The granite and brick building stretched skyward to a height never before seen in Roanoke. Unveiled in 1910, it stood seven stories high, a testament to the very latest in turn-of-the-century technology as well as the wave of new prosperity that swept through the young city after the arrival of the railway.
The downtown structure, built to serve as the new headquarters for Roanoke’s first bank, greeted visitors with marble floors, columns inspired by the Temple of Apollo, and carved rose windows.
The building, which remains one of the best-preserved examples of Edwardian-era architecture in Virginia, was designed with painstaking care to convey a message: Roanoke had arrived.
“It really became, for lack of a better term, one of the first skyscrapers of that era,” said local historian Nelson Harris. “It was a symbol of the progress and prosperity of Roanoke at that time.”
“There had just been a population explosion and tremendous growth in the economy of Roanoke because of the railroad which created a lot of business and personal wealth in the community,” he explained. “You had a robust city, commercially, socially, culturally… It was reflected in the construction of what became known as the Liberty Trust building.”
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Today, the Liberty Trust building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, begins a new chapter and takes another milestone for the downtown area.
This spring, the building, which had recently been used as rented office space, debuted with the results of a multimillion-dollar restoration and renovation that converted its office suites into a range of guest rooms. boutique hotel.
The new hotel, dubbed The Liberty Trust, celebrated its grand opening in May after a soft launch that began in mid-March.
The 54-room luxury accommodations were part of a long-standing vision to attract more accommodation options to downtown as Roanoke’s tourist economy grows. The downtown core, for years, had only one hotel, albeit the iconic Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center.
It wasn’t until 2016 that a second hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites on Church Avenue, opened. The Liberty Trust is the third operation to join the district, and the first boutique hotel.
The hotel redevelopment marked the first project undertaken by Fairfax-based Savara Hospitality in the area.
“We always keep our pulse on destinations that are increasing in terms of visitors and have a lot of exciting things,” said Vishal Savani, managing director of the hotel group. “And Roanoke has had some fantastic developments over the last seven or eight years; everything from the growth of its outdoor recreation to the way the city center has seen so much development with new apartments, restaurants and attractions.
“We had our eye on Roanoke for a while.”
Savara Hospitality, which specializes in working with historic properties, first purchased the building at 101 S. Jefferson St. in 2018 with plans to open the hotel in 2020. The pandemic disrupted that timeline, but work was able to get back on track, most visibly manifested in the scaffolding that surrounded the building as crews embarked on a months-long process to carefully restore the ornamental parapet that lines the roof of the structure.
This kind of attention to detail in the renovation was remarkable, said Alison Blanton, an architectural historian at Hill Studio who consulted on the project. It speaks to the developer’s belief in honoring even the smallest aspects of the building’s history.
It is also in line with the effort and thought put into the building during its construction.
“The building is so well articulated and detailed,” Blanton said. “Nothing went without a flourish. Even on the cornice parapet at the very top, which you can barely see from the street, it’s extremely detailed. It’s just a great architectural expression of those neo-Renaissance styles that bring all these classic patterns into play.
The building was designed by one of Virginia’s leading architects of the time, John Kevan Peebles, whose resume included work on the restoration of the Virginia State Capitol and on the grounds of the University of Virginia.
The structure, marked by French Renaissance and Beaux-Arts influences, originally served as the new headquarters of the rapidly growing First National Bank. It was Roanoke’s first financial institution. Its founding was directly stimulated by the needs of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, a precursor to the formation of the Norfolk & Western Railway.
The seven-story building was the tallest in the city at the time. This engineering feat was made possible by early advances in technology, including better fire-retardant materials and the arrival of the electric lift, both of which made building higher a more accessible and safer option.
The building was a “landmark of modernity” when it began in 1910, according to its appointment to the Historic Register. It remained occupied by banks in one form or another for decades, including the Liberty Trust Company, which called it home for 20 years.
Savara Hospitality said the budget for the restoration and conversion of the building into hotel rooms was in the seven figures, although he declined to discuss the numbers in detail.
The project celebrated its inauguration during National Travel and Tourism Week. The new hotel comes online at a time when the industry is eagerly anticipating a rebound in its numbers as travel and events resume.
Savani, of Savara Hospitality, said the response to The Liberty Trust opening had been excellent in its first few weeks. The hotel was booked by travellers, group events and organizations during a recent week in May.
In addition to its rooms, the hotel offers a venue for events and meetings. It also plans to add a restaurant and bar to its lobby later this summer.
A tenant for the restaurant area is being finalized. The currently anticipated concept revolves around small plates and signature cocktails.
Regional leaders called the timing of the hotel’s opening particularly fortuitous, noting in part its proximity to the Amtrak hub just around the corner and plans to bring in a second daily passenger train. to the city later this year.
Harris, who in addition to being a historian is also a cabinet minister and former mayor, said the hotel project was a welcome investment in the city.
Attracting this kind of engagement from experienced external developers bodes well for the city and its own path, he added.
“Having Roanoke on their radar screen, I think, says a lot about the vibrancy of downtown,” Harris said. “It’s an affirmation that the city is vibrant and moving forward.”