Beyond Rocky Mount: A Famous Restoration: The Greenbrier

I read another book, The Grand Design – a novel by Joy Callaway about Dorothy Draper, a famous interior designer who was hired to restore the Greenbrier. It is well written and about an era we have left behind in our sensibilities, manners, tastes and style. Politics is part of the Greenbrier story, which is mostly what I knew about before reading the novel. This arm-chair travel to the Greenbrier reinforced my belief that the lives and stories left behind in commercial and residential architecture give the world of preservation its rational.

Here in Rocky Mount this blog champions our shotgun housing, the significance of our bungalows, the over all architectural inventory of the community. In my estimation, saving, restoring and repurposing our commercial and residential architecture is as important as the restoration of the Greenbrier. My plan is to write more about restoration beyond Rocky Mount but always with Main Street and the area in mind. I hope you will enjoy learning more about this important aspect of preservation.

The Greenbrier’s famous façade symbolizes the very grandest resort experience in America – the foundation of which is its lavish décor and world-famous Dorothy Draper interior design. Dorothy Draper was a pioneer in interior design, dominating the field from 1925 to 1962 when she was named the most influential tastemaker in America.

This following information is from the Dorothy Draper Design company. The high-society interior designer was hired to renovate the resort after it was used as a hospital during World War II. She left the hotel with a bold new personality, using color and oversized patterns to paint a picture that reflected the luxury of space, elegance and sense of history in every detail. As a result, America’s Resort remains a one-of-a-kind property with guestrooms, suites and cottages unlike any other in the world.

The origin of The Greenbrier’s distinctive décor goes back to this much-publicized redecoration, at a period when Dorothy Draper was at the peak of her fame. As Architectural Digest described her, she was “a true artist of the design world [who] became a celebrity in the modern sense of the word, virtually creating the image of the decorator in the popular mind.”

For four years during World War II, The Greenbrier served as a surgical and rehabilitation center for 24,148 soldiers. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway reacquired the property in 1946 and initiated a comprehensive redecoration of the hotel by renowned decorator Dorothy Draper.

She remained the resort’s decorator into the 1960s. Upon her retirement, Carleton Varney took over the firm and he continues today as The Greenbrier Designer/Curator and President of Dorothy Draper & Co. Today, the inimitable styles of one of the most significant and celebrated designers of the century is showcased throughout The Greenbrier. CLICK ON SLIDESHOW BELOW

There is a 224 page book: The History of The Greenbrier: America’s Resort. This information is from the flyleaf. “The book traces the story of The Greenbrier from its origin as a frontier ‘watering place’ over two hundred years ago to its present status as a world-class resort. It is a colorful and comprehensive chronicle of the resort’s growth and development over the years. More than that, it is an intriguing study in the history of fashionable society. Here the changing rituals of American social life are on lavish display: Southern aristocrats gathering about the Springhouse back before the Civil War engaged in politics, romance and ‘taking the waters’; beautiful and witty belles dancing at elaborate cotillions on summer evenings in the ballroom of the Old White Hotel; prominent high-society figures strolling into The Greenbrier’s chandeliered dining rooms after stepping off their private railroad cars; presidents and professional golfers working on their best games against the legendary Sam Snead. Today, The Greenbrier is widely regarded as one of the finest resorts in the world. It is also one of the most historic places in America, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.”

Five sitting presidents have visited The Greenbrier during the years of 1838 and 1860. Accommodations were at what is currently known as the President’s Cottage Museum. In 1914, then-President Woodrow Wilson and his wife visited for the Easter holiday. Joseph Kennedy arrived to celebrate his honeymoon with Rose Kennedy. Other prominent presidents include President George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Dwight Eisenhower.

Never look back, except for an occasional glance, look ahead and plan for the future. Success is not built on past laurels, but rather on a continuous activity. Keep busy searching out new ideas and, experimentally, keep ahead of the times, or at least up with them.
Dorothy Draper

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