The Greenbrier's Crazy Cold War Past

Posted by Drake, January 29, 2014
The Greenbrier Hotel

Here's one you may not have heard before.

You've probably heard of the Greenbrier Hotel, but if not, here's the low-down. Built in 1858 and nestled on a few pristine acres of West Virgina countryside, it's like a towering monument to the more genteel side of America's colonial past. In fact, you might even think you were looking at a larger, more imposing cousin of the White House, with its similar design features on the facade, and definitely that old-world feel.

Four Romanesque columns frame the front doors and windows. The back patios and verandas wrap around the classic old architecture. It continues to be a favourite destination for presidents, past and present—a total of twenty-six heads of state have stayed in this beautiful old building. With one look, it's easy to see why.

As is common with old-school, classic buildings in places like Virginia, one of the oldest states in the Union, it's the sort of place on whose porch you can imagine sipping a mint julep and talking about yachts. But of all the guests the Greenbrier housed during its long history, the one guest—or guests, as the case may be—that never checked in was the guest for whom much of its structure was designed: the United States Congress.

Of course, you wouldn't know it to look at it. But beneath all the Forbes four-star, AAA Five Diamond Award-style luxury of the Greenbrier, there's a whole other part of the hotel that stayed hidden from public eyes for thirty years. Known simply as "the Bunker," this massive underground space—over twenty feet from floor to ceiling in one of its largest rooms—was designed to house the legislative branch of the U.S. government in the event of a nuclear war, had the Cold War ever gone hot.

One particular room, the Exhibit Hall, was the only area of the Greenbrier that guests would use, although without the knowledge of its more shadowy emergency purpose, of course. In that case, if missiles were detected from the Soviet Union, two fifteen-foot-tall doors, each weighing twenty-five tons, would close and separate the Bunker from the rest of the hotel. Its very, very important guests would then be whisked underground, into a huge shelter containing a hospital, dormitory, kitchen, and even an emergency broadcasting center. The entire building, the Greenbrier itself, would then become one of the most important structures in America—that which housed what remained of its government.

Check out these photos. And remember, the next time you check into a boutique hotel or a luxury resort, you never know what might be under your head.

The Greenbrier Bunker
The Greenbrier Bunker
The Greenbrier Bunker
The Greenbrier Bunker
The Greenbrier Bunker

Posted in: Hotel + Travel

Tags: Forbes  luxury  The Greenbrier  United States Congress  Virginia