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Vacant Blair House poses dilemma for city

Cummings wants to find another use for historical landmark

The historic Blair House, 434 Madison St., is vacant and it appears the city does not have an immediate need for the property. The city had been leasing the building to ProHealth.

The historic Blair House, 434 Madison St., is vacant and it appears the city does not have an immediate need for the property. The city had been leasing the building to ProHealth. Photo By Submitted Photo

Feb. 26, 2013

Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings wants to see the Blair House preserved.

"My position will be for it to remain intact," said Cummings, who also serves as the chair of the City of Waukesha's Landmarks Commission. "I want to see that building get great use for generations to come."

The building, on the State and National Historical Registry at 434 Madison St., sits vacant.

The lease for Pro Health, a previous user of the building, recently expired and City Administrator Ed Henschel said last week "it does not appear the city has an immediate need for this property."

As a result, Henschel asked Cummings to be involved in a committee that would consider the reuse or sale of the property.

Cummings said she is in the early stages of forming that committee to gather information to decide what they want to do with a building that was constructed in 1877.

Community Development Director Steve Crandell recently reviewed the property and the deed restrictions - limitations on the use of the property.

Deed restrictions, Crandell said, for the Blair House are that the property cannot be sold and cannot be used for commercial purposes, storage, tool shed or warehouse.

If the property is sold, however, Crandell said the proceeds received should be devoted to some specific civic purpose, such as playgrounds, parks, schools and hospital work.

But Crandell said the building needs work. He explained black mold that was in the basement after one of the water pipes burst has been removed. Crandell added that it appears the pipes are wrapped in asbestos and said that unless the water issue is resolved, the mold will return.

Moreover, significant money is required to remodel the interior, Crandell said.

Henschel told the Common Council in an email last week that if the property is to be maintained for public use, it would have to be either a self-supporting use or maintained with private funds.

"The city does not have money to support this property at this time," Henschel said.

Any alteration to the exterior of the house will require local Landmark Commission and state approval.

Mayor Jeff Scrima said it's an opportunity for Cummings to "create a plan and private funding to restore this deteriorating structure."

Cummings said the building could be torn down. However, she doesn't want it to come to that.

She said she was part of a committee that saved the Nelson House, 611 N. Grand Ave., another historical landmark in the City of Waukesha.

"It was put in the hands of the private sector and was fully restored and is now a law office," Cummings said. "It's a testament to a building's reuse."

The alderwoman added it would be disappointing to see the Blair House not be utilized. She referenced the two-story building's Italianate-style architecture, masonry work and high-quality ornament. It was built by William Blair, a Scotland native, who was a prominent banker and manufacturer. His son Henry, who served as the mayor of Waukesha from 1922-26, was the last Blair to live in the home.

The building sits on a prominent hill in Waukesha.

"It has some unique architecture and has one of the most breathtaking views of downtown," Cummings said.

She said the public can take a tour of this property during the Waukesha Preservation Alliance's Preservation Day May 19.

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