After a two-year battle, the historic Blair House officially belongs to Bob and Lisa Salb.
The Waukesha couple closed on the sale of the house on Friday, March 18, setting the stage for their longstanding plan to convert the former mayor's home into a bed-and-breakfast inn.
"Twenty-five months after we were told it was going to happen, it finally happened," said Bob Salb, as he walked around the home at 434 Madison St. on Friday afternoon. "Now we can move forward and get the ball rolling."
Once converted, the home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will be called Spring City Bed & Breakfast.
A slow sale
The Salbs bought the home from the city for $1,000. The closing comes three days after the Waukesha Common Council unanimously approved a sale contract, conservation easement and deed for the sale of the house.
But the wait was a lot longer than that for the Salbs.
This process was supposed to be finished in early 2014, when the Salbs issued the only proposal for the home. However, soon after the couple's proposal, the Waukesha Masonic Lodge 37 filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging it violated terms of the former owner's by leasing the property to other agencies such as Waukesha Memorial Hospital and Safe Families Inc. over the years.
The home, built in 1876, previously belonged to one-time mayor Henry Blair. But upon his death, he turned the home over to the city. There had been multiple tenants over the years, but when the city said it no longer had the funds to keep supporting the 4,353-square-foot Italianate-style home, the city put out requests for proposals.
The Salbs' bed-and-breakfast proposal was put on hold during the lawsuit. After many hearings and failed settlement offers, a judge late last year ruled against the Masons and the could finally move forward with the sale. The city quickly rezoned the site to multifamily residential and amended the land-use plan for the property to pave the way for the bed-and-breakfast inn.
Bob Salb said the plan is still to have the bed-and-breakfast inn open in five years.
He said the next step is to go before the city's landmarks commission to get approval on the first batch of upgrades. That could come as early as its April 6 meeting. Since the house is on the historic registry list, any changes the Salbs make need to come before this panel, Bob Salb said.
Bob Salb said right now he and his wife will spend the next several months determining their exact "game plan" for the house, which includes uncovering much of "the character of the house."
He said they don't plan on making "major changes," but some initial plans include adjusting doorways, adding a bigger kitchen area and bathroom space, uncovering the crown molding that is hidden below the drop ceilings as well terracotta titles hidden underneath carpet. One of the biggest projects will include restoring all of the 45 windows in the house.
Since the Salbs plan to open the house on May 22 for Waukesha's Historic Preservation Days for tours, the couple doesn't want to alter too much in the meantime.
"We want to showcase the house as is," Bob Salb said.
That will likely be the last time, as Bob and Lisa Salb soon afterward turn their attention on transforming the home into the city's only bed-and-breakfast inn.
"This was put on for so long," Bob Salb said, "that we can now finally begin our course of action for the home."