PANOPLY ON: The historic Greenbrier Resort personal property auction

Just back from the Greenbrier Resort historic auction of personal property, held May 21, 2011 on the WV State Fairgrounds near Lewisburg, WV, here are my reflections on the event – the before, during and after….

In late April, an article announcing the upcoming auction to be held May 21 was published in our local newspaper. I immediately sent emails to my two sisters (partners in shopping crime), seeing who was in and who was not for this event. This was a road trip not to miss! There were to be so many items – original Dorothy Draper furnishings and fabric, old staff uniforms, glassware and dishware (engraved pitchers, flatware, serving pieces), and recreational equipment (as in bowling balls, shoes). There were limousines, grounds equipment, an Electrolux Molteni stove ($150,000 new), AND… there were vinyl covered cafeteria chairs from the “bunker” facility.

Two days before the road trip, I make sure I have my bank’s permission slip to write a check – the auctioneer wanted proof of good standing. I had never seen such a stipulation before (and neither had my local banker), but I complied. I concluded it was the auctioneer’s way of separating the serious from the not-so-serious shoppers. I also took along cash in case there was a glitch at registration. Only one of my sisters traveled with me, and it was a two-hour trek each way, 220 miles round trip, four toll booths later, and one tank of gas. We passed on the preview the day before, but the auctioneer was offering entertainment and light refreshments for that event, scheduled for a full eight hours.

When we arrived on the day of the auction (approximately 30 minutes before the start), we were registrants #151 and #152 – I expected a much higher number, so I was pleased at the possibility of a small crowd and higher chance of scoring some great deals. Announcements were blaring, stating they would start outside with the vehicles and grounds equipment (good! More time to look at the items inside, we thought). So, we walked the aisles, gawking at all the “stuff”! The sheer numbers of it all was mind-boggling – hundreds of old uniforms, boxes and boxes of plates, piles of room service dish covers, laundry carts full of fabric rolls, architectural pieces, an airplane (yes, an airplane!, dismantled), not to mention all the silver engraved pieces and bunker chairs. There were bath rugs piled so high that my sister and I used them as a sort of bed to lean against while the auction was going on. I counted one stack (and there were at least a dozen like it) – there were 36 rugs in each stack! And they smelled so good – like fresh laundry (smile).

The auction began as one ring, soon to split into two concurrent rings, and shortly thereafter, three rings. Callers were hired from around the state to help the hosting auctioneer speed things along, but the sheer volume of the items guaranteed at least a 10-12 hour day. Prices could’ve been better – there were some buyers, who had to be from out-of-state, paying ridiculous prices for individually sold items, which set the bar for subsequent like items sold, such as the “bunker” chairs. Granted, they were sold with a letter authenticating their original historical use, but $400 (plus a 10% buyer’s fee) for a single aluminum chair, really? That same guy bought a notepad stamped with “The Greenbrier” on it for $72.50! Hello, the Greenbrier did not change their logo – you could go to the gift shop and likely buy one today for less than $10. Jeez! Oh, and the Molteni? It sold for a mere $1,800!

We stayed for nearly five hours (not counting the 4 hours of drive time), and left with a few good scores of Greenbrier memorabilia. But there were a lot items left behind, as we kept coming up short of ideas for purposing 36 rugs or 100 mugs (examples of how the lots were defined to be sold). And when it was all said and done at the true three-ring circus, after the nine hours total invested labor, IRS mileage allowance for miles driven, tolls and food expenses, we’ll probably make about $0.10 profit on the sales we may have as a result (as my husband likes to coldly calculate) – but the event itself – PRICELESS!

A little history: the Greenbrier Resort, http://www.greenbrier.com/staying-here/about-the-greenbrier/greenbrier-history , dates from 1778, when, even then, it was recognized as a luxury resort, offering the so-called healing waters from the springs for which its location was named – White Sulphur Springs (WV). The majesty of the National Historic landmark’s architecture saw many US Presidents as its guests, and its remote locale housed a totally self-sufficient “bunker” bomb shelter, built underground alongside an above ground addition, as a former top-secret relocation facility for Congress during the Cold War – in the event of a nuclear attack on our nation. Fast forward to 2009, and a native West Virginian (Jim Justice) purchases the Greenbrier outright, saving it from bankruptcy, and embarks on a complete renovation of the facility in an effort to restore its five-star quality appeal. Just prior to Justice’s renovation came the decommissioning of the “bunker”. As the old adage goes, “out with the old, in with the new”. The signature Dorothy Draper interior design of the Greenbrier’s earlier (late 1940’s) renovation lives on through Carleton Varney, her protégé and business successor, as he paid homage to Ms. Draper with interior updates, particularly in the gloriously decked-out new casino (built underground, beneath the front grounds, so as not to disturb the architecture’s original footprint – brilliant!). Justice managed to relocate a leg of the PGA TOUR to the Greenbrier in 2010, multi-million dollar housing developments are going up in the surrounding community, and the Greenbrier history is at its new dawn.

Submitted by:

RP Cobb of Panoply

Panoply is a flagship shop on RubyPlaza.


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