The Future Airport Acres Neighborhood
Year 2001

a supplement to the Comprehensive Plan of
Blacksburg, Virginia


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A Builder's History of Airport Acres

James Pandapas

A recorded conversation with James and Anne Pandapas, at the home of Lois and Bill Patterson, 1993. Transcribed by Laurie Good. Edited by Mary Giles. Corrected by James Pandapas, 12/19/00.

When the first Airport Acres house was completed in 1943, it carried a Cambria address and its reason for being was the Hercules Powder Plant just outside of Radford. According to James Pandapas, who built the initial 60 houses in Airport Acres, When the War broke out, all construction beyond 14 miles of the critical installations like Hercules was prohibited. The War Production Board had to give a project like this permission, so to speak, to build. And it gave one the necessary priorities, with which to buy critical materials and so forth. And this project was within 14 miles of Hercules, so we qualified, whereas anything beyond 14 miles was just frozen.

At that time, the town was one square mile, 1,200 people. The College, the student body, was like 200. That was in the Fall of 1942. The College had practically closed except for one group of naval cadets, I think. They were teaching them how to fly at the airport. That was really the only activity that the College had. They had even suspended their other state-wide activity, like farm services, the extension service. It was really a ghost town. I should have realized that the project really wouldn't be welcomed. I didn't expect it. It was really a surprise after we got started.

The College didn't want this project. It was labeled as defense housing. And it's understandable. They just didn't want ... It was not appropriate. A small College town.

I should have realized that, but I didn't. And we didn't know about the objection to the project until after we had started. The first I knew about it was a guy came to my office, which was really just a field shack that I had set up before we started building, and introduced himself as the manager of the airport. He asked me what we were doing. He saw me using a transit, surveying and laying out the lots. I told him we were planning to build 66 defense houses.

He said, "You can't do that".

I said, "Really? Why not?"

He said the War Department had plans for underground hangers for this hillside.

And I said, "Really!? I didn't know that. Are you representing the War Department?"

He said, "No, I'm just manager of the airport. I thought I'd just give you a friendly tip, that you just can't build these."

I said, "Look, I can't abandon a quarter of a million dollar project." A quarter of a million dollars then was a lot of money. "I can't do that at just your say-so." I laughed in his face when he told me that they had planned to build underground hangers on this hillside. The airport was a whole lot smaller than it is now. You couldn't get anything but a Piper Cub out of it. Real small.

I apologized for laughing in his face. I told him that was the funniest thing I had ever heard. Incredible.

He said, "Well, you're in real trouble."

And I said, "My gosh, we didn't intend to interfere with the War effort."

In any case, he left in a huff and I heard no more about it.

I discussed it with my partners, who incidentally owned the New River Lumber Company. They had a plant here in Blacksburg and one in Narrows. That's how I got to know them.

Well, after the manager of the airport visited me, we laughed about it. They speculated on who it could be, because the airport didn't have a manager. We figured it was just some crank that was having fun. About a month later, I got a call from the director of the Federal Housing Administration [in Richmond]. F.H.A. originally financed the project. His name was John B____. I'll never forget the old man. He asked me what the hell I was doing here.

I said, "What do you mean? I'm getting ready to build some houses."

He said, "I know that. I've got a delegation here from Blacksburg, representing Blacksburg and V.P.I., that have a petition. I guess you're the builder."

I said, "What!"

He told me that the delegation claimed that I must have misrepresented the housing situation in Blacksburg because when the college practically closed down, all the garage apartments and basement apartments and attics that had been rented out as apartments were vacated. So there wasn't really a shortage of housing.

But I told him that the War Production Board didn't consider that. They considered the entire area. So it had been decided that the area within 14 miles of Hercules had a housing shortage. And anyone who applied to build defense housing was judged on that basis -- not on what the situation might be in the exact locality. I told Mr. B_____ that this was the first I had heard of the petition.

This man was quite astute politically. He had been appointed as Director of F.H.A.'s office in Richmond. Very fine gentleman. I told him that it was unusual that they would go to F.H.A.. Why didn't they come to me if they had any objection? I should have been notified of any objections.

"Well," he says, "they obviously want to cut you off."

Parenthetically, as a word of explanation, we had 66 F.H.A. commitments which provided that if we built the house according to F.H.A. requirements and sold them to people with approved credit, F. H. A. would guarantee bank loans for $3900 each. This gave us the option of either selling the houses subject to the F.H.A. guaranteed bank loans or we could retain title, close out each loan as the houses were completed, and rent them for $45.00 a month, as approved by the Wage and Price Administration in effect during the War.

Getting back to my call from Mr. B______, I told him that if I had fraudulently applied for these commitments, that that was a police matter. I could prove I did no wrong and that the delegation's efforts to cut off my financing were unfair and illegal.

Mr. B______ said that I must have misrepresented the situation, or I certainly wouldn't have gotten priority to building these houses. That stirred me, of course.

I asked him who these people were, what their names were. He wouldn't give them to me. This was supposedly not the political thing to do. He wasn't going to help me by telling me who the people were.

We weren't actually disturbed about it. We speculated on what might be happening, but did nothing. The very next day, I guess it was very close to the Christmas holidays in 1942, I got another call. And this was a Mr. John V______ of the Defense Department in Washington. Apparently the same delegation had left Richmond and gone to Washington to talk to the War Production Board into withdrawing my priority, alleging that this was a waste of defense materials to build 66 houses that were not needed during the period when that war material could be used for more beneficial efforts elsewhere.

Mr. V________ said he wanted me to know what he told these people. "There are six of them; five men and one woman, sitting in my office listening to our conversation on the amplifier phone. I told them I was going to call you to hear your side of the story and they could listen in."

He continued, "They allege that there is no housing shortage in Blacksburg. Is that true?"

I said, "It is true, since we moved here, a lot of student housing for large apartments, basement apartments, and so forth, have been vacated." I said, "I know because I was hoping to move my family from Narrows to here, but of all the apartments I looked at, there was none that I thought suitable." It would just be my wife and we had one baby child at that time. I said, "I would consider this really as suitable defense housing, but in any case I didn't misrepresent. All I had to present at the time I applied for my priority was the affidavit from Hercules that there was, indeed, a shortage of housing." And there were people living in garages and shacks and trailers and mobile homes. There was really a need for defense housing. And there were several projects in the area within 14 miles.

After I had told him and the listening delegation what my position was, I said, "What do I do now?"

He says, "I don't know, but you'd better go see a lawyer."

This was in December of 1942. The company had made about a dozen excavations, but nothing was completed at that time.

I told Mr. V_____ that Mr. B_____ at the F.H.A. wouldn't tell me who these people were. . ."Do you have any reluctance in telling me who they are?"

He says, "No, I'll be happy to tell you." So he read off the names. These six delegates. Five men and one woman.

I told them I'd find out what I could and call him back.

He says, "OK, call me back at 3:00 o'clock." He said the delegation had agreed to wait until you call back. This was in the morning, about 11:00 o'clock, I'd guess.

I got a hold of one of my partners who lived here in Blacksburg. He ran the Blacksburg branch of New River [Lumber Yard]. I told him what the story was and gave him the names. And he knew every one of them. And he knew also that they all had from 2 to 12 ( I think was the most anyone had) of these rental units. And so they were representing themselves and their private interests.

To check on whether they were officially from the town, we went to the Clerk's office, and the town clerk went through the minutes of the meetings from several months back and there was no resolution or anything objecting to the project.

To see if they had been sent by the College... we went to the President's office. . . We did get to see his assistant. And we told him what the story was and he says, "All I can tell you is that there is no delegation appointed by the College."

So I came back to my shack and called Mr. V_____ and gave him the name of the assistant to Dr. Burruss and his telephone number, the telephone number of the Clerk in the town of Blacksburg. And I also gave him a list of the rental units of each of these six people.

He said, "I sort of thought something like that. And I wanted you to hear what I'm going to tell these people."

And he dressed them down. I mean he called them everything but traitors. That they had had the effrontery to object to a project that the War Department decided was necessary in order to protect their own selfish interests.

I understood later that they walked out of there as meek as they could be. And he says, "I think you've heard the last you're going to hear about this." And he also told me again, "If I were you, I'd go to your attorney. I think you have something actionable... for these people to be doing this, alleging what they're alleging. I'd sue [them]".

This, of course, gave me reassurance so that I thought the whole thing was over. But after the Christmas holidays, we got a summons to court from V.P.I., enjoining what we were doing, which, in effect, told us to quit. . .[because] we were interfering with plans that the College had for the improvement of this land. And the College had the right of eminent domain. They could condemn any property, and in which case the court sets a price, a fair price, that they had to pay for the property.

It's just unbelievable what power, conditions and political influence they had. They ran everything according to their laws of what they thought was best for the College. And apparently, this delegation of people, some of whom were connected with the College, thought it was against the better interest of the College, or had convinced Dr. Burruss that this was going to be another slum project that was just inappropriate for a College town. The injunction, of course, didn't state that. It just simply said on such-and-such a date, we had to appear in the circuit court to answer the Court's injunction. In effect, the temporary injunction forced us to quit work and lay off employees just before the Christmas season. Any money we spent after we got this notice was not going to be recoverable.

So we went to our attorney then. Mr. W_____ was my attorney at Narrows, and he suggested that he would get in touch with their attorney John S_____ who was also a state senator at the time. But he also did all the legal work for the College.

John S_____ was really a dynamic man, and a very influential politician. As I said, he was senator, a state senator who aspired to go to a national level. Never did get there. Ran for governor and missed. In any case, was a reasonable man. Of course, he represented the best interest of his client. And he suggested that maybe it would be a good idea if we all got together, had a meeting, discussed the whole thing.

He told Mr. W_____, "You know, the College would give your clients relief. It owns land in other areas -- Prices Fork, and some beautiful farm land on the new Route 460 to Christiansburg and Route 114 -- that's closer to Hercules. They can't sell it to you, but you could all exchange the land and the College might even pay the difference and reimburse you for the problems you have had. I feel sure that F.H.A. will go along with the transfer."

They obviously were really serious; they just didn't want these houses built. In any case, we decided to leave work and go to this meeting.

We agreed to meeting in Burruss Hall in January of '43. And representing our company were the three of us -- the Mason brothers and myself. Keep in mind, they had a complicated situation, because they [the Mason brothers] sold a whole lot of material to the College. The College was their best customer. And they were in a delicate situation . . .

Of course, my interest was to keep going. We had already started the project and we had it in full swing. Actually we had started framing some of the houses.. We had poured probably a dozen foundations by that time. And we went to the meeting. In addition to the three of us and our attorney, there were Mr. S_____ and the assistant to the President. Dr.Burruss was not there, but his assistant was representing Dr. Burruss, and three or four other V.P.I. people, one of whom was dressed in a military uniform. A major in the Army.

And after the preliminaries and amenities, John S_____ outlined what the College's problem was. The College had plans for the expansion of the airport. They had already condemned Airport Road, which was the road leading to Christiansburg at that time. And actually cut it off. To extend the runways. And the Federal Aviation Administration was going to participate in the cost of expanding the airport. And one of the FAA rules was that a certain clearance, 1 in 20 off the end of the runways, and 1 in 7 from the side of the runways. There couldn't be any trees, houses, or any obstructions before they could qualify for assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration. And what we were planning to build was going to interfere with that clearance of 1 to 7. And therefore, the College had to have this property to make sure that nothing would be built that would interfere with this clearance requirement.

I asked the assistant to Dr. Burruss, "Why didn't you notify us before we started construction? When you found this out, why didn't you buy the land? It was for sale."

They had no answer for that. It seems that no one thought that anyone would be building.

And then, I said, "You knew that we were doing this." It was well known in town that we had started this project; we had advertised for construction workers and so forth.

And this man in uniform said, "Look, Jim, I came and I told you."

And I looked at him.

He said, "Don't you remember? That you were looking a transit and laying out lots, I guess. I stopped by and I asked you what was going on, and you told me that you were planning to build some houses. I told you that you couldn't do that. That the College was getting ready to condemn that land in order to qualify for FAA assistance for the expansion of the airport."

And I looked him straight in the eye for a second, and then with a loud voice for emphasis, I said, "Major W______, I respect that uniform you are wearing, but that's a damn lie."

And of course everybody stood up, expecting this man to lean over and hit me or something. And everybody was just really upset at my reaction. It was a lie. It was a damn lie. He'd never done this. I certainly would have remembered if a man in uniform had visited me with such an important statement.

But what he was trying to establish was that we had already ignored this notice, informal as it was, that we had had from the College.

And I said, "Look, gentlemen,..." and I briefly outlined the order of events since we announced our plans to develop Airport Acres -- how we negotiated with the town for our water connection and with the Appalachian Electric Power Company for our electricity, and the newspaper ads for construction workers. I concluded by saying "You all knew about Airport Acres for more than six months and did nothing about it. Now you are threatening to bankrupt us."

Then I said, "In any case, you're all playing dirty pool. And I, for one, am not going to stand for it. You're used to having things your way. And if this is the way you're going to do things, I'm going to have to do what I have to do. I'm going to leave this meeting and I'm going back to Airport Acres and I'm going to go to those lots closest to the airport, and I'm going to start excavating. And if I finish excavating, I'm going to start pouring concrete. And we're going to work around the clock until I'm arrested. And [when] I'm arrested, I'll have enough money left to buy a full-page ad in every newspaper published in the State of Virginia to tell the people of Virginia how you conduct the management of your institution."

And I left. And, of course, my attorney and partners followed me out of the conference room. My partners were really upset. After all, V.P.I. was their lumber company's best customer.

They got me real angry. This guy misrepresented having talked to me. And to show that he was lying, which was obvious to everyone in the room, he meekly kept his seat; he didn't even stand up when everybody else did, which was prima facie evidence that this guy was a liar. And had lied, of course, for the benefit of his employer, because he was employed by V.P.I..

And I did what I said I would. I came out and moved my excavating equipment such as it was, to the lot closest to the airport and actually had excavated the basement when my partners and attorney came. They said that they had "compromised."

And I said, "Well, what is the compromise?"

They said, "the College is going to buy six of the lots closest to the airport runway, and is going to remove the injunction. And you can go ahead with 60 of the 66 lots."

I was still mad. I wanted to sue them. I didn't want to go through with the agreement and wanted to take these bastards to court. -- young and impetuous at that time. ( I was born in 1915, December, so in 1942, I was 27 years old.) In any case, my attorney suggested that we go ahead and complete the agreement -- which was going to turn us loose and we could start building the remaining 60 houses, which we did.

The first house that was completed was on the corner of Fairview, now numbered 501 Fairview. Mr. Pandapas and his family moved into it in February of 1943. Once the construction process began, it went rapidly. Mr. Pandapas described how they accomplished the building so quickly.

We were well organized and we had specialists in all of the crafts and so forth. They knew what to do because we built 38 similar houses in Narrows and it was a valuable experience. We had the nucleus of an experienced crew.

The construction people that we picked up -- that was something else. We were scraping the bottom of the barrel. Construction people were scarce and anyone that had any skills at all was already working. Hercules had hired most of them. Others had left the area.

The saving grace was that we did have a nucleus of a good crew, an experienced crew from Narrows. In any case, we continued building efficiently in spite of the many problems. . You can imagine the shortages of materials. The shortages of labor. But they were usual problems at that time during Wartime.

For example, let me tell you about our water problems. We had negotiated an agreement before we started with the manager of the town water department. The closest main that they had to the project was a 2-inch line, that ended about a quarter of a mile on Airport Road, close to where the town limits were at that time. Our line continued along what was then called the Christiansburg road, or turnpike.

Unfortunately, the War Production Board wouldn't let us put anything larger than a 2-inch main, because there was only a 2-inch line to the point of our connection. So, we hooked up there with a 2-inch line. And we had to buy a meter, a 2-inch meter. Our corporation agreed to pay for whatever water went through the meter. For whatever the use was -- concrete, or later on, connections to the houses or whatever. They didn't want any kind of a deal with the occupants. They wanted one contract to cover the entire project. So we had to lay out the mains with just 2-inch lines, without hydrants. And without meters. But, you had to do things like that during the War, in order to save critical materials.

It was difficult to find materials. And if you could, if you didn't have priority, you couldn't buy. Like, for instance, the plumbing fixtures, the plumbing supplies, faucets and valves, and so forth. The best the War Production Board would let us buy were actually finished in black. You couldn't buy any chrome fittings, or any brass valves. And so they were all inferior material, although some of them were surprisingly good quality. They cost more than the original material that they replaced. The same thing with wiring. They wouldn't let us put but so big a box for the mains. I think it was a 60 amp box. That was the biggest we could put in. In addition to the 220 line to the range, we only had four circuits for the entire house.

And we had a lot of other restrictions. We couldn't get screens for the windows and doors. You couldn't buy a screen door, for instance. You couldn't buy screens for the windows. If people wanted to put screens up they had to have these temporary ones. But even with those restrictions, we tried to build a decent, honest house. It was admittedly minimum, but perfectly suitable for the young couples that they were expected to serve.

We had a lot of disadvantages, like, for example, we had other real problems. Like we couldn't buy sand. You can't imagine anything as elementary a problem in the construction business as not being able to buy sand. There wasn't any sand available in the area. The closest sand came out of eastern Virginia and came in by train. It was a beautiful white sand, but it was awfully expensive. It just made the cost of concrete prohibitive. The College used it because cost is not as big a factor. But we had to work on a very tight budget. We mixed our own concrete. We set up our own concrete plant but we couldn't buy sand.

Finally, we had to compromise and buy sand that some enterprising man over in Pembroke used to sell us, that he used to dig out of the bottom of the New River, where the New River made a sharp bend and deposited whatever sand was in suspension. He would dig this up and load it on his truck and bring it over to us. He would charge us $2.00 a ton, which is a reasonable price, except the sand was dirty. It was sand, all right, but it had soot, wetted silt, topsoil. There was no way we had of washing that sand, so we compromised and mixed that sand with the Petersburg sand. It was a compromise I hated to make, because of the economic considerations. . . In any case, we did mix it with good clean sand, so we came out with reasonably good concrete. That's what's in your walls. I'll tell you, you'll have a hard time drilling through it, if you ever have occasion.

We eventually mixed it with limestone sand which was a by-product in the process of crushing limestone into gravel. The local quarry people would screen out the dust and fine particles and sell it as sand. But it really wasn't sand. It wasn't cubical like sand has got to be in order to be good for concrete. But, any concrete you make using this limestone sand cures out as extremely hard concrete, but it was difficult to work with. It wouldn't flow, for example. You just couldn't fill a form, a honeycomb -- all that sort of thing. But we started combining Petersburg sand, limestone sand, and this dirty sand out of the New River to meet all of the necessary preliminary tests to determine what mixture was tolerable -- how much of the River sand we could use in order to get the flexibility we needed for construction that still wouldn't detract from the strength of the concrete. And we had to use it for plaster also. All our plastering was done with this dirty sand. The plaster was more tolerable because it didn't have to have any strength.

There is a crack that appears every five years or so across the center of the living room in each Airport Acres house. Mr. Pandapas was asked if he had any explanation for this idiosyncrasy.

Because the ceilings of the living rooms are the largest expanse between walls. Although we reinforced all corners between ceilings and walls with steel mesh and although we used metal corner beads to reinforce the exposed edges of the arches, there was no practical way to reinforce the plaster over rock lath in the ceilings, so the cycles of expansion and contraction because of temperature changes eventually resulted in the cracks.

Otherwise, we maintained high standards of workmanship as any comparison with similar housing projects would prove. For example, all our doors were hung with what we called "nickel and dime." You could put a nickel between the jamb and lock side of the doors, but the cracks between the jamb and the top and hinge side were no wider than a dime, a standard unheard of for housing in this area at that time. We built these houses to last longer than the length of the mortgages, but not expecting them to be in this good a shape 50 years later.

As we were finishing the project, Hercules Powder Company went through its periodic shift of products, which resulted in a huge lay-off. All of a sudden, there were vacant houses all over the area, many of them closer to Hercules, at Fairlawn, for example.

That was in the spring of 1943. So now we had real problems. Anyone that wanted to buy had to have $475 -- the difference between $3900, the F.H.A. loan, and $4375, which was the sale price of the house. Or, if they didn't have that, at our discretion they could sign a 30-month lease, with a lease-purchase agreement whereby they would pay $45 a month, $30 of which went to service the F.H.A. loan, and the other $15 a month would accrue to their benefit to offset the $475 down payment.

We sold only one house on that basis -- that was the second house, next to the one we lived in. To make a long story short, we kept finishing these houses, but nobody wanted them. And by the time, in September of 1943, when we had finished the 60 houses, 30 of them were empty.

When we found out we couldn't sell them, we tried renting them at $45 a month. When we closed the last F.H.A. loan, we had 30 vacant houses. Brand new houses that nobody wanted. Couldn't sell them, couldn't rent them, which presented a problem because although we had closed all the 60 loans, we now had to make the payments on those loans. And that was $30 a month a piece. Whether houses were empty or not, you still had to make those payments. The rent that we collected on half the houses didn't make up the payment, let alone other expenses that we had --maintenance expenses and so forth. So we personally, my partners and I, had to subsidize. So every month we had to dig deep into our pockets and come up with the difference between what we had collected in rent and what we owed. . . .

And we had other problems during construction. I remember we had the reputation of breaking the color line. Up until that time, no colored person had ever worked on construction projects in Blacksburg. All the building that was done at V.P.I. was all done by whites. I didn't have any policy one way or the other because no colored person had ever applied for a job.

We had an urgent need for painters. We hired everyone that claimed that he was a painter and we still didn't have enough painters. So this colored man came by and he was wearing the white uniform of a painter, and convinced me that he was a painter. He particularly liked to paint trim. This met a real shortage because none of my painters wanted to paint windows. So I hired him without giving any thought to the fact that he was black.

So, the minute he showed up to work, here comes this contingent to my field office. There were about a dozen of them. They were all painters. And by some fluke, they were all from Merrimac. So they as a group came to quit. They weren't going to work with any damn n____.

I was appalled. They wanted their money. And I said, "Gentleman, it's a free country. If you don't want to work, you don't have to work. But I don't have to pay you on demand But come Saturday, I'll give you whatever is due you. You'll get paid for every hour you worked."

So they all piled into a couple of pick-up trucks and I wound up with just one colored painter. The others didn't come back until the end of the week. They ran out of money, I guess, and we compromised. If any of them was offended working with a black man, I would let him work in a house by himself. Following up, the black man painted the trim around the windows and the doors, painting the inside of windows. So they all went to work, but none of them worked with the black man.

So that was supposed to be a compromise. But we got the reputation of breaking the color line. As for other trades, black people, some of them decrepit, some of them too old -- anyone who could claim that he had some kind of construction experience kept hanging around my shack, looking for a job. Some of them came to know me real well, calling me, "Master Jim, isn't there something I can do?" Obviously, some of them really needed work because we didn't have the unemployment relief systems that we have now.

At the height of the construction, the building crew was probably 50 people, all told. We did everything, plumbing, electrical, concrete work, concrete finishing, painting, plastering. This is the system I started over in Narrows when I first came to Virginia. And it worked.

At Narrows at that time we had good people. We had the pick of the crop. To give you an example, minimum wage was $0.25 an hour when I first came to Virginia.. I paid $0.40 for labor. Carpenters were paid $0.65 per hour --I paid $0.75. Paid at least a dime more than the prevailing wages for the classification. And of course I got the pick of the crop.

And we treated them decently. Gave those who wanted to work overtime, overtime. Those who didn't want overtime were not required to. We planned the projects so that there was always inside work to be done. So if we planned to pour concrete and it was raining, then the whole crew would go to the houses that we had and do inside work. Construction people were not used to working every day so we had employee loyalty.

V.P.I. continued to oppose the project and would not permit their employees to live in any of the houses. I went to Dr. Burruss and told him that their objection to the project was not only hurting me, but hurting the College. I said, "If you prohibit anyone coming to work for V.P.I. from living in Airport Acres, then I'm going to be forced to rent them to the very people that you don't want in your community."

To persuade Dr. Burruss to change his policy, I told him, "Houses don't make a slum -- people do!" I added that we proposed to be were very selective about who we would sell or rent to, because we had a vested interest to protect. "If you'll cooperate, we'll practically reserve these houses for the employees of the University so that it ought to be a nice congenial community."

Well, he wouldn't have this; he just didn't want to change his policy.

And then I said that I wasn't going to burn the houses down. "If I have to rent them to prostitutes, I'll rent them to prostitutes. I can't afford to leave them vacant." In the meantime my partners got tired of subsidizing and they wanted me to give them up, just let them go. Let F.H.A. do it. And just call it a war casualty.

But I couldn't do that because at that time I felt that housing was going to be my future, and I just couldn't afford to have the reputation of giving up on Airport Acres. In any case, I bought their interest and went to my banker, who was in Rocky Mount. That's another side story. V.P.I. wouldn't let either of the banks in town -- we had two small banks at that time, The Farmers & Merchants and The National Bank. Of course, the Board of Directors was mostly V.P.I. people. And so both banks were run for the convenience of the College and were not interested in our financing, even with F.H.A. guarantees.

It was just more-or-less a selfish interest from people who had influence with the administration of the College. We were going to bring 60 families into the community that only had 200 all -told. It was a significant addition to the town, which should have pleased them. So, I had to go to Rocky Mount for my financing.

I even went into the bus business -- Blacksburg Bus Lines --I bought an interest in that so that we could have a bus coming by to pick up tenants that worked at Hercules. You just couldn't get gas to drive your own cars, as long as there was other transportation. We did everything in the world that we could to promote the rental of the houses. We'd given up trying to sell. I even bought a grocery store downtown and moved it close to our project.

I finally got a break because two months after I bought my partners out, Hercules had another shift in production, opened up a new line, brought in new people. And all of a sudden the houses were filled. That was in 1945, in January, I think.

There were other problems, like we couldn't get telephones out here. We were the only ones that had a telephone. And we had that because when we finished the project I transferred it from my construction shack to my house. So, we had the only telephone on the project. If our tenants had to make an urgent telephone call, they had to come to our house, which was a perpetual nuisance. We eventually got a pay phone in the grocery store we owned. The tenants used that during the day, but they still had to use our phone at night. It was probably a year or so after the War was over before people could get [telephones].

We had other serious problems with the telephone company when it decided to meet the need for phones at Airport Acres. They wanted to set their poles along the streets for the most economical installation. I insisted that they should use the electric power company poles already in place along the rear of the lots. Persuading them and with the cooperation of the electric power company which owned the necessary easements, we finally prevailed.

Unfortunately, the V.P.I. resistance policy continued. We had a woman that, after the war, was over wanting to buy a house. She was single, but her boyfriend was coming out of the service; they were going to get married. He was going to go to school on the G.I. bill. And she wanted to buy the house, have it furnished, have it ready for him. And so, she made a $100 down payment. Oh, she wasn't sure whether they wanted to buy or rent, so she gave me $100 as a down payment, and was going to decide within the month whether to buy or rent.

And less than a month later, she came and she wanted her deposit back. And I told her that the deposit was a deposit, that I was going to go through with my end of the deal -- she just had to go through with hers, unless she would tell me why.

She said, "Well, I just changed my mind."

I said that I just couldn't believe that. "If you'll tell me why you're not going to rent or buy this house, I'll give you your money back."

Well, I guess she wanted the $100 because she said that her boss told her that she couldn't live at Airport Acres and work at V.P.I.. And I said, "You know, I could take what you told me to court and really hurt V.P.I.. You go back and tell your boss that I have threatened to do just that."

And I went back and talked to the assistant to the College president, and told him that they'd better stop this foolishness. The War was over and that I didn't have partners that were depending on the College for business. And if for nothing more [than] to retaliate for what they had done to me during the War, I was going to make their life miserable. He promised to talk to Dr. Burruss.

So, the word went out. But, they were also having problems because they were trying to attract instructors, but there was no place for these people to live. They weren't going to live in somebody's garage or basement apartment. And to prohibit them from living out here, was cutting off their nose to spite their face, so to speak.

In the meantime, Dr. Burruss died and John Hutcheson came and he didn't have the same kind of prejudice. We started talking directly to the president of V.P.I. and told him how foolish it was to maintain this kind of policy. As soon as the word got out, the houses filled. And when and if somebody moved, somebody else was waiting for it.

In the meantime, we got tired of the inevitable problems you have with rental projects -- collecting the rents, the deadbeats, people moving in the middle of the night, taking things that didn't belong to them, stripping the light fixtures, ranges and refrigerators. At that time, we were furnishing ranges and refrigerators, too. We furnished the appliances on some of them in order to rent the houses. We charged $2.50 a piece per month if they wanted ranges and refrigerators. And I got into trouble over that because I didn't have approval from the Office of Price Administration (O.P.A.) to increase the rent because of the ranges and refrigerators.

So, they all got the rental back that they had paid for ranges and refrigerators because it exceeded the $45 a month maximum rent that I could charge for the houses. So, we got rather fed up with the whole thing. . . So, we started selling the houses. As each house became vacant for whatever reason, we put it up for sale

Mr. Pandapas' father would quote an old Arab proverb to him. "I came into this world crying, while everybody around me was smiling, and then when the time comes for me to leave this world, I hope that I'll be smiling when everybody around me is crying -- smiling with the satisfaction of leaving this world a little better than when I found it."

I had that as my credo, that whatever I touched, I was going to do the very best I could. And I was determined to leave this world a little better that I found it.

As he reviewed this document in December of 2000, making corrections and adding explanations, Mr. Pandapas wrote, "I have never forgotten my wartime experiences with Airport Acres. Now, 50 years later, I am just as proud of it as I am with all the other, more impressive accomplishments in my lifetime. I believe I will die smiling."

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