The future Spring City Bed & Breakfast still a long way off, but owners are undaunted
From the solarium inside the Blair House, the view of downtown Waukesha, sprawled in every direction and dusted with snow, is nigh unbeatable.
That view likely will be one of the big draws of the property when Bob and Lisa Salb, a local couple, complete their five-year project to transform the home — a 140-year-old structure that atop a steep hill overlooking the city's center — into Waukesha's only bed and breakfast.
The Salbs, who have lived at the Blair House, 434 Madison St., since they bought it in March, have already spent countless hours restoring it, re-plastering walls, landscaping the one-acre property.
Countless more still lie ahead, they said during a recent tour.
When it's all said and done, the home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will become the Spring City Bed & Breakfast.
What's been done
Bob Salb said he and his wife have spent the past several months making the house "livable" again, establishing a plan for future renovations and removing some of the previous remodeling installed when the property was for decades used as a medical facility
"We're trying to expose the character of the house," he said. "We're still discovering stuff."
The Salbs plan to perform all the work themselves while keeping their day jobs. They renovated their previous Waukesha home, which was built in 1914, and describe that undertaking as "practice" for the Blair House project.
The work includes remodeling three bedrooms and adding four more bedrooms; creating a new kitchen; removing drop ceilings and fluorescent lights; updating the heating equipment; repairing plaster ceilings and walls; repairing damaged baseboards and crown molding; removing an office from the house's front porch; refinishing the hardwood floors; and painting.
One of the biggest pending projects includes restoring the home's 46 windows, Salb said.
The property has a storied past.
The 4,353-square-foot brick Italianate-style home was completed in 1876 for William Blair, a well-known Waukesha banker and business operator who also served in the state senate. He was the father of Henry Blair, a former Waukesha mayor.
Henry Blair, who served as mayor during the 1920s, transferred ownership of the house to the city after his death in 1957.
The city leased the building to multiple tenants until 2013. That's when the city determined it could no longer support the home financially, and officials in 2014 issued a request for development proposals.
The Salbs' Spring City Bed & Breakfast proposal — itself an homage to Waukesha's historic mineral water springs — was the only submitted response. They bought the house for $1,000.
Taking the long view
The Salbs are clearly aware of just how formidable a task their project will be. You seemingly can't walk more than five feet anywhere in the house without passing a small grey sign stuck to a wall or doorway indicating some future change.
The inn will feature five guest rooms, as well as a residence for the Salbs.
But they don't seem daunted by the task. Perhaps because, as keepers of Waukesha history, they've learned to take the long view on such things. After all, they had to wait for a protracted legal battle over the Blair House to end before they took possession of the home.
Or maybe it's simply because, to them, the Blair House and its future represents the realization of long-held aspirations.
Lisa Salb, an architectural designer, had ideas about opening a bed and breakfast 26 years ago.
"Ever since I was little, I was always saying I was going to live in a mansion," she said. "My mom told me, when she was here for Thanksgiving, 'Lisa, you finally got your mansion.'
"We saw the potential (for the home) and we just really wanted to be involved."