Moor Mud Baths

Posted on Oct 27, 2015 in Landmark History | 0 comments

Moor Mud Baths – Photo Credit Daniel Sheldon

Moor Mud Baths – Photo Credit Daniel Sheldon

The Moor Mud Baths/Grand View Health Resort is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the State Register of Historic Places. It has earned these distinctions because it is a relatively intact example of a resort from the Springs Era. The property is also a designated local landmark in the City of Waukesha. The entire site is designated, including the golf course, clubhouse, and springhouse.

The Waukesha County Board heard and passed a resolution in January 2014 to rid the county of this storied building, despite having local, state and federal historical designations. “If there are no willing bidders to purchase and move the old Health and Human Services Building in six months time, the administration should bring forth a capital project (plan) to remove the building,” the resolution says.

We know that there are private investors and developers that are interested in the property, whom see an opportunity to create unique office space, condos, or even a destination hotel (sell the golf course with the property), instead of spending 3.3 million dollars of tax payer money to tear it down. Plus, this would return the property to the tax rolls, thus generating money through property taxes. These developers could utilize the historic tax credits that are available (it is now a 40% credit).

On top of preservation of history, there is fiscal responsibility. Spending $3.3 million dollars to save $70,000 a year in upkeep is not judicious use of taxpayer dollars, as it would take 47 years of upkeep to spend that 3.3 million dollars. Spending $3.3 million dollars for 70 parking spaces is is not judicious use of taxpayer dollars, as the cost is more than twice the amount per space that a parking structure would cost.

Further information on our stance behind this resolution can be view in this letter which was provided to the Public Works Committee at their January 16th, 2014 meeting.

How You Can Help

  • Online and paper petitions have been established to oppose any action to delist the property, or to demolish or harm the integrity of the building or the other historic elements on the site, including the springhouse and the golf course. We are targeting all areas of Waukesha County, but anyone across the country is welcome to sign. Please only sign the petition online or on paper, not both. If you’d like to collect signatures in person, a PDF of the petition is available here.
  • Show your support by “Liking” the Save Moor Mud Baths page on Facebook.
  • Write to your County Board Supervisor and let them know that you oppose any action to delist the property, or to demolish or harm the integrity of the building or the other historic elements on the site, inculding the Moor Downs Golf Course. A list of the County Board Supervisors and their contact information is available here on the Waukesha County website. To find out your district number, please view this map.
Early postcard of Moor Mud Baths, when it was known as Grand View Health Resort.

Early Postcard of Moor Mud Baths, when it was known as Grandview Health Resort.

The History Behind the Property
Its period of significance is from 1911 to 1951, the years in which it operated as Grandview Health Resort and Moor Mud Baths. Although the resort is a reminder of the Springs Era, its founding in 1911 almost postdates that period.

In 1902, real estate agent John Weber came into possession of 200 acres of land on top of the Prospect Avenue Hill. He had the land on the market from that time until 1907 but was unable to sell for development due to the large area of black mud on the property. In that year a visitor familiar with the mud baths of Europe suggested that use for the land. In February, 1911, Web opened a thirty-room health resort specializing in the application of mud baths.

The hotel prospered and eventually grew to 200 rooms. John Weber invented a couch for giving mud baths which became an industry standard. In 1915 a golf course was added which is still operated by the County as Moor Downs Golf Course. From 1925 to 1947 over 130,000 people received Weber’s mud treatment and Waukesha became known for its unorthodox medical center. Web sold the hotel in 1946 and after several other owners, the mud baths finally closed in 1961, victim to more sophisticated medical practices. The Moor Mud Baths was the first and largest of several such spaces in the City and remained as an example of the health resort industry spawned by the Springs Era.

In 1962, the hotel became Mt. St. Paul College and in 1972, a County Office Building.

Progress on Preservation
Executive Committee heard the presentation for the demolition of the Moor Mud Baths on September 8th, 2014, but the vote was pushed back to the 22nd. Public Works Committee met on September 11th, 2014 and voted 6-1 in favor of demolition. Finance Committee met on September 17th, 2014 and voted 4-3 in favor of demolition. On September 22nd, Executive Committee passed the whole Capital Project package, which includes the Moor Mud Bath demolition, 6-1.

At all three county meetings, some committee members and staff stated false information regarding feedback from constituents, false information on how historic tax credits work, false information regarding parking options, and misconstrued ideals on cost savings, among many other inaccurate comments.

A full County Board meeting took place on October 28th, 2014, where the final County vote will took place for demolition. Thanks to all of your support, the board voted 14-10 to pull the demolition out of the capital plan. This will allow for a good RFP to go out for proposals for the reuse of that building. There is still a lot of work to do, including preventing any re-zoning of the golf course, but this was a huge step in the right direction.

Despite previous votes, petitions, meetings, and countless objections, demolition is back on the table for Moor Mud Baths. The County Board voted 15-8 to approve the RFP committee’s recommendation to NOT go forward on the project to sell the former HHS/Moor Mud Baths building, on August 25th, 2015. This means that the DEMOLITION of the building will be part of the capital projects in the County budget in September and October.

The County Board met on October 27th, 2015 and voted in favor of including the demolition of Moor Mud Baths and building 70 parking spaces into the next year’s capital plan. The final vote was 13-8. The total cost of the demolition project now totals $3.6 million, which translates to $51,000 per parking space.

Waukesha County has submitted a request to the City of Waukesha to rescind the local landmark designation on the Moor Mud Baths site. The county wants to demolish the hotel building. The total cost of the demolition project now totals $3.6 million, which translates to $51,000 per parking space. If the designation is rescinded, the golf course will no longer be protected. Their request will need to be approved first by the City of Waukesha Landmarks Commission on June 1st, 2016 then Common Council. The County must prove they made a good faith effort to sell the property to someone who would preserve the landmark site. We believe this has not been done, as the County put conditions that purposefully prevented interested parties.

City of Waukesha Landmarks Commission met on June 1st, 2016 and voted unanimously to reject the county’s petition to rescind the local landmark designation. The vote was based on the fact that they felt the county did not make a good faith effort to sell the property to a buyer that would preserve the landmark site. Keep in mind that although this is a victory, the county can appeal this decision to the administrative review board at the city.

Under chapter 28.05(4) of the city code, “Any person listed as the owner of record of a landmark site at the time of its designation, who can demonstrate to the Commission that by virtue of such designation the owner is unable to find a buyer willing to preserve such landmark or landmark site, even though he has made reasonable attempts in good faith to find and attract such a buyer, may petition the Commission for a rescission of the designation.”

The Landmarks Commission rejected the petition because they felt a good faith effort had not been made. The biggest factor that contributed to the commission’s decision was that the County had turned down a viable offer from Gorman and Co. for much needed senior housing. Some of the other facts that contributed to their decision were:

  1. The original resolution called for demolition or removal of the building from its site.
  2. The attempt to lease the building had a short 5-year length with numerous restrictions and expenses.
  3. The RFP had restrictions and lacked direction.
  4. The $1.3 million appraisal had extraordinary assumptions and hypothetical conditions, which led to an incorrect fair market value.
  5. The historic designation did not negatively impact the sale of the property.

The county has appealed the decision of the Landmarks Commission. The City of Waukesha Administrative Review Board will hear the appeal on Tuesday, November 29th at 4:30pm in room 207 at Waukesha City Hall. This is a quasi-judicial board so there will be no public comment. However, it is important for people to attend.

Information Summary Sheets
June 2016 Fact Sheet: Click here to download PDF
June 2016 Timeline: Click here to download PDF