The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs

9 Oct

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As I was poking around this morning on Facebook I ran across a posting about the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. I was fortunate to have worked there a decade ago, due to fate and circumstance. At that time I was working with a display fixture company as a store planner and visual merchandiser, we received a call for assistance with their spa ( spas were “in” again during the 90’s) and the Greenbrier’s was in need of update.

I knew little about the history of the resort aside from the hidden bunker beneath it that was intended to house the government in case of nuclear attack. I traveled down,to assess the spa and pull together a plan for its re-merchandising. I will never forget my first impression as I passed through the gates. It was as if I had entered the grounds of the White House [not far from the truth] at one time referred to as the “Old White” there it was a sprawling columned palace. Azaleas lined the way to the portico entrance, this is going to be good I said to myself, and it got better.

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The uniformed doorman removed my luggage and parked my car as I entered the black and white lower lobby. My design senses reeled as I realized I had entered a decor time capsule. It was as if I had entered a Cedric Gibbons designed set for “The Women” old school Hollywood chic to die. This is the moment I realized who Dorothy Draper was in the history of interior design. Dramatic simplicity, bold color against black and white, azalea patterned wall paper, over scaled federal plaster details. A true sense of style, not trendy fashion. The management had retained the design footprint that Draper had put in place just after the government returned the resort to private ownership. The Greenbrier served as a military hospital during WW2.

This must be what heaven looks like

This must be what heaven looks like

I was shown to my room, another combination of American Federal style mixed with Draper verve. As I unpacked I noticed a posting in my closet that stated the various dress codes, for the dining rooms, needless to say it was very coat and tie, as it should be in a part of history like the Old White. This place was the playground of the southern aristocracy for two hundred years and played host to European royalty on more than one occasion. General Lee delivered his farewell to the confederacy and his supporters in the dining room. The Greenbrier is an integral part of American history it’s only correct to respect its decorum and dress the part. I spent my first night in total awe of the decor. Each room was grander and more glamourous than the last. Dorothy knew her stuff.

Can't you just see the the Duke of Windsor here.

Can’t you just see the Duke of Windsor here.

My short tenure there was the most pleasant I have ever experienced. The cooperation by all those I worked with was of the highest standards. I was delighted to be allowed in the storage areas to retrieve Draper pieces to create a guest room vignette in the spa ( I was in prop heaven rooting around in that attic) I had lunch in the employee dining room and a tour of the vast kitchens, nothing thrills me more than “back of house” tours. Yes I did see the bunker, which I must say was nothing compared to the splendor of the hotel. Pure institutional drab, a museum display of a typical sleeping cot, the morgue for those who might die in residence and the decontamination showers.

The Bunker entrance

The Bunker entrance

The resort has a new ownership since my stay and I hear that much has changed. The golf courses are public now. The bunker is now a casino and the elegant formal dining room is a steak house. Times change and to survive the Greenbrier has to appeal to a wider audience. Today’s guests are not the idle rich who once spent an entire season, honeymoon couples now spend a week to golf, hike and “take the waters” in the spa. I’m pleased that it still exists intact, and has not succumbed to some horrible real estate development.

Cocktails?

Cocktails?

In retrospect I was fortunate to experience the Greenbrier 10 years ago when it still retained much of its Southern etiquette and formality, that earned its fame as the as America’s premier resort.

The Spa 

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What it was when I was there.

What it was when I was there.

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My attic finds

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The Pool

The Pool

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The pool promenade

and a few more shots

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Trellis decor

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RED! and buttoned tufted luxury

A place in the country

A place in the country

Take a look at Messy Nessys post that sent me off longing for past jobs…be great if we could lock them up right now and forget the combination.

http://www.messynessychic.com/2013/10/09/the-luxury-hotel-with-a-secret-cold-war-bunker-built-for-congress/

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