Or more accurately, refusing to fall out of love in Roanoke, Virginia. Those were the sentiments I witnessed while circling about the town, passing by its endless cadre of abandoned buildings, all in varying shades of decay.
There are plenty of new buildings being built around town, too. Taubman Museum of Art, I’m looking at you. A recent addition, it was designed by Randall Stout who, no surprise here, worked for Frank Gehry for over seven years. This beautifully innovative building is shown below. However, it’s the only modern building you’ll see here, as it was the only modern building I found that possessed much character.
In town for the 8th North American Forest Ecology Workshop, I felt enormously privileged to spend my days in the lustrous Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center, where apples bobbed in water alongside great glass vats of various sparkling fruit-flavored beverages, across from platters of honey and chocolate creme-filled cannoli, homemade granola bars, ham and cheese croissants, and out-of-place hot dogs and buns. I also felt privileged to be sharing the conference center’s space with the Miss Virginia Pageant, of whom my most frequent sightings were the teen and preteen competitors. It’s safe to say our two groups remained easily identifiable throughout the week.
When not feistily taking notes, putting together my presentation, or eating my share of the aforementioned delicacies, I was out and about. I alternated between humiliating myself in attempts at long runs around town in the muggy evening heat, and taking pictures of the things I had noticed while running around town muggily. I definitely didn’t get mugged, though, as there seemed to be heavy police presence wherever I went. Maybe they had been warned of my arrival.
I quickly decided that it was the architecture I wanted to focus my attention on during my stay. When not focusing on trains, that is. I didn’t even buy any chocolate. Gasp!
I halfheartedly did try to buy chocolate from chocolatepaper, a shop selling (spoiler alert) chocolate and paper. However, my first time in the shop found me unexpectedly without my purse in my vast conference bag of goodies. My second time in the shop found me bored with their chocolate selection, so I went without. I ate another creme-filled cannoli from the Hotel Roanoke and called it good.
For the first half of my stay, I couldn’t help but think that the inhabitants of Roanoke had fallen out of love with their city. After all, abandoned lots and dilapidated buildings were on nearly every corner. As The Black Eyed Peas would soulfully query of Roanoke’s town planner, where is the love?
The more time I spent exploring, however, the more I appreciated what I was seeing. Unlike other places where old buildings are removed in favor of the New and the Improved technology, that was not the case here. New buildings are being built alongside the old, with renovations in the works for many of the older structures. In fact, the whole of downtown Roanoke is currently undergoing major revitalization efforts. The love is still there.
Renovated or not, these old buildings have character. While not a typical way of luring in tourists, I was successfully hooked by the style and grace that I found in architectural elements around town. And the (my counting skills are questionable here) 66- or 67-track rail yard on the west end of town didn’t hurt, either. I would gladly return to gentle, calm and somewhat sleepy Roanoke.
Roanoke is a convenient jumping-off place for exploring Virginia’s sector of the Blue Ridge Mountains. While my stay was brief, I made it out into the mountains once, to the beautiful Bottom Creek Gorge. I chased a snake, I took pictures of ferns, and I enjoyed chatting with others who, like myself, live to catalog every understory plant that they see in the forest.
For more information on exploring Roanoke:
101 Shenandoah Avenue NE
Roanoke, VA 24016
Consider splurging on plush accommodations at:
110 Shenandoah Avenue
Roanoke, VA 24016
And if seeing a tall waterfall (albeit not the state’s largest), old cabin remnants, and a huge 9-stemmed basswood tree sound up your alley, head to:
Located in Montgomery County, VA.
Open daily, dawn to dusk
If you go, enjoy yourself. Just don’t find the rare chestnut lipfern, because I didn’t get to see it, and I’d be hella jealous of you.