Animal Vision Center’s New Home

Visionary Veterinary Practice Takes Up Residence in Historic Landmark

by Betsy DiJulio

Stately Georgian manor in Virginia Beach now welcomes four-legged friends in need of eye care

Unfortunately, I am well-versed in the look and feel of veterinary practices from Virginia Beach to Chesapeake to the Outer Banks: serious diseases in a succession of dogs have introduced us to a variety of generalists and specialists, all in anonymous, commercial-looking buildings in strip malls that are tension-inducing.

Recently, though, my dog Patsy and I were referred to the Animal Vision Center on Constitution Drive in Virginia Beach.

After winding through a neighborhood of single-family homes and apartments behind Pembroke Mall, we emerged in front of a handsome historic-looking red brick home. Sighing as I pulled out my phone to figure out where we had gone astray, I looked up to see a sign that read “Animal Vision Center.” In that moment, I felt my shoulders relax.

As I pushed open the front door, I intellectually knew I was in the right place, but I felt like I had just walked unannounced into someone’s lovely southern four-square complete with center hall, grand staircase, gleaming original floors, beautiful rugs, potted plants and fireplaces. My decompression continued.

We checked in at a desk in a welcoming parlor and were examined on two different visits in the living and dining rooms, respectively. Patsy is always a good sport, but I continued to marvel at how different these experiences felt for me. Here, the homey physical space—grand, but not imposing—wrapped around us in the most comforting and reassuring way.

According to practice owner, Dr. Heather Brookshire, at least 80% of patients remark at how they and their pets feel more at ease. Even when Brookshire walked in pre-purchase, “It felt inviting and calming. We knew it was perfect.”

It turns out this stately Georgian home is Pembroke Manor which was built in 1764 by Captain John Saunders, an heir of Adam Thoroughgood who was given the acre of land by the King of England in 1635. Most recently, following a short succession of owners, the property housed a private school and a technology company.

Listed on the Virginia Beach Historic Register, the Virginia Landmarks Register, and the National Register of Historic Places, the structure required little maintenance and few renovations before opening in early 2023 as the second location of Animal Vision Center (the other is located in a converted brick ranch home in Chesapeake).

Brookshire enlisted the services of several firms specializing in preservation and adaptive use, including architect, Gerri West, and landscape architect, Billy Almond, to make the slight modifications necessary to preserve the home’s character while allowing it to function efficiently as a veterinary practice. Almond describes the approach to the landscape design as “very simple, clean, and historic.” They amended the soil, hired a turf grass ecologist to care for the lawn, brought in an arborist to trim up and preserve the large sycamore and oak trees and resurrected the irrigation system.

A fairly substantial hedge surrounds the property. They removed the chain link fence and accented the periphery with ornamental picket fencing which will continue around the property in a future phase. To the right of the entrance, a low modest hedge encloses a quiet and shady low-vision garden, while hydrangeas soften the sign. Where there are beds, the metal edging is rounded to prevent injured paws. This minimalist approach to landscaping is in keeping with 1700s standards by which buildings were not surrounded by shrubs lest enemies hide amongst them.

West was impressed and refreshed by how committed Brookshire was to playing by the historic preservation rules. The exterior needed nothing other than a subtle wash of light on the front façade for safety and ambiance, as in Colonial Williamsburg. Inside, they removed a modern kitchenette from the reception parlor, returning it to its former coziness.

A pharmacy, office, break room, pre-surgical area and an operatory comprise the second floor. To help create a sterile environment in the latter, vinyl sheet flooring with an historic pattern floats over the original wood floor and West designed a clear acrylic box that fits over the fireplace to preserve its character while creating the sterile envelope needed for surgery. A commercial grade dehumidifier rendered the basement suitable as a conference/lounge area for hosting continuing education events and the like.

Patsy is doing well after a round of ointment and a few daily drops of eye wash. So, while I hope more ocular care is not in her future, I would be delighted to drop by Animal Vision Center just to visit.

Learn more:

Photos by David Uhrin

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept

Privacy & Cookies Policy