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As skyscrapers go, it wasn’t that impressive: a mere 21 stories. But for Roanoke in 1991, the Dominion Tower was huge.
As Roanoke’s first skyscraper, the $40 million, 320-foot office tower was touted as a symbol of the city’s coming of age, the cornerstone for future growth and its first step toward the 21st century.
The tower exterior was illuminated by 135 floodlights with more than 30,000 watts, making it a beacon on the city’s silhouette.
Ground was broken on May 11, 1990. A giant balloon helped the crowd visualize the tower’s height.The project developer was Faison Associates of Charlotte, also the developer of Valley View Mall. The tower was named for Dominion Bankshares Corporation, its major tenant, and included a six-level parking garage.
The tower wasn’t the only development taking place in downtown. Norfolk Southern expanded its presence downtown with its new $25 million office building. First Street Baptist Church built an $8 million worship center, and the city had plans to build an $11 million parking garage.
All this construction was not without its issues. Downtown workers had to adjust to the daily presence of trucks, debris, dust, and noise – even the pigeons were said to be annoyed. Traffic patterns changed, including the closing of the popular Hunter Viaduct. There was concern about a shortage of parking.
The city had to buy a new 121-foot ladder truck to service the tower, and the fire department responded to numerous false alarms while bugs were worked out of the fire alarm system.
The last bucket of cement for the tower was poured on April 5, 1991. On October 18, the Moss & Rocovich law firm moved in as the first business tenants.
In lieu of a “Grand Opening”, the public was invited for free views of the city from the 21st floor on November 15 and 16, and Roanoke celebrated the 1991 New Year’s Eve with a fireworks display over the tower.
Also in 1991:
• The Roanoker Restaurant turned 50 years old.
• Ruby the tiger moved into Mill Mountain Zoo.
• The three-years-dark H&C Coffee sign was relighted.
• About 50 veterans braved the cold, windy weather to attend the rededication of the refurbished 65-year-old Memorial Avenue Bridge on Veterans Day.
Who knew all this stuff was in the now-Wells Fargo tower?
Roanoke-based Kinsey Crane & Sign Company has installed new signs with each change in ownership of the tower, beginning with Dominion Tower, First Union (1993), Wachovia (2003), and Wells Fargo (2011).
More facts about the structure:
• With 21 floors above ground (but no numbered 13th floor), the tower is the tallest building in Roanoke and western Virginia.
• The tower cost $34.5 million and the
garage $10.6 million.
• The painted copper crown consists of a 50-foot metal pyramid topped with a 48-foot spire and pays homage to the historic Hotel Roanoke.
• The top floor allows visibility of 25 to 30 miles.
• The marble came from Spain, the
granite from South Carolina, and the limestone from Texas.
• The tower contains 1,260 separate
windows on its exterior.
• The parking garage has 727 spaces.