Couple seeking to purchase Blair House thrilled with lawsuit’s dismissal
Hope to convert historic house into bed-and-breakfast

By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff

Dec. 10, 2015

WAUKESHA — Lisa Salb said she broke into tears in the courtroom after the judge made her decision Tuesday.

Today marks exactly 22 months to the date since she and her husband, Bob, made a $1,000 offer to the city of Waukesha to purchase the nearly century-and-a-half-year-old Blair House, with plans of turning it into a bed-and-breakfast.

That process had been delayed for more than a year by a lawsuit brought forth by Waukesha Masonic Lodge No. 37, whose members sued the city last September, claiming they were the rightful owners of the Madison Street residence.

But following a trial Tuesday, Waukesha Circuit Court Judge Kathryn Foster tossed the suit, saying the Masons had failed to prove the city had put the house to impermissible uses.

“We were elated,” Salb said. “I started crying because it had been so long, so so long.”

The Masons filed the suit against last year, claiming the city had violated the last will and testament of Henry E. Blair, who was mayor of Waukesha in the 1920s.

Blair passed away in 1957 and left the 138-year-old Italianate- style brick home to the city, saying in his will that the city couldn’t use it for commercial purposes, storage, a tool shed or warehouse. He also said in the will that the city could sell the property, but it had to use the proceeds for a “civic purpose such as playgrounds, schools, parks or hospital work,” according to court documents.

The approximately 6,000square-foot building has housed various nonprofits including Safe Babies Healthy Families, and also has been affiliated with Pro-Health Care.

“We agreed that the lawsuit was frivolous from the start,” Salb said, “so for it to have taken so much time ... and the judge made it clear that the city had not violated the will.”

Following Foster’s ruling, the Masons have 30 days to file an appeal, otherwise the Salbs can once against move forward with their plans to renovate the house.

Eugene Johnson, who represented the Masons during the trial, could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

‘We can’t wait to get started’

A member of the Waukesha Preservation Alliance, Salb said she got a firsthand look at the historic home while serving as a docent during one of the organization’s “Preservation Days” events in May 2013.

“It’s the perfect location,” she said, “and the way it is now, with the beautiful dining room and the solarium off the back ... I had just seen that it had possibilities.”

Salb, who is an architectural designer with Bielinski Homes in Pewaukee, could immediately see how she and her husband’s plans to renovate the house could work.

She said they have a five-year plan to make the house guest-ready, which includes some work on the inside.

In March, the Common Council unanimously rejected another offer — this one for $110,000 from Taylor’s Rental Property LLC — that would have seen the Blair House torn down and replaced with rental properties.

During that meeting, Salb told the council that the house’s condition did not warrant demolition, and she and her husband planned to preserve it and all its historic details.

“We had told (Waukesha City Attorney) Brian Running that we were in it for the long run,” she said Wednesday. “We can’t wait to get started.”