"It was another late night in the office… Realizing it was nearing 10 PM and tomorrow’s call time was 6 AM, I accepted the fact I wouldn’t be sleeping much. Fast forward to 5:45 AM the next morning, I’ve had a mere four hours of sleep and questioned ever signing up for this. We loaded the 15- passenger van and embarked on a seven hour journey to West Virginia. Yes, that’s right: West Virginia.
Little did I know I was about to fall down a technicolor rabbit hole of Americana grandeur. Located in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, The Greenbrier hotel is a testament to our country’s history. Founded in 1778, guests would come to the resort for the sulfur water—which was used for medicinal purposes and thought to provide therapeutic healing, thus why the resort was built around it’s iconic Springhouse. In 1910, the famed hotel underwent a major expansion after The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway purchased the property. Like most things in life… Convenience is key. With a nearby railroad station where residents from New York and Washington, D.C. could easily travel to, The Greenbrier became the summer resort of the South. As I learned from The Greenbrier’s resident historian Dr. Robert S. Conte, the hotel was coined “The Saratoga of the South.” But trust, as a former student of the Capitol Region District, Saratoga has nothing on this place.
It’s dreamy to think about the days when people would leave New York for the whole damn summer. While I wish I had the answer to why that still doesn’t happen, I can only romanticize what it was like to load trunks of your best clothes, get off the train, and enjoy a summer of golfing, bathing in the luxurious mineral bath (aka indoor pool), and attend the Morning German, essentially a fashion show that took place everyday at 11AM. The craziest part though… this experience still exists. Has the resort struggled with maintaining its formal dress code? Of course, but these nuances are bound to occur. The major transformation (and most legendary) The Greenbrier experienced was when The Railroad sold the residence to the U.S. Army in 1942, turning it into a hospital, only to be purchased back four years later. This is when Dorothy Draper, the reigning icon of NYC interior decorators, got her hands on the place. Taking advantage of the fact that there were no guests, Draper filled the resort with unusual color combinations and like, A LOT of flowers. Usually, Draper’s staple flower was the cabbage rose, but for the Greenbrier she chose rhododendrons. Exploding the halls with her signature flower, she complemented the space with black and white tiles, and walls that appear to be draped in fabric, but are actually made from Baroque plasterwork. (Fun Fact: Draper’s last major decorating project was the West Virginia wing, actually built as a decoy for an underground bunker or bomb shelter, an emergency relocation center for U.S. Congress during the Cold War.) Draper worked with the hotel until the early ’60s, passing along her design firm and her most famous work of art, The Greenbrier, to her protégé Carlton Varney, who still maintains the residence’s decor to this day.
Photography ISABEL ASHA PENZLIEN | Art Direction SU BARBER | Styling IAN BRADLEY | Production SHAY JOHNSON | Hair YUHI KIM | Makeup KENTO UTSUBO | Talent PEYTON KNIGHT & ALLYSON CHALMERS at IMG | Photography Assistant PATRICK SPEARS | Special Thanks THE GREENBRIER, HUMBERTO LEON, CAROL LIM, COACH, CARLY AIMI, & KINDALL ALMOND