Main entrance in 2011
|Address||300 W. Main Street|
|Town or city||White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia|
|Opened||September 25, 1913|
|Owner||Justice Family Group|
|Grounds||11,000 acres (4,500 ha)|
|Number of rooms||710|
|Number of suites||33|
|Number of restaurants||9|
|Number of bars||11|
|Location||Greenbrier County, near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia|
|Architect||John H.B. Latrobe et al.|
|Architectural style||Classical revival, Federal|
|NRHP reference No.||74002000|
|Added to NRHP||October 9, 1974|
|Designated NHLD||June 21, 1990|
Since 1778, visitors have traveled to this part of the state to "take the waters" of the area. Today, The Greenbrier is situated on 11,000 acres (4,500 ha) of land with 710 guest rooms, 20 restaurants and lounges, more than 55 indoor and outdoor activities and sports, and 36 retail shops.
The current Greenbrier was built in 1913 by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and was owned for much of its history by that company and its successors, Chessie System and CSX Corporation. Following years of heavy losses, CSX placed the hotel into bankruptcy in 2009. Justice Family Group, LLC, a company owned by local entrepreneur Jim Justice, subsequently bought the property and guaranteed all debts, resulting in dismissal of the bankruptcy. Justice promised to return the hotel to its former status as a five-star resort and to introduce "tasteful" gambling for guests to increase profit. The Greenbrier Hotel Corp. today operates as a subsidiary of Justice's company.
The Greenbrier is also the site of a massive underground bunker that was meant to serve as an emergency shelter for the United States Congress during the Cold War. The bunker was code named "Project Greek Island," and Fritz Bugas was the former onsite superintendent.
A spring of sulphur water is at the center of the resort property. It is surrounded by the white-columned spring house, topped by a green dome that has been the symbol of The Greenbrier for generations. Beginning in 1778, Mrs. Anderson, a local pioneer, adopted the local Native American tradition of "taking the waters" to relieve her chronic rheumatism. Based on this resource, for the first 125 years, the resort was known by the name White Sulphur Springs. It was a destination for people during the summers who wanted to escape coastal heat and diseases.
The property was acquired by the Calwells, a prominent Baltimore family. They developed the large property as a resort, selling cottages, many of which still stand today, to prominent Southern individuals. Notable guests of the early 19th century included Martin Van Buren and Henry Clay.
In 1858, they built a huge hotel building on the property. The Grand Central Hotel came to be known by the moniker "The White" and, later, "The Old White". During the Civil War, the property changed hands between forces of the Confederate Army and the Union Army, who almost burned the resort to the ground.
Following the Civil War, the resort reopened. It became a place for many Southerners and Northerners alike to vacation. It was the setting for some notable post-war reconciliations. The "White Sulphur Manifesto", the only political paper published by Confederate General Robert E. Lee after the Civil War, advocated the merging of the two societies. The resort became a center of regional post-war society, especially after the arrival of the railroad. Beginning in 1869, it provided direct service to the resort's gates.
In 1910, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway purchased the resort property, building additional amenities, including the current bath wing, which opened in 1911. The C&O's improvements culminated with the construction of a colossal six-story, 250-room hotel building, which forms the central wing of today's hotel. Designed by British-born American architect Frederick Julius Sterner, it opened on September 25, 1913. At this time, what had for decades been a summer establishment was converted to a year-round resort, and the name was officially changed to The Greenbrier, after the neighboring county. The neighboring town had incorporated in 1909 and adopted the name White Sulphur Springs, which the resort had previously used. The railroad also introduced the game of golf, which became a defining feature of the resort. The first small course was opened in 1910, and a full 18-hole course, designed by Charles B. Macdonald, opened at The Greenbrier in 1913. That original course is today known as "The Old White TPC". The historic Old White Hotel structure was demolished in 1922 because it failed to meet then-current fire codes. In 1931, completion of the north wing, crossing the original 1913 wing like a "T", nearly doubled the size of the hotel.
Just after the United States entered World War II, the resort was called on December 17, 1941, to serve as a relocation center for Axis diplomats who were in the United States and had been interned as enemies of the United States. The first detainees were Germans; later, they were joined by Japanese diplomats previously interned at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia. The hotel served as a diplomatic detention center until July 8, 1942.
The hotel briefly reopened for the 1942 season, but was soon commandeered by the U.S. Army for use as a hospital. The Army paid $3.3 million for the property, which had been valued at $5.4 million, and took over control of the property on September 1, 1942. They converted the resort to a 2000-bed hospital, known as Ashford General Hospital, named for Bailey Ashford, a noted Army doctor. The hospital opened on October 16, 1943. The hospital treated nearly 25,000 patients before closing on June 30, 1946. The property was sold back to the C&O railroad for just under the $3.3 million they had been paid in 1942.
C&O hired internationally renowned interior designer Dorothy Draper to completely redecorate and restore The Greenbrier. Draper oversaw every element of the design of the property in her trademark style: combining bold colors, classical influences and modern touches, and the work took two years. The Greenbrier's reopening, celebrated from April 15 to April 18, 1948, was an international social event of the season. It attracted such luminaries as the Duke of Windsor and his wife, Wallis Simpson (who had spent her honeymoon with her first husband at The Greenbrier in 1916), Bing Crosby, and members of the Joseph Kennedy family. Since the late 20th century, the resort has hosted several presidents and vice-presidents, in addition to foreign dignitaries such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, and Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco.
The Greenbrier resort has played host to several important international meetings. During World War II, future Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson, then assigned to the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C., was among the illustrious guests planning the Allied effort for resources allocation. The U.S., Mexican, and Canadian leaders met at the Greenbrier in 1955 for international discussions.
In the late 1950s, the U.S. government approached The Greenbrier for assistance in creating a secret emergency relocation center to house Congress in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. The classified, underground facility, named "Project Greek Island", was built at the same time as the West Virginia Wing, an above-ground addition to the hotel, from 1959 to 1962.
Although the bunker was kept stocked with supplies for 30 years, it was never used as an emergency location, even during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The existence of the bunker was not acknowledged by the government; Ted Gup of The Washington Post reported it in a 1992 story. Immediately after publication of the Post story, the government decommissioned the bunker. The facility has since been renovated. It is also used as a data storage facility for the private sector. It is featured as an attraction in which visitors can tour the now declassified facilities, known as The Bunker.
On March 20, 2009, the resort filed for bankruptcy, listing debt of up to $500 million and assets of $100 million. It had suffered from competition from a wide variety of resorts, and declining traffic since the postwar period as patrons shifted to destinations they could reach by automobile. The resort lost $35 million in 2008 and had to lay off 650 employees, half its workforce, in early 2009. Pending court and regulatory approval, it was announced in March 2009 that the resort was to be sold to the Marriott hotel chain, contingent upon significant concessions from the unions and approval of $50 million in financing from CSX.
On May 7, 2009, the Justice family of West Virginia purchased the resort for $20 million. The Justice family, headed by patriarch Jim Justice, has extensive farm and mining operations in West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. It farms 50,000 acres (200 km2) through its Justice Family Farms group, headquartered in Beckley, West Virginia. In early 2009, it sold its Bluestone Coal Corporation network of West Virginia coal mines to Mechel.
The Marriott Corporation asserted that it had a valid contract to purchase the hotel, and expected to see that contract honored. However, Justice ultimately settled with Marriott. The bankruptcy judge dismissed the case on May 19, 2009, clearing the way for Justice's purchase of the property.
The resort was closed briefly after the 2016 West Virginia flood; however, flood victims who needed a place to stay were offered rooms in the hotel. The hotel reopened on July 12, 2016, with several amenities, including an off-road Jeep trail, several walking trails, and the falconry operation, which had been closed for the year.
With Justice's election as Governor of West Virginia in 2017, his daughter Jill took over day-to-day control of The Greenbrier.
In November 2008, county voters narrowly approved a local option referendum that would permit casino-style gambling at the hotel. The rules, regulations, and tax rates were signed into law on May 8, 2009. The Justice family promised that gambling facilities at the resort would be "tasteful" if established. The temporary casino, named "The Tavern Casino", opened on October 1, 2009. The permanent casino, The Casino Club at The Greenbrier opened on July 2, 2010 with a celebrity gala.
Under the state's regulations, only "guests" of the Greenbrier may visit the casino. The hotel and state regulators have differed over the definition of "guest", as the casino allows persons taking a tour or dining at the resort to visit, without being registered to stay overnight in the hotel. In 2013, the casino added simulcast horse racing and associated betting to its offerings.
Twenty-six presidents have been hosted at The Greenbrier. The Presidents' Cottage Museum is a two-story building with exhibits about these visits and the history of The Greenbrier. The building is open seasonally.
The resort has a significant place in golf history. The original nine holes were designed by Alexander H. Findlay. In 1944, Sam Snead, became the head golf professional at Greenbrier and in retirement held the position of the resort's pro emeritus. In the 21st century, that title has been held by Tom Watson; the golf pro emeritus is currently Lee Trevino.
The Greenbrier was the site of the Ryder Cup in 1979, the first to be contested under the format of United States against Europe, which has been continued to the present. It hosted the Solheim Cup in 1994, the women's equivalent to the Ryder Cup. The Greenbrier is the first of three locations to host both the men's and women's United States versus Europe team competitions, the Ryder and Solheim cups; it was joined in 1998 by Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, with Scotland's Gleneagles Hotel PGA Centenary Course, the host of the 2014 Ryder Cup, joining when it hosted the 2019 Solheim Cup.
The PGA Tour came to the hotel in 2010 with the Greenbrier Classic. After two years of being held on the last weekend of July, the tournament obtained the more favorable date of the first weekend in July, starting in 2012. On March 28, 2011, The Old White Course became a TPC course. The 2016 event was canceled due to severe flooding in June.
All four of the golf courses on the property, the Old White TPC, the Greenbrier Course, the Meadows Course, and the Snead Course were damaged in the 2016 flood. On July 12, 2016, a modified course, made up mostly of the Greenbrier Course but also parts of the Meadows Course, was laid out and opened for play that year. The remaining courses were closed for the year.
The Greenbrier Clinic, adjacent to the hotel, has operated as an executive health facility since 1948. In 1971 it began operating independently from the hotel (although still leasing its facility from The Greenbrier).
In 2011, Justice announced an ambitious plan to construct the Greenbrier Medical Institute, a large-scale medical facility with a projected cost of at least $250 million, planned to be built in five stages. It was to include a sports medicine facility to be headed by orthopedic surgeon James Andrews. Construction of the first stage began in May 2012.
The project was intended to establish relationships with professional sports teams, as the resort wanted to attract a National Football League team that would hold its annual training camp at The Greenbrier. In March 2014, the New Orleans Saints and the hotel reached agreement on a three-year deal. The hotel committed to build three football fields and other facilities for the Saints, at an estimated cost of $20-25 million, adjacent to the medical facilities. The project was to be partially subsidized by tax breaks recently approved by the state legislature, with an estimated value of $25 million over 10 years.
The relationship between the hotel and the Saints reportedly developed after a visit by Saints head coach Sean Payton to the 2013 Greenbrier Classic golf tournament to play in its pro-am competition and then to serve as caddie for his friend, PGA Tour player Ryan Palmer. After three seasons (during which the Saints praised the Greenbrier's facilities but finished with a 7-9 record every year), the Saints did not renew their contract with the hotel. The Houston Texans took over the facilities for their 2017 training camp.
Entombed, a 2010 novel by Brian Keene, takes place in a fictionalized West Virginia hotel with a bunker beneath. The author states in the afterward that he was inspired by the Greenbrier.
The Greenbrier was at the center of one of the most memorable moments on the U.S. game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Comedian Norm Macdonald's $1,000,000 question was in reference to the Greenbrier's bunker. Macdonald was ready to (correctly) guess the Greenbrier but believed host Regis Philbin was trying to talk him out of the answer; in fact, Philbin did not know the answer and was trying to ensure that Macdonald did not guess incorrectly, which would have cost Macdonald's charity $468,000 that he had already won. Macdonald instead walked away with $500,000 for Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Camps.
The historic springhouse
Robert E. Lee, seated second from left, with his former Confederate generals at White Sulphur Springs, August 1869.