said Jess Boatright, who has been cutting hair in the shadow of the factory for more than 60 years. He remembers the thriving community that once surrounded Rath Packing.

"When I went to work here, my boss said, 'Okay, from now on you buy your gas from the station on the corner. You buy all your meat from Rath. You buy your bread from this bakery up here.'  I said, 'Why?' He said, 'Because they come in our barbershop. You do business with people who do business with you," said Boatright.

But Jess' Barbershop is the last business standing and Jess is one of the last people to witness the height of Rath Packing.

"That building now, nobody is ever going to use it," said Boatright.

The question remains how does Waterloo save the historic building, preserve it, and carry it into the future?

"We have heard from a couple out-of-state developers that expressed interest in the building, right now. One talk would be possibly residential, but it could still be used for office space. There is still the opportunity to see the building restored," said Andera, Waterloo City Planner II.

 A possibility, but a challenge that will take the right investor and likely more than $10 million.

It has been decades since the factory closed, but  there are still many with personal connections to Rath.  "It means a lot to still a lot of people," said Andera.

Andera's grandfather was one of thousands of Rath employees. "I do picture him coming here to work," said Andera.

It is the personal connections that some believe makes it is worth the effort to try and preserve a part of Waterloo's history for future generations.

In fact Rath is a large part of why the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage area is based in Waterloo.

"Its a piece of who we are as a people and why we do the things we do today. Once those are gone you can't bring them back," said Cindy Streed of the Silos & Smoke National Heritage Area.   

The next step will be for city council to set a deadline for finding a new developer. If they do not find one by the set deadline, the Rath Administration Building will likely be torn down.

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