The Buzz: HISTORIC comfort

A few things are apparent when talking to Randy Bangs, who with his wife Sara recently purchased the historic Stewart home building near downtown Wausau and reopened it Friday as a bed and breakfast.


Randy Bangs inside The Stewart Inn, his third foray into operating B&Bs at historic homes in Wisconsin.

For one, Bangs loves architecture. On a recent tour, Bangs showed off the building details of the Stewart Inn, designed more than 110 years ago by famed Chicago architect George Maher as a home for the Stewart family. A particular arch theme repeats throughout the large, stately structure, on door frames, in wall trim, even outside on the porches.

Second, Bangs knows business, particularly the bed and breakfast business. The Stewart Inn is the third such place the Bangs have operated, all in historic homes. His first were near Lake Geneva and in Oconomowoc, where their Pleasant Street B&B earned mention to the Diamond Collection, an elite selection of inns with rigorous quality standards and inspections.

Bangs, a former MBA talent scout and consultant who once taught at the Harvard School of Business, found his calling in an industry that combines his training with his love of architecture and serving the public. But the Stewart Inn is set apart from his other properties for one other significant reason: The Bangs fell in love with the community.


B.C. Kowalski/City Pages

One of the rooms available at the Stewart Inn, which is once again a B&B for the first time since 2012.

“We love Wausau,” Bangs says, sitting on posh chairs in the Stewart Inn lobby, a space that manages to be ornate and luxurious while still warm and intimacy. “There’s a real reverence for tradition and history here. There’s a culture here. You go to Wausau’s downtown, you just don’t see things like that. Gift shops, Janke Book Store, Shepherd and Schaller — places like that make Wausau special.”

That’s important, Bangs says, because B&Bs are all about the experience. Besides staying in a luxurious old mansion, guests find rooms with amenities such as steam showers, wifi, and wine and craft beer. Bangs says that while many might assume that the average customer for such a place is a retired empty nester with a lot of disposable income, the biggest market for B&B inns are Millennials, who crave experience over price.

The Stewart Inn, at 521 Grant St., has not operated as a B&B since 2012, though its previous owners, Jane and Paul Welter, continued to use the building as a residence.

Architect George Maher was a contemporary—an equal, really—of Frank Lloyd Wright. He assimilated the English Arts and Crafts style into his early 20th-century designs, reflected, for example, in the massive fireplace inside the Stewart Inn’s library (formerly the office of Hiram Stewart, a pioneer lumbermen and mill owner in Wausau). The Stewart home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains one of the most intact homes that Maher designed. People from throughout the country have come to stay just to experience its architecture.

Bangs says B&B customers run the gamut of age and socio-economic demographics. For some the inn will be a place to lay their head after a day of skiing, shopping, or a show at the Grand Theater. For others, the historic building itself is the destination, Bangs says.