The Poinsett Hotel has served as a centerpiece in downtown Greenville, representing an economic boom when it was constructed in 1925 and a downtown revitalization when it reopened in 2000.
ONE OF THE FIRST SKYSCRAPERS
Constructed on the site of an 1824 resort hotel called the Mansion House, which was torn down in 1924, and named after former Secretary of War Joel R. Poinsett, the Poinsett Hotel was one of the first skyscrapers built in Greenville at a cost of $1.5 million. The 12-story structure was designed by New York architect William L. Stoddard and built by the J.E. Sirrine Co.
The hotel has an L-shaped façade and is divided into a four-story base highlighted by tall arched windows spanning the second and third stories, an intermediate shaft and a capital. Above the base of the building is a wide cornice to separate it from the unornamented shaft. Above the capital story windows is a broad decorative band filled with terra cotta festoons and urns. A molding consisting of dentils and modillion blocks is on top of the frieze, and a balustraded parapet is above the cornice.
At the time of its opening, the hotel featured 210 guest rooms with a private bath per room, private dining rooms, eight to 10 shops, a lounge, a grill room, a convention hall and a main dining room.
While the hotel featured beautiful interiors and acclaimed design, it lost money during its first year, and through the Great Depression years, business continued to decline.
MAKING THE TURN TO “CAROLINA’S FINEST”
General manager J. Mason Alexander joined the staff in 1930, and his focus on cleanliness, cooking, competence and courtesy was credited for helping the hotel to be known as “Carolina’s Finest” by 1940. Under Alexander’s management, the Poinsett Hotel’s dining rooms and ballrooms remained booked for formal dances and family dinners. Amelia Earhart, John Barrymore, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Bobby Kennedy and Liberace all stayed at the hotel during Alexander’s tenure.
In 1941, the Poinsett Hotel’s business had grown. The hotel expanded and added guest rooms, increasing the number of rooms to 248. However, by the mid-1950s, the motel industry boomed, making luxury city hotels obsolete. In 1959, the Jack Tarr hotel chain bought the Poinsett Hotel. From 1972 through 1986, the hotel’s ownership changed multiple times. At one point, the property was turned into a retirement home before its closure in January 1987 due to foreclosure and failure to keep up with the fire code.
The hotel remained empty until November 1997, when Steve Dopp and Greg Lenox, who also owned and developed Charleston’s Francis Marion Hotel, purchased the property and began renovating the building.
Since reopening in October 2000 as The Westin Poinsett, the hotel has been named among the Historic Hotels of America in 2002 and has been distinguished as a AAA Four Diamond hotel. The Westin Poinsett offers 10,000 square feet of event space.
Facts about the Poinsett Hotel
- Designed by William L. Stoddard and built by the J.E. Sirrine Co.
- Named for Joel R. Poinsett, President Millard Fillmore’s secretary of war.
- Built in 1925 for $1.5 million.
- First skyscraper in Greenville, standing at 12 stories.
- Bought by Steve Dopp and Greg Lenox in 1997 and renovation begins.
- Reopened in 2000 as The Westin Poinsett.