Waukesha County, OK, plans to demolish historic and disputed Moor mud baths

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WAUKESHA – The last intact spring-era resort hotel in town will share the fate of other tourist sites from Waukesha’s early history.

Waukesha County’s acceptance of a lawsuit settlement with the City of Waukesha means the Moor Mud Baths/Grandview Health Resort property at 500 Riverview Drive on the county’s central government campus will be demolished by the end of the year.

The settlement ends a two-decade battle to preserve the site by the city’s landmarks commission and the nonprofit Waukesha Preservation Alliance.

The 20-to-3 vote on Tuesday, September 27 by the Waukesha County Council followed a similar 8-to-6 vote by the Waukesha Common Council on August 16, finalizing the deal.

Here’s what the deal entails

Under the agreement, the county promised to commemorate the former resort town with markers at the site, a historic display inside the county health and social services building, and a special website. The county will continue to keep the nearby Moor Downs golf course open for 10 years and preserve both the spring house and the clubhouse on the grounds.

Essentially, aldermen agreed to retract council’s previous decision in 2020 that upheld the Waukesha Landmark Commission’s 2019 decision, which prevented the county from demolishing the Moor Mud Baths building on the county’s campus under an exception. in the ordinance on the monuments of the city.

Like the town’s discussions in July and August, much of the settlement-focused debate took place behind closed doors, with a final decision later announced in open session. As such, most settlement trading is unknown.

However, some details have emerged from sources outside the city government.

The Waukesha Preservation Alliance, in a post on its Facebook page after the county’s vote, noted that the original draft bylaw did not include the spring near the old mud bath hotel building.

Waukesha Preservation Alliance President Mary Emery, who has led the fight to preserve the historic resort building for years, expressed her sadness at the fate of the mud baths.

“It’s a sad day for Waukesha,” she said after the city voted in August.

The Moor Mud Baths Resort, as seen in this 1950s photo, was once a popular attraction in Waukesha's early days as a resort town.  The establishment opened in 1911 and closed in 1961.

The building is the last remaining station from the Waukesha Springs era

The history of the resort is well documented. It operated during the last years of the springs era, a time when people from all over came to Waukesha primarily for the perceived health benefits of its groundwater.

In the early 1970s, the county, whose growing government campus was adjacent to the old hotel and golf course, acquired the property, eventually reallocating it to house its Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2013, after the county moved the department to a new facility, the old resort property became obsolete, at least from the county’s perspective. This led to plans to demolish the building, which county officials said had fallen into disrepair and no longer had any internal, historical significance.

However, such plans were thwarted by the City of Waukesha, whose landmark panel had previously placed a historic designation on the site intended to preserve it. This, in turn, led to legal and political wrangling between the city and the county.

In October 2019, the Waukesha Landmarks Commission, which in 2016 refused to remove the historic designation, rescinded the necessary “certificate of adequacy” that would have allowed the structure to be demolished by the county.

Eventually, after the city denied an appeal by the county to grant an exception allowing the historic landmark to be demolished, the case went to court. Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Lloyd Carter ruled in favor of the city, saying the city acted in accordance with its orders and procedures in conducting the appeal.

Demolition will take place in December 2022

All that remains now is demolition, although eight years later than originally planned by the county.

County officials confirmed money had already been set aside for the work, allowing the demolition process to continue.

“We will not know the final cost of the demolition project, which is scheduled to take place in December, until final offers on the demolition work have been reviewed and accepted,” said Kristin Bendlin, Special Programs Coordinator and Acting news source for the county executive’s office said Friday.

Contact Jim Riccioli at (262) 446-6635 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @jariccioli.

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