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Prime Focus

Hotel London 

The Fred Jones Building

Story and Interview by Teresa Nguyen

January, 2021

The hotel, which also housed a restaurant, was a favorite for the Myers Opera House performers visiting Janesville.

The Hotel London, now the Hilltop, in downtown Janesville, WI
Early Settlement

In 1843, a piece of land just up the hill from the heart of downtown was sold by the Village of Janesville and Rock County to a George H. Williston. The land would later become the site of one of Janesville’s most iconic buildings on East Milwaukee Street.

Fred R. Jones was born in London, England in 1854 and came with his parents to Janesville when he was just an infant. 

A Building Plan

In late 1892, construction began on the Hotel London, the Fred Jones Building, at 121 - 123 E. Milwaukee Street. Apparently, the Hotel London had exactly the same floorplan as a London pub in England. Fred R. Jones gave the plans to architect, Frank Kemp. The building was built in the Queen Anne architectural style. It was uncommon, at that time, for commercial buildings to be constructed in the Queen Anne style. 


It was the perfect location, right on the East Milwaukee Street hill at the corner of Bluff Street, which is now Parker Drive, across from the Myers Opera House. The building of the hotel contributed to the growing development of the area. It was completed and opened its doors in March of 1893, when Janesville’s population was near 11,000 and electric cars began to replace horse-drawn street cars. It was advertised that electric cars ran “from the depot to the hotel”.


The three-story building features a rectangular plan, a brick exterior, detailed exterior ornamentation, stone and metal trim and a flat roof. Beautiful bay windows hang from the upper floors and a very English royal-like turret on the northeast corner makes this one of Janesville's most intriguing and beautiful downtown buildings. A side door allowed boarders to access their rooms without going through the main lobby.

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The Hotel London's Turret
Photo by Pat Sparling Photography
Hotel Operations

The hotel was operated by Fred R. Jones and gave Janesville visitors easy access to the variety of growing downtown businesses. The hotel, which also housed a restaurant, was a favorite for the Myers Opera House performers visiting Janesville.
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Hotel London in 1908 - Photo shared by the late Christopher Rabuk
In a 1908 Janesville Gazette ad, Hotel London rooms offering heat and gas lighting were going for $6 per week. A “regular meal and short orders from menu” were going for 25 cents! Also listed on the ad were the words, “First class patronage only.”

By this time, Mr. Jones no longer owned the hotel and traveled on an extended stopover in California with his wife, Mary Elizabeth Jones. He was severely injured while getting off of a cable car and was thrown to the brick street, sufffering a serious head injury.

He was hospitalized for several days. Mr. and Mrs. Jones  had been planning to go on a tour of Mexico, but canceled their plans and returned to Janesville. 

Sadly, a few years later, Fred Jones committed suicide, believed due to mental instability he suffered from the accident. He is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville, WI.
 
The building was operated as a hotel and restaurant for many decades, changing ownership and management over the years.

Restorations and Registers

In the mid-1970s, sandblasting and restoration efforts on the building took place. And in the 1980’s the hotel building, which was still in good condition, was owned by Thomas P. Forrestal. The lower-level establishment was then known as the London Pub and was a popular place for burgers and drinks.
In 1980, the Hotel London, sometimes called the London Hotel, in Janesville was added to the National Register of Historic Places and again on the State Register in 1989. 

Another Fred, A New Concept

In 1995, the building was purchased by Fred Shahlapour and Jaleh Dabiri. In 1996 they opened a restaurant and bar changing the name to The Hilltop Café. The owners served delicious Mediterranean food and, according to Jaleh, they wanted to make it a different, inviting and a safe place to hang out. 
“We invited a lot of professionals for Business After Five events and raised money for various nonprofits and local organizations. Forward Janesville was so supportive of small businesses and we were members of the group. It took a long time for us to fit into the fabric of Janesville society, but we became a part of this community and very involved in community organizations. People have told me that they have learned a lot from knowing us.”

Between 2007 and 2010, Fred and Jaleh had a few tenants who hurt them financially which, in turn, hurt them emotionally. Unfortunately, this also led to false rumors about their reputation as owners of this beautiful historical building. They stopped renting for a while after that. 

Then, in 2010, the place was opened as a bar only with some food options. The couple created a lounge like space, where one could drink martinis, play board games, get together for book clubs, listen to jazz and easy music, have great conversations and meet new people.
Once a month a group of young professionals would gather for beer and conversations. The Hilltop had what Jaleh called “Creative Wednesdays” with poetry readings, open mic nights and evenings for special topics of discussion. It was a place where people could come at Christmas time and enjoy themes of Christmas from different countries or cultures. 
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Jaleh Dabiri
Jaleh described their objective, 

“We always wanted to bring people together, not to get drunk, but to help relieve the stress of day-to-day life, to bring the community and like-minded people together. People would feel as if they were in their living room with friends. Our goal was to create a place for everyone to add something to the culture of the community. And I feel we were successful with it.

I think Janesville needs a place like that. Janesville is so much more open now and diverse, heading in the right direction. The City of Janesville, along with generous donors and downtown organizations are really developing our downtown and I’m so glad. I’m so proud of this community.”
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The Hotel London in the 1960's
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Looking up at the Hotel London 
Photo by Pat Sparling Photography
The Future

The Hilltop International Pub has been temporarily closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the owners hope to reopen in the future. They are looking for the right person, someone who is passionate about the trade and skills, to rent the bar and grill and run it well. According to Jaleh, 

“It has everything ready, but it needs to be in the right hands, someone with a good work ethic, a good reputation and one who can be trusted. We think it’s a great opportunity!” 
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Original Hotel London Bar Sign
Photo by Joan Neeno
Richard and Joan Neeno, owners of Lark on Main Street, live in Fred Jones’ original home on Courthouse Hill.

They found the original London Hotel Bar sign at an auction a few years ago. The sign now hangs in their living room in tribute to the home's original owner and owner of the hotel.

According to Joan, there is also a letter J in a tile in the front foyer of the home.
Sources:
 
Interviews with Jaleh Dabiri and Joan Neeno
findagrave.com
en.wikipedia.org
newspaperarchive.com
The Janesville Gazette
rcgs.wi.org
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