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An Urban Comparison

Roanoke, Virginia

Roanoke is kind of a hybrid as cities go.  On one hand, Roanoke has many of the facilities of a large city.  On the other hand, Roanoke also reminds me of a smaller city in places.  Roanoke’s downtown business district also has a certain charm to it that the others don’t have.  Roanoke has the City Market District, and a combination of high and low rise buildings throughout.  Additionally, Roanoke gains some of its charm by not being part of a larger metropolitan area.  Washington DC, Arlington, and Alexandria are part of the Washington Metropolitan AreaRichmond is part of the Greater Richmond Region, which not only includes Richmond proper, but also includes Petersburg, Henrico County, Hanover County, and Chesterfield CountyNorfolk is part of the larger Hampton Roads metropolitan area, bundled in with the cities of Virginia Beach, Newport News, Hampton, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, and Suffolk.  Roanoke, however, except for a little sprawl into Roanoke County, is fairly isolated, surrounded by mountains and countryside.


As viewed from the top of Mill Mountain, Roanoke's business district is fairly compact, with the First Union Tower as the tallest thing around.

As viewed from the top of Mill Mountain, Roanoke’s business district is fairly compact, with the First Union Tower as the tallest thing around.


In Roanoke, if you wanted to put a name on the skyline in early 2003, you would probably say that First Union owned the skyline.  The two tallest buildings both had "First Union" at the the top of them.  This one, the smaller of the two, is the First Union Building, built in 1973.  It appears to have been built onto a previous First National Exchange Bank building, which is a different style from the tower next to it.  First Union's dominance of the Roanoke skyline would, however, end within three months of this set's being made, as the merger between First Union and Wachovia would be finalized in the spring of 2003.

In Roanoke, if you wanted to put a name on the skyline in early 2003, you would probably say that First Union owned the skyline.  The two tallest buildings both had “First Union” at the the top of them.  This one, the smaller of the two, is the First Union Building, built in 1973.  It appears to have been built onto a previous First National Exchange Bank building, which is a different style from the tower next to it.  First Union’s dominance of the Roanoke skyline would, however, end within three months of this set’s being made, as the merger between First Union and Wachovia would be finalized in the spring of 2003.

In Roanoke, if you wanted to put a name on the skyline in early 2003, you would probably say that First Union owned the skyline.  The two tallest buildings both had "First Union" at the the top of them.  This one, the smaller of the two, is the First Union Building, built in 1973.  It appears to have been built onto a previous First National Exchange Bank building, which is a different style from the tower next to it.  First Union's dominance of the Roanoke skyline would, however, end within three months of this set's being made, as the merger between First Union and Wachovia would be finalized in the spring of 2003.


The tallest building in Roanoke is the First Union Tower, built in 1991.

The tallest building in Roanoke is the First Union Tower, built in 1991.


Like the older First Union Building, the First Union Tower also has a low-rise structure on its side.  However, unlike the First Union Building, the First Union Tower's low-rise component appears to have been built at the same time as the tower.

Like the older First Union Building, the First Union Tower also has a low-rise structure on its side.  However, unlike the First Union Building, the First Union Tower’s low-rise component appears to have been built at the same time as the tower.


Next to the First Union Tower is a skywalk, the only one observed in Roanoke, leading across the railroad tracks to the Hotel Roanoke.  There is also a stairway down to street level across the tracks.

Next to the First Union Tower is a skywalk, the only one observed in Roanoke, leading across the railroad tracks to the Hotel Roanoke.  There is also a stairway down to street level across the tracks.


The Hotel Roanoke was built in 1882 in Tudor Revival style, and has grown despite the Great Depression and a fire, into the facility we know today, and is owned by Virginia Tech.


Next to the Hotel Roanoke, at the edge of the business district, is the historic Gainsboro neighborhood.

Next to the Hotel Roanoke, at the edge of the business district, is the historic Gainsboro neighborhood.


On the opposite side of the Hotel Roanoke from historic Gainsboro is the former Norfolk and Western Railway building, built in Art Deco style in 1931.  This building is now home to the Roanoke Higher Education Center, after having been vacant for some time.

On the opposite side of the Hotel Roanoke from historic Gainsboro is the former Norfolk and Western Railway building, built in Art Deco style in 1931.  This building is now home to the Roanoke Higher Education Center, after having been vacant for some time.

On the opposite side of the Hotel Roanoke from historic Gainsboro is the former Norfolk and Western Railway building, built in Art Deco style in 1931.  This building is now home to the Roanoke Higher Education Center, after having been vacant for some time.


Way off in the distance is another landmark on the Roanoke skyline, Saint Andrew's Catholic Church.  This building was built in 1902 in Gothic Revival style, and is the fifth-tallest building in Roanoke.

Way off in the distance is another landmark on the Roanoke skyline, Saint Andrew’s Catholic Church.  This building was built in 1902 in Gothic Revival style, and is the fifth-tallest building in Roanoke.


Of course, no matter where you look, you're likely going to get a view of the First Union Tower.  It's really hard to miss.

Of course, no matter where you look, you’re likely going to get a view of the First Union Tower.  It’s really hard to miss.


As Roanoke's history is linked to the railroad, it only makes sense for there to be a lot of railroad tracks around town.  In fact, if you look in the background of this picture, the skywalk from First Union to the Hotel Roanoke is visible, shown passing over the railroad tracks.

As Roanoke’s history is linked to the railroad, it only makes sense for there to be a lot of railroad tracks around town.  In fact, if you look in the background of this picture, the skywalk from First Union to the Hotel Roanoke is visible, shown passing over the railroad tracks.


I mentioned earlier how downtown Roanoke had charm.  This charm comes from features such as this four-sided clock, as well as a number of other features that I'm about to get into.

I mentioned earlier how downtown Roanoke had charm.  This charm comes from features such as this four-sided clock, as well as a number of other features that I’m about to get into.


One thing that Roanoke has in its downtown business district is signs on roofs such as these.  A number of these signs, like the giant Dr Pepper bottle cap, are considered landmarks by Roanoke residents.  One thing that Roanoke has in its downtown business district is signs on roofs such as these.  A number of these signs, like the giant Dr Pepper bottle cap, are considered landmarks by Roanoke residents.

One thing that Roanoke has in its downtown business district is signs on roofs such as these.  A number of these signs, like the giant Dr Pepper bottle cap, are considered landmarks by Roanoke residents.

One thing that Roanoke has in its downtown business district is signs on roofs such as these.  A number of these signs, like the giant Dr Pepper bottle cap, are considered landmarks by Roanoke residents.  One thing that Roanoke has in its downtown business district is signs on roofs such as these.  A number of these signs, like the giant Dr Pepper bottle cap, are considered landmarks by Roanoke residents.


Roanoke also has charm with the restored advertisements painted on some of the buildings' walls.  Roanoke also has charm with the restored advertisements painted on some of the buildings' walls.

Roanoke also has charm with the restored advertisements painted on some of the buildings’ walls.


And of course, charm also comes from the Center in the Square building, around which is the Roanoke City Market, selling fruit and so much more.

And of course, charm also comes from the Center in the Square building, around which is the Roanoke City Market, selling fruit and so much more.

And of course, charm also comes from the Center in the Square building, around which is the Roanoke City Market, selling fruit and so much more.


Beyond the City Market and Center in the Square is the Norfolk Southern Building, a postmodern building built in 1992.  It's most distinctive feature is its roof.  Beyond the City Market and Center in the Square is the Norfolk Southern Building, a postmodern building built in 1992.  It's most distinctive feature is its roof.

Beyond the City Market and Center in the Square is the Norfolk Southern Building, a postmodern building built in 1992.  It’s most distinctive feature is its roof.

Beyond the City Market and Center in the Square is the Norfolk Southern Building, a postmodern building built in 1992.  It's most distinctive feature is its roof.


Across from that is a modernist building, this one housing offices for the National Bank of Commerce.

Across from that is a modernist building, this one housing offices for the National Bank of Commerce.


Also nearby is SunTrust Plaza.  Making this building distinct is the picture of what appears to be a head wearing a hat at the top of the building, likely a remnant of a previous company to use this building, similar to the Bank of America Building in Norfolk's having "SOVRAN" etched into the top of it.

Also nearby is SunTrust Plaza.  Making this building distinct is the picture of what appears to be a head wearing a hat at the top of the building, likely a remnant of a previous company to use this building, similar to the Bank of America Building in Norfolk’s having “SOVRAN” etched into the top of it.


While some banks are in large high-rise buildings, First Virginia Bank makes its home in this attractive low-rise building.

While some banks are in large high-rise buildings, First Virginia Bank makes its home in this attractive low-rise building.


As low-rise buildings go, some have charm due to their features.  This building, home of Corned Beef & Co., has an outdoor eating area on its roof.  I've eaten here back when this location housed a place called Ward's Rock Cafe, and that outdoor eating area is totally awesome.

As low-rise buildings go, some have charm due to their features.  This building, home of Corned Beef & Co., has an outdoor eating area on its roof.  I’ve eaten here back when this location housed a place called Ward’s Rock Cafe, and that outdoor eating area is totally awesome.


One interesting thing about our world is that when the sun goes down, our spaces change.  The artificial lights come on, and a new charm comes about.  One interesting thing about our world is that when the sun goes down, our spaces change.  The artificial lights come on, and a new charm comes about.

One interesting thing about our world is that when the sun goes down, our spaces change.  The artificial lights come on, and a new charm comes about.


Here, the BB&T logo shines brightly in the night, making this otherwise fairly ordinary modern building from 1973 distinct.

Here, the BB&T logo shines brightly in the night, making this otherwise fairly ordinary modern building from 1973 distinct.


At the Norfolk Southern Building, the most distinctive feature, the roof, is illuminated.

At the Norfolk Southern Building, the most distinctive feature, the roof, is illuminated.


At street level, the lights bring the downtown alive as vehicles pass by and people enjoy the nightlife.

At street level, the lights bring the downtown alive as vehicles pass by and people enjoy the nightlife.

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Roanoke, Virginia