What do Liberace, Amelia Earhart and John Barrymore all have in common? They all stayed in the Poinsett Hotel in downtown Greenville.
The hotel, now known as the Westin Poinsett Hotel, is the only AAA Four Diamond hotel in Greenville. Large and luxurious, the hotel was one of the first high-rises built in Greenville.
Its story goes back to 1925, when it was first opened.
John Nolan, a faculty member in the Division of Art + Design, is the owner of Greenville History and Culinary Tours and author of A Guide to Historic Greenville, South Carolina. Nolan said the hotel was built after a textile exposition began to be held in Greenville every two years.
“Early textile production had always been done in New England, so this big event was always held in Boston,” Nolan said. “In 1915, it moved to Greenville . . . and started happening here every two years.”
Nolan said moving the textile exposition to Greenville from Boston was a huge shift. “It was really symbolic that [Greenville] had become the textile center of the South,” he said.
The event brought thousands of people to Greenville in the early 1900s. “The first year that it came here, there were about 40,000 people that came,” Nolan said.
But the hoards of people brought challenges with them. Nolan said there were only around 10,000 people living in Greenville at the time. Suddenly, Greenville was overrun with visitors for the week-long textile exposition.
“There were only two hotels,” Nolan said. “So, we needed more hotels.”
John Woodside, the owner of the largest mill in America at the time, responded to this demand for hotels by building a hotel at the cost of $1.5 million.
It was named the Poinsett Hotel, after Joel Poinsett, a South Carolina statesman who served as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico from 1822 to 1823. Poinsett is also famously known for introducing the poinsettia, originally a native Mexican plant, to the United States.
“[The Poinsett Hotel] eclipsed anything that had been here previously,” Nolan said. “Anybody famous who came to Greenville over the years . . . stayed at the Poinsett.”
Nolan said that many celebrities still stay at the Poinsett today, especially during the BMW Charity Pro-Am golf tournament that is held in Greenville.
The Poinsett was luxurious, complete with chandeliers, two ballrooms and a coin washing machine behind the front desk—so no guest left with dirty change.
But the hotel was not without its struggles. Over the years, it was bought and sold several times and even became a retirement home. It was then abandoned in 1987. The hotel was considered one of the 11 most endangered historic sites in South Carolina for several years.
When the downtown Greenville revitalization project began, a decision had to be made, Nolan said. The hotel had to either be torn down or preserved. In 1997, Steve Dopp and Greg Lenox, developers of the Francis Marion hotel in Charleston, bought the abandoned Poinsett and completed a $20 million renovation.
It was opened as the Westin Poinsett in 2000, 75 years after its original opening.
Today, the hotel still has many original features from its beginnings nearly 100 years ago, including iron work, chandeliers, tile work and the Gold Ballroom.