Recently I visited the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia for a banker’s conference (don’t ask!). The resort itself dates back to 1778 when the first guests came to White Sulfur Springs to “take to the waters”. During the Civil War, the Grand Central Hotel, better known as “The Old White”, was used as a hospital alternately for both sides. In 1910, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway purchased and expanded the property. Part of the traveling set’s circuit in the 1920s and 30s, President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson spent their Easter holiday at The Greenbrier, and Joseph and Rose Kennedy traveled down from Boston for their October honeymoon.
After the US entered World War II, German, Japanese and Italian diplomats were relocated to the resort for seven months, until they could be sent home in exchange for American diplomats stranded overseas. The US Army then purchased the resort and used it as the Ashford General Hospital. In 1946, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway reacquired the property and hired the renowned interior decorator Dorothy Draper to redecorate.
Responsible for American Baroque, or the new Modern Baroque style, Draper’s work is known for bright, exuberant colors, large prints that encompass entire walls, black and white tiles, rococo scrollwork, and baroque plasterwork. Other than the Greenbrier, some of her best known projects include the lobby of the Carlyle Hotel, the buildings at Sutton Place, and the Fairmont and Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco. Locations that underwent her iconic makeovers were said to have been “Draperized”.
At the Greenbrier, Draper designed everything from matchbook covers to menus to staff uniforms. This consummate attention to detail revealed how she took control in all design aspects and completely transformed everything about the spaces she designed. Its reopened in 1948 and Sam Snead returned as golf pro to the resort where his career began in the late 1930s.
Draper remained the resort’s decorator into the 1960s, and upon her retirement, her protégé Carleton Varney purchased the firm and he continues today as The Greenbrier Designer/Curator and President of Dorothy Draper & Co. In 2009, local billionaire Jim Justice purchased the resort and added a casino.