Making history 1 night at a time: The Hotel Julien Dubuque

Telegraph Herald Biz Times, January 10, 2019

In the Old Main District in view of the Mississippi River, a hotel has stood for 180 years, much of that time bearing the name of the founding father of Dubuque, the first city in Iowa.

The Hotel Julien Dubuque serves guests today, striving to represent history while making changes to incorporate modern standards. It is a part of this community’s story.

“Hotel Julien is one of the first sights welcoming visitors to Dubuque. It is our privilege to host travelers as they experience all our city has to offer,” said Dwight Hopfauf, general manager.

Spanning almost a block on Second and Main streets, the hotel has 133 guest rooms, meeting space for 400 and a restaurant and spa. It draws visitors interested in an old-world experience, but the building is not the first structure located there.

“The original hotel built at this site was the Waples House, named after its owner who was an elite Dubuque merchant,” Hopfauf said.

Peter Waples founded the hotel in 1837 — two years after the city was chartered.

It became a destination for travelers, featuring luxury furnishings and gourmet food.

The hotel flourished as Dubuque grew, leading to expansion and a new name after first settler, Julien Dubuque (1762-1810).

The hotel has a fact sheet on its history:

“Shortly before the turn of the century, the city rivaled Chicago in size and was fast becoming an important center for trade and commerce. The Julien was the focal point of this bustling economy and gained recognition as a gathering place for the city’s rich and famous.”

In 1913, though, a fire burned down the building.

“Construction of the current property began immediately following,” Hopfauf said. “By September 1915, Hotel Julien was again open for business.”

The lobby displays newspaper articles describing this time.

In the rebuild done by investors, the exterior included limestone and brick with a concrete frame to mitigate future fires. A Beaux-Arts style featured arched windows, symmetrical design and decorative cornices.

Louis H. Pfohl, purchased the hotel in 1962. He completed an extensive remodel blending traditional design with repurposed materials and upscale hotel services. His grandchildren operate the hotel today.

“During (Pfohl’s) remodel, many interesting and historical artifacts were incorporated into the décor, including the stained glass in the restaurant,” stated the fact sheet. This included using reclaimed exterior ironwork for decorative pieces in the lobby.

“The hotel has many unique features, but the one that stands out is the historic lobby,” said Sam Feehan, the hotel’s chief engineer for 14 years. “The lobby was restored to the original grandeur of the early 1900s.”

When entering, visitors see a mirror salvaged from Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City.

“The mirror was renowned as the place where every performer, including W.C. Fields and Will Rogers, caught a glance at their costume before they walked onto the Ziegfeld Follies’ stage,” according to the fact sheet.

Pfohl’s descendants made additional renovations with most recent work in 2007. According to Hopfauf, this included a $33 million restoration of the exterior façade and interior spaces, re-creating the 1915 look. Old photographs were used for authenticity.

Many prominent figures have stayed.

“The hotel has welcomed significant historical figures, including Abraham Lincoln, Buffalo Cody, Mark Twain, and the notorious Al Capone,” Hopfauf said.

Capone purportedly might have been a partial owner. Pfohl’s letters and interviews with employees describe Capone taking over the eighth floor with armed guards stationed. Today, guests can stay in a Capone-themed suite.

“Hotel Julien Dubuque has hosted a number of nationally recognized personalities from the film industry, including Kevin Costner, Kate Mulgrew, Charlie Sheen and Gary Busey,” Hopfauf said.

It was a shooting site in 2015 for ABC’s reality show, “The Bachelor.”

For some Dubuque residents, however, the Hotel Julien is more than its famous history. It is a part of their life story.

“I started working for The Fischer Companies during summer months off school,” Feehan said. “Once school started, I wanted a job that would allow me to continue employment. Hotel Julien is another Fischer property, so I pursued employment with them.”

He also is connected personally.

“One day I will not forget is the day I said ‘I do’ to my amazing wife of now nine years. We got married on the staircase going to the Grande Ballroom.”

Supporting similar positive experiences for guests is part of Feehan’s job. He, along with other staff, are the foundation for keeping the facility running and implementing new features.

“The owners are very receptive to ideas to increase the amenities provided and keep the hotel looking fresh like it just opened yesterday,” Feehan said. Recent developments include a geothermal heating/cooling system, reflective roof and shuttle van.

Hotel staff also view the business as a city representative.

“We think of Hotel Julien Dubuque as the community’s hotel,” Hopfauf said. “It has brought international recognition to the city with its appearance on ‘The Bachelor.’”

Hopfauf noted the Hotel Julien frequently is featured in travel blogs after bloggers visit then share their experiences.

“With Dubuque being home to international companies like John Deere, Flexsteel, A.Y. McDonald and IBM, Hotel Julien Dubuque hosts a diverse group of travelers on an ongoing basis. Our staff are proud to hear compliments from discerning travelers who frequent places around the globe.”

This year, the hotel will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its last remodel. Additional plans for more changes are being considered.

“It is an exceptionally exciting time in Dubuque right now,” Hopfauf said. “With new attractions, events and activities being introduced, we are thrilled to do our part in bringing visitors to the area and ensuring they experience all our city has to offer.”

The hotel’s vision is to help guests feel they are in “the right place, at the right time, all the time.” After almost two centuries in business, hotel staff say they have foundation for this to carry on.

“Hotel Julien Dubuque’s story is defined by the memories made by our guests.,” Hopfauf said. “Through our commitment to providing unparalleled experiences, we will continue to serve as the area’s premier lodging, dining, and event venue.”

To read the full article with a timeline of important dates in Hotel Julien Dubuque’s history, click here.