It was about this time last year that Kyle Crews, Juli Harrison, and Doris Jacobs all of Allie Beth Allman, and I hopped a plane to Charlestown, West Virginia to visit the one of the most beautiful, breath-taking and affordable vacation home spots in the nation: the Greenbrier Sporting Club.
Why I am telling you this story now? First of all, it’s the beginning of the vacation home season, and we should all be there, dry and happy and out of the rain. We are going back in a few weeks.
Secondly, I am sick of the rain. I know we need it, but this is getting ridiculous. Does Mother Nature know nothing but feast or famine? The only good news is that we may be able to sell some of this water to parched places in West Texas.
Then, the owner of the Greenbrier, Jim Justice, is running for governor of West Virginia in a self-funded campaign. The self-made billionaire was in Dallas last fall at an event benefiting Arlington Hall at Lee Park, visiting with some local owners – – there are a handful of folks in Dallas who own vacation homes at the Greenbrier, and more are interested. The Sporting Club will get even more interesting if Justice wins the governors race —
Justice’s wealth easily trumps Rockefeller’s. The 64-year-old built a $1.7 billion fortune in coal and agriculture, and has painted himself a job creator who bought and restored The Greenbrier historic resort.
The values are unprecedented. When you see the resort, one of the oldest and largest in the country, and experience the magnificent homes and mountain home-sites that surround it, you will fall in love and seriously consider making your second home at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Mountain mama, take me home.
GETTING TO THE GREENBRIER FROM DALLAS: THE JOYS OF AIR TRAVEL
I am notorious for missing planes, especially when it’s Terminal A at DFW with all that blasted construction going on. But I managed to get to the gate timely the morning we left. Kyle and Anne Crews even boarded after I did, but Juli and Bobby Harrison were already on board. Bobby’s a lawyer; they are always early. We looked for Doris and Jack — didn’t see them. I turned around to Kyle and said, shall I go look for them? Shall we call?
No, say Kyle, you know Doris, she’s probably closing a house on Beverly, she’ll be here,
And sure enough, five minutes before they shut the door and told us to shut off cell phones, in came Doris and Jack.
All was good except for one thing, which we would learn from Doris after take-off, when we could loosen the seat belts that “protect” us but also keep us cinched like unruly children in time-out: American wouldn’t take their luggage because of that pesky 50 minute rule: you HAVE to check your luggage 50 minutes before the departure time or the computers cut you off. Really annoying, I know, that’s why I have joined RISE and dream of a G-5.
Doris and Jack’s luggage was not in the belly of the plane — their daughter and real estate partner, Kim, had it. They had no luggage, not even a toothbrush and toothpaste. Doris couldn’t pull her cosmetics, of course, because TSA would have had a cow. No clothes. Just what was on their backs which was, of course, lovely. Still, I would have died. Though the last time I went to the Greenbrier, I was in a similar situation: Delta left my luggage in Atlanta. I got to know the Greenbrier shops quite well. I actually had to buy a formal, shoes, Spanx, everything, and they had it all!
Which was of enormous comfort to Doris.
“They have some great stores, even Lilly Pulitzer,” I told her. Doris grew up in Charleston, she knew of the Greenbrier and had been there as a teenager. Jack wanted to know what they had for men at Lilly Pulitzer. Hmm, good question.
My husband would be coming in the next day, and Doris asked if maybe he could bring their luggage.
We can ask, I said! As long as TSA doesn’t have a cow! And you don’t have anything naughty in those suitcases!
Then we settled back for a quick, two hour flight to Charleston, West Virginia. By the time I got my lap-top open, it was time to power down and land. Just two hours to vacation home nirvana!
THE DRIVE TO THE GREENBRIER:
We rented cars, got our luggage, or rather, lack of, and piled in two SUVs. It was raining. But the nice thing about West Virginia is that the rain actually ends. It doesn’t delay home building for 90 days, or hog up three whole months. It is more sporadic so you don’t need to get out your light machine for SADD: White Sulphur Springs, WV, gets 39 inches of rain per year. The US average is 37. Snowfall is 22 inches. The average US city gets 25 inches of snow per year. Like I said, pretty normal, not this monsoon stuff. Our average Dallas rainfall is 35.65 inches a year, but we are sure beating that this year. Plus 39 inches of precip in West Virginia, with the mountains and trees, means near year-round green. The rain was no big deal. It’s about 119 miles from Charleston to the Greenbrier, or a two-hour drive. We stopped at a country store for drinks and gas, and the locals were delighted to see us. They wanted to know where we were from, and I swear they almost asked us to stay for dinner. Reminds me of a story a friend told me, about visiting cousins in West Virginia on a road trip when she was in college. It had gotten late, and she couldn’t find a motel. She drove to their house without warning and they pulled out everything in the fridge, fed her, and told their 13 year old to wake up and give cousin Annie his bed.
ARRIVAL AT VACATION HOME NIRVANA:
The Greenbrier won my heart the minute we walked in the door: complimentary champagne upon arrival. I told them I would be arriving a lot during my stay. Really, there is a glass waiting whenever you have a fancy for bubbly. This was the closest I have come to feeling as pampered as I was when I visited Skibo Castle years ago. My personal Scottish butler had a glass of bubbly on a tray when I came in from Falconry or just moved five feet… as if he read my mind.
(I think he crossed the pond just to find me.)
The Greenbrier folks in West Virginia have been reading home-buyer’s minds, too, and are serving up one of the country’s best places to invest in second home ownership, in an area that is as stunningly undiscovered as it is breath-takingly beautiful and loaded with something no other vacation home setting can offer: history. It is also perfectly located with easy 2 to 3 hour access from major metro areas in New York, Pennsylvania, D.C., even Kentucky. That’s in a car, of course, while we are a two-hour flight plus drive. Fly into White Sulphur Springs, and you are on the hotel steps in ten minutes.
FIRST OF ALL,THE RESORT HOTEL:
The Greenbrier Resort is a recently revitalized National Historic Landmark that sprawls on 6,500 acres in the Allegheny Mountains. It’s one of the nation’s most famous hotels and resorts. People have been coming to the Greenbrier since 1778. Called the Old White and the White Sulphur Springs hotel for its first 125 years, the property’s healing natural sulphur waters always lured the rich and famous. Closed during the Civil War, when it was a hospital, the resort grew a wider audience with arrival of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. The railroad purchased the resort in 1910, added the Greenbrier Hotel to the existing cottages and an 18-hole golf course. Among the luminaries who vacationed at the property in 1914: President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson and Joseph and Rose Kennedy, who honeymooned at the Greenbrier.
And yes, there is the famous bunker. You’ve probably heard about it — it’s where they took Dick Cheney during the attacks on the U.S. on 9/11. For more than 30 years, the Greenbrier kept a secret Cold War bunker to house the U.S. government during an atomic blast or any disaster, though in the sixties, it was the atomic blast on U.S. soil we feared the most. Between about 1959 to 1962, the federal government built a vast underground Emergency Relocation Center, or bunker, below the mountains and under the hotel. In case of nuclear attack or other deadly security threat, the entire U.S. Congress was to be relocated to the bunker. The bunker kept details on everything, even what kinds of meds Congressional members needed, and were always fully stocked with such.
My husband loves to remind me that it was a Washington Post reporter who exposed the bunker in 1992. Busted! The U.S. government phased-out the facility. Daily tours are offered of the bunker, and I learned on our trip that though many local residents suspected something was there, they kept the secret. Which is pretty amazing and tells you how very private a vacation home could be in this neck of the U.S.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway owned the hotel, and for years it fell into decline. But in May 2009, West Virginia coal baron Jim Justice and his Justice Family Group purchased the property and embarked on a multi-millon dollar revitalization of the 700-plus room hotel. New restaurants were added, rooms were refreshed and Carleton Varney was brought in to manage all — his legendary mentor, Dorothy Draper, had designed the hotel originally. The resort is still a swirl of pink and green cabbage roses and exploding color a la Draper style, but Carleton polished the history visually, as Justice & Co. expanded, modernized and enhanced. The $80 million, 102,000 square foot, Carleton Varney-designer gambling casino opened in July, 2010 with a star-studded celebration. We were there, me without a dress! This is a big golf resort, one of the best: the first Greenbrier Classic, a PGA golf tournament, teed off July 26 to August 1, 2010. There are four golf courses at the resort, including the private course at the Greenbrier Sporting Club for homeowners. Now a practice facility for the New Orleans Saints is under construction, maybe complete, bringing in more celebrity status as well as potential buyers who fall in love with the hotel, the history, the vast array of activities, and the gentle green-covered mountains that are spectacularly beautiful, but not as headache-inducing as the steep Rockies.
GREENBRIER SPORTING CLUB:
Along with the grown-up goings-on in the Casino, which is non-smoking, by the way, the Greenbrier offers a plethora for families. You find what you’d expect at an AAA Five Diamond property — swimming, tennis, golf, concerts — plus some that you don’t, such as falconry, riflery, and off-road driving. Soon there will be skiing. With its casino, all the activities, and fabulously updated restaurants, the Greenbrier is banking on a new customer: vacation home owners who want the temperate climate of the mountains within the southern charms of the Grande Dame hotel and resort.
The beauty of real estate at The Greenbrier Sporting Club is the value — there is something for everyone. Though the multi-million dollar properties exist — see the home that was in the Wall Street Journal, above — one of their most popular models has been the 2700 square foot “lock and leave” cottages.
“We’ve sold at least 25,” said John Klemish, Adviser To The Chairman & Broker In Charge last year. I’m sure there have been more. Homes start at about $850,000 to more than $5 million, with the sweet spot at about $1.4, $1.2. You can pick up a lot for as little as $150,000.
And you get a lot of vacation house bang for your buck at the Greenbrier Sporting Club. That’s why a lot of chairmans of the boards, hedge fund titans, and now NFL sports players are landing here. And they are not just coming from the New York City, Philly and D.C. area: midwesterners and Texans have discovered this second home nirvana. The homes are spacious, superbly built, and have access with membership to all the offerings of the Sporting Club: a huge clubhouse with infinity pool overlooking the hills, and of course the never-ending activities at the Greenbrier.
As one owner told me: when you have a lake house, your activity is limited to the lake. At the Greenbrier, there are lakes, hills, off-roading, horseback riding, shooting, the spa, the health club, a whole lot to do on a rainy day when you cannot be outside and on the water.
Many home-owners are also enjoying yearly income from leasing their Greenbrier homes. I’ll have more details on the Greenbrier vacation home scene for you in a few weeks, after our next jaunt.
DORIS AND JACK’S LUGGAGE:
Sometimes, every so often, the Gods at American beam us up with great customer service, just like the sun pipes out from these never-ending storm clouds. That happened with Doris and Jack’s luggage. Miraculously, AAL agreed to let my husband bring 2 extra cases along on his flight, for — I really should not type this, may never happen again — NO EXTRA CHARGE! We were incredulous. Poor Doris had used the Greenbrier hand cream on her face and was in the same clothes for more than 24 hours, and Jack was tiring of his suede jacket and orange polo shirt he had worn on the plane. (Thank God for the hotel robes!) The luggage came in time for Friday night dinner and Greenbrier Casino, where Jack wanted to get in some serious Blackjack. He is a great player. I won’t gamble until I can get a degree in it — which they actually offer in Las Vegas. I’m the type who does the nickel slot machines and quits when I’m ahead. But I watched Jack at work and decided he could teach the Blackjack course — Jack and DPM’s Chris Hickman. It’s amazing how many top agents are also great Blackjack players.
In fact, forget the Best Realtor votes and Yelp: I’m finding that the most important question you can ask to select a great agent is this: what’s your vig in Blackjack?