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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Poster celebrating the development of the Town Clock Plaza. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Jim Massey
TOWN CLOCK PLAZA. Iowa's first open tree-lined pedestrian mall, Town Clock Plaza was under construction in 1970 when the first changes in signage were made. In keeping with the city's URBAN RENEWAL and rehabilitation standards, signs had to be nearly flush with the building. Older signs had to be removed. Deteriorating buildings along Main and Iowa STREETS were torn down. Raised planters for flowers and shrubs were constructed. (1) Planners declared the result would be a center for business, finance, government, and culture. Named for its most distinctive feature, the TOWN CLOCK, Dubuque's downtown plaza was dedicated in 1971 by George Romney, then head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2)

On April 12, 1973, Dubuque MAYOR Joseph BITTER accepted an award given by Mrs. Pat Nixon on behalf of the American Association of Nurserymen. The award recognized the excellence in design and landscaping of the plaza. The site, featured in national publications, had its southern two blocks planted by Rettenberger Nursery Tree and landscape Service while the northern two blocks were planted by Nauman Nursery. The award given at the White House followed by one year an award presented by the American Association of landscape Architects to Barton-Aschman of Chicago for its design of the plaza. (3)

A minimum of sixty-five businesses was displaced by the urban renewal. Thirty-four went out of business, twenty-seven stayed in the Town Clock Plaza, twelve moved to the west edge of town, and the others relocated to a variety of places, mostly in the downtown area. The fact that the project did not develop as planned was blamed by some on the lack of an expressway running along the riverfront as planned by the architects. (4)

Promotional packet for the dedication and grand opening of the Town Clock Plaza. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Reverse of promotional packet. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

Led by community leaders like John Butler, efforts were made by the 1990s to convince the City to reopen Main Street to traffic. In 1997 the city staff proposed that at a cost of $1.5 million Eighth Street should be opened between Iowa and Locust and Main Street should be opened between Eighth and Ninth. Town Clock Plaza would receive improvements including lighting, furniture, and landscaping. The staff also suggested a future review of potentially opening 6th Street and/or Main between 5th and 6th.

To fight the recommendation, a group of business owners formed Concerned Citizens for Downtown Dubuque. A petition they presented to the city council called for the opening of the entire plaza and quickly as possible. (5)

Image courtesy Mike Day. Kendall C. Day family collection.
On August 2, 2002 the street was opened (ahead of time and under budget) to traffic after an official ribbon cutting ceremony. The day's festivities also included a 365 Lunchtime Jam following the ribbon-cutting and a All That Jazz type event in the evening. (6)
Commemorative token.

The Main Street corridor through the former pedestrian plaza was a combination of an open street and a pedestrian friendly plaza. The street was narrower than the city standard to promote slower traffic movement. The parking areas, where they occurred, were to have standard color curbs but red colored concrete, exactly like on Eighth Street. There were to be 33 metered parking stalls in this four block section (5th to 9th) of Main Street. Between Eighth and Ninth, three loading zones similar to those on Eighth Street would be included along with angle parking in front of Graham's Style Store for Men. Parking locations were based on individual property owner requests. The Town Clock remained in its present location. Traffic would pass it to the east and west. (7)



1. " 'Walkway' Begins to Take Some Form," Telegraph Herald, July 10, 1970, p. 15

2. "Main Street is Finally Open." http://partners.dubuque365.com/mainstreetproject/index.html

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. McDermott, Brad. "Petitioners: Tear Out Whole Plaza," Telegraph Herald, September 5, 1997, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19970905&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

6. "Main Street"

7. Ibid.