Visit: The Greenbrier Resort
Published on August 08, 2015
They say the classics "never go out of style." It's safe to say that a resort which has offered respite for twenty-six presidents, launched the career of PGA pro Sam Snead, and whose Dorothy Draper-designed decor treads the line between gaudy, trendy and magnificently vintage, can be classified as nothing other than classic. Current New York City gems like Carbone wish that their tuxedo-clad waiters and velvet wallpaper oozed with the class and authenticity of any of the rooms in the century-old resort.
The Greenbrier sits on the site of (so-called) mystical healing waters of a sulphur spring, now known as White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. In its day it attracted high-profile visitors and affluent travelers, including five early American Presidents, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, who came to "take the waters". As word spread of the healing waters' effect on ailments from rheumatism to upset stomach, the resort slowly took shape; first in the form of modest cottages, and then, a grand hotel. The hotel was constructed in 1858 as The Grand Central Hotel, also known as "The White" and later, "The Old White" by it's politician, industrialist and Civil War General visitors.
As it grew in popularity, and came into the ownership of the C&O railroad in 1910, The Greenbrier took shape as a resort of leisure for Southerners. During this time, it continued to expand, opening a renowned indoor pool, tennis and golf facilities, all the while continuing to host dignitaries, U.S. leaders and sporting enthusiasts. However, The Greenbrier hasn't always been a haven for southern hospitality and luxury sporting. It served as an army camp and hospital for both the North and the South throughout the Civil War, and an internment camp for Japanese and German diplomats in the 1940s. It was then purchased by the U.S. Army to be used as a hospital for wounded World War II soldiers. The U.S. Government also reached an agreement with the resort to build an underground bunker on the premises for Congress to reconvene, in case of a nuclear war. It was only decommissioned in 1995 after the end of the Cold War.
On the greens: in 1936, the resort hired an unknown local Sam Snead as a golf pro, who was just beginning his professional golf career. Joining the tour that same year, he won five tournaments, placed 2nd in the U.S. Open in 1937, served as the PGA Tour leading money winner in 1938, won his first PGA Championship in 1942 and The Masters in 1949, and still maintains his rank as the top PGA Tour winner with 82 wins between 1936 and 1965. He served as the Greenbrier golf pro for over forty years and held the title of “Golf Pro Emeritus” there from 1993 until his death in 2002.
In 1946 the C&O Railroad purchased the hotel back from the Army, and hired famed interior decorator Dorothy Draper to fully redecorate the property. Mrs. Draper also lent her eye to such classics as New York's Carlye Hotel & The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chicago's Drake Hotels "Camelia House" restaurant and Washington, D.C.'s Mayflower Hotel. It is this iconic look; the bright colors, multitude of patterns and "Modern Baroque" style, pioneered by Draper, that helped guide the resort through the modern age, and remains as one if its defining elements.
Draper’s designs are reminiscent of an acid-fueled fever dream. The patterns are wild and abundant, saturation is turned all the way up, and there wasn’t a swagged curtain she didn’t love. Ledbury top customer and local publisher Paul Spicer had the following to say "The Greenbrier fills that spot nicely for me when I'm looking for a place that understands the importance of tradition. While one side of my personality is always looking to discover something new, the other side of my personality is inspired by the traditions of the past. And it's one place that I've begun my own tradition in recent years, as I now bring my daughter to The Greenbrier every year in hopes of carrying on the tradition for generations." Thanks to The Greenbrier resident historian Robert Conte for his contributions.