Groups fight to keep historic Waukesha hotel from demolition

Posted at 7:49 PM, Jan 31, 2017

There's a growing effort to save a 100-year-old Waukesha County hotel that could be demolished within a year.

For decades, people traveled to the Moor Mud Baths Hotel off Riverview Avenue because it was known to offer healing mud baths. Now the building sits vacant.

"It was the best mud in the United States," said Marilyn Hagerstrand, a historian that serves on the board of the Waukesha Preservation Alliance. "Even Al Capone came here with some of his henchmen. People would come back several years in a row, they just felt it really helped."

John Weber purchased the land in 1899, but learned the soil couldn't sustain crops.

After having the mud analyzed, he learned it was 80 percent vegetarian. He traveled to Germany, visiting mud baths there, and decided to build one of his own.

It opened in 1911, and a golf course was later added to the property.

After the hotel owner retired, the building went through several hands before the county purchased it in 1972. It served as the location of the county's Health and Human Services Department for many years, before a new building was built next door. It remains county property.

For the last three years, the county has fought with local groups who want to see the building saved and turned into senior housing. Currently, the building is protected by a local historic landmark designation. It also is on the state and national register of historic places, but those designations don't offer any protection.

"When you look at historic buildings and what they add to the community, they really give a sense of place and a source of pride and there's economic value in those buildings," said Mary Emery, the president of the Waukesha Preservation Alliance. "This building can certainly be repurposed and utilized either by the county or by someone else, and there's a great need for senior housing in the City of Waukesha."

The county's long-term plan is to tear down the building for future county development. It already turned down a potential buyer who offered $400,000, saying their offer wasn't reasonable.

"We are really keeping the eye on what is the best interest of all taxpayers in Waukesha County," said Allison Bussler, the director of Public Works at Waukesha County. "We're absolutely willing to work with them to see if we can find a legitimate purchaser of the building."

Bussler says consultants told the county it would not be a wise investment for the taxpayers to renovate the building and bring it up to modern standards as an office building. She says they would consider a fair offer from a developer if that's in the best interest of taxpayers.

She also said the vacant building attracts vandalism and there are safety risks.

The City of Waukesha Landmarks Commission says the county didn't try hard enough to find a buyer. The county appealed that, and now the decision rests in the hands of an administrative review board.

That administrative review board will announce its decision in mid-February. They will either vote in favor of the county, who will then have to spend two months looking for a buyer before they can submit a request for demolition. If it swings that way, the county says it could realistically have the building demolished by the end of the year.

If the board votes in favor of the landmarks commission, the county would then have the opportunity to appeal the decision with the courts.

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