When John Anstey ’93 told people he planned to renovate a boarded up 1950s gas station into the headquarters for his Roanoke advertising firm, he received one of two reactions.
“They would either say ‘You’re crazy’ or ‘You’re a visionary,’ ” Anstey said with a chuckle. “And there were various points along the process where I had both feelings.”
Anstey has always loved old buildings. But the idea for the dramatic transformation from dilapidated gas station to art deco office space likely had its beginnings in an elective class the English major took at Mary Washington. That historic preservation class, taught by Associate Professor Gary Stanton, piqued Anstey’s interest in preserving the past.
The textbook featured a former gas station that had been converted into a visitors center. “That was probably in the back of my mind during this whole process,” Anstey said.
The building transformation took about six months once construction began. Before the first brick was moved, though, Anstey worked with an architect and a historic preservation consultant on planning. An engineer certified that the site was environmentally safe.
The character-rich building was a bustling Schneider’s Sunoco service station in its heyday of 1950 to 1956. It was home to OK Rubber Tire Station for the next 30 years, and was briefly a car care service in the 1980s. The building then fell into such disrepair locals knew it as an eyesore as they exited the expressway toward downtown Roanoke.
Anstey faced one big renovation challenge: bathrooms. The building still had 1950s-era service station restrooms, accessible only from outside. Fashioning more traditional facilities meant cutting through concrete walls and closing the outside entrances.
The floor of the service station had different levels because of service bays, so some concrete floors were repoured to bring the building up to modern code.
One late summer afternoon, about halfway through the renovation project, Anstey had a moment of fear. About 40 percent of the building’s back wall had been torn down, and he could see the Roanoke skyline through the gaping hole.
“I remember being worried and thinking, ‘This is all going to come together, right?’ ”
Anstey’s wife, Kara Matala ’94, a family physician, had encouraged him to take on the renovation. Each day during construction, the couple brought their daughters, Anna and Charlotte, to see the progress. They took photos of the girls standing on the rocks at the site, giant holes in the building behind them.
Because the project preserved the historic integrity of the building – keeping such features as the roll-up doors, concrete floors, and porcelain panel façade – it qualified for state and federal historic tax credits. The Roanoke Valley Preservation Society presented Anstey Hodge Advertising Group with an adaptive reuse award for repurposing the space.
“I always saw the potential, even with the roof falling in,” Anstey said, “that it had much promise to be raised from the ashes.”