Former Hotel From Waukesha's Springs Era Survives Demolition Request

Feb 12, 2020

Historic preservationists were victorious in Waukesha Tuesday evening. The common council voted to block a request by Waukesha County to tear down a building that's a key part of the last intact resort from Waukesha's springs era a century ago.

County officials wanted Waukesha alderpersons to overturn a decision made last fall by the city's landmarks commission that protected the former Moor Mud Baths resort hotel from being torn down. The hotel was built in 1911, near the end of the era when many thousands of people came to Waukesha for its spring water. People arrived in hopes that water from the dozens of underground springs would cure their ailments.

LISTEN: What Remains Of Waukesha's Springs Era

The county owns the now-vacant building and doesn't want to pay the roughly $1 million needed to put a new roof on the facility. During public comments Tuesday evening, Waukesha County Supervisor Duane Paulson said the county and the Wisconsin Historical Society have an agreement to preserve the memory of the building.

"Photo documentation will be prepared, a historical marker will be erected, and a website will be developed and maintained," Paulson said.

Members of the Waukesha Common Council and the audience listen during Tuesday night's council meeting at Waukesha City Hall.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

But most of the people who spoke argued in favor of preserving the former hotel. Mary Jane Sanchez said Milwaukee values its historic buildings, like the Pabst Mansion.

"I myself was in the Pabst building when it was falling apart and leaking, and it was just a disaster.  And now, it's an amazing, robust jewel in the city of Milwaukee," she said.

The Waukesha Common Council then held about a four hour quasi-judicial session during which the county and landmarks commission made lengthy presentations and lawyers cross-examined the witnesses.  Then after a closed session, the alderpersons voted 8- 5 to deny the county's demolition request.

Ald. Cassie Rodriguez made the motion to preserve the former hotel. "I mean there is significant public interest in the property, and ultimately, eliminating the building would change and alter the exterior of the building," Rodriguez told WUWM.

Mary Emery of the Waukesha Preservation Alliance says she hopes Waukesha County will now try to sell the building to a private developer who would preserve the exterior, while turning the inside into senior or special needs housing.

"They could save a significant amount of money by selling it, and putting it back on the tax rolls," she said.

The county's lawyer declined comment after the vote.