Stephen T. Mather was the first director of national parks in the United States. He accepted the position in 1915 when there were only 16 national parks – today there are 58. Mr. Mather used the iconic Ahwahnee Hotel in the Yosemite Valley to promote the success of the entire National Park. This is how it happened.
The Ahwahnee Hotel
Mather built the Ahwahnee Hotel in his favorite park in Yosemite, California in 1927. It was to be the crown jewel of the National Park hotels, and for good reason.
Interesting the rich and benefiting the masses
Stephen Mather wanted his Yosemite hotel to be a wild destination for the wealthy. Not because he wanted to satisfy only the wealthy, but because he knew that if he could interest influential people in the National Park System, he could build better parks for everyone. His plan worked beautifully.
Ahwahnee was built with the best of everything, from newly invented electricity to the bathrooms in each room, and an elaborate kitchen that would have offered extraordinary cuisine to privileged hotel guests.
Two electric elevators were installed and manned by staff operators.
Noise reduction plaster was applied to the interior walls to ensure that guests were not disturbed by the roar of the nearby Yosemite waterfalls.
The dining room
Lunch was important for the wealthy and in the Ahwahnee Hotel, master architect Gilbert Underwood provided Mather with one of the most memorable dining rooms in the world.
The dining room stretches 130 feet from the elevator lobby towards Yosemite Falls and extends 51 feet from one side to the other. Its vaulted ceiling crowned with stripped pine beams and trusses is 34 feet high.
Imagine the difficulty of transporting the 11 dining room windows that are 24 feet high on California's first furrowed roads to the Ahwahnee construction site. One can only imagine how many windows were broken along the way. Also consider that once the windows arrived on site they had to be positioned without the aid of modern moving equipment – fascinating.
The large beams of the dining room are huge columns of bare pine that support a heavy trussed ceiling. The unknown observer is that the pine columns are actually steel pillars lined with empty concrete. Again, the genius of the architect is shown. The rustic aspect of the dining room echoes the general woody splendor of the floor. The immensity of this magnificent room diminishes the 350 guests it can accommodate.
The dining room alcove – a magical place
Located at the end of the dining room, the alcove appears as a complement to the vast main room before it. It has one of the 24 foot tall glass windows and, in this case, the window offers a showcase for the Yosemite waterfalls and makes the environment unforgettable.
The alcove hosted numerous historical events including a round table dinner with Queen Elizabeth and Price Phillip during their visit in 1983. The queen and prince hosted a small dinner in the alcove after attending services in the park's historic wooden chapel.
When not organized for special events, there are a number of tables for two set up in the niche. The table in the center of the window is often reserved for spouses. Your authors had the privilege and privilege of dining at that special honeymoon table on their wedding night many years ago.
As we did that night, we often thought about the fate of hundreds – perhaps thousands of newlyweds who have toasted and celebrated their future at that point for the past 85 years.
The beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel hosts around 200 weddings per year. If you are planning a wedding, it is an incredible place.
The Ahwahnee Hotel design theme
Ahwahnee has a Native American theme and the chosen decorators have done an excellent job of blending the furnishings with the general character of the property. Much of the Ahwahnee furniture is original, with subtle changes in fabric and design made to suit contemporary tastes.
Ansel Adam's years
When the stock market crashed in 1929, the number of visitors to national parks decreased and Ahwahnee fell in a difficult time.
The president of the Yosemite and Curry Company (YP&CC) decided that advertising would increase the occupancy rate of the Ahwahnee and hired a young aspiring concert pianist, who was also a part-time photographer, to photograph and promote the hotel and the Yosemite experience. The young man was named Ansel Adams. The rest is history. His work, like that of John Muir, will live on as long as there is a Yosemite Valley.
Adams was in love with Yosemite's beauty from an early age. In 1937 he eventually moved from San Francisco to Yosemite and, although he created visual masterpieces in other parts of the west, he remained intimately connected with the valley and the Ahwahnee Hotel for over 40 years. He retired in 1972 and died in 1982. He left behind a treasure trove of photographs of natural wonders.
The war years
In June 1943 the American Navy appropriated the Ahwahnee Hotel as a convalescent hospital for sailors. Before it was returned to YP&CC in December 1945, more than 6,700 patients had been treated at Ahwahnee.
When the Navy was free, they left many buildings including a bowling alley, a gym, a machine shop, a billiard room and a foundry. The buildings were quickly dismantled and the recovery was put to good use in the valley.
Other changes over the years
The guest lift was automated in 1963. In 1964 a small swimming pool was added in a non-invasive space next to the bar. Air conditioning was added and all bedroom windows were replaced in 1976.
There was a golf course, but it was removed before 1980 in order to preserve the primordial nature of the surroundings. TVs made their first appearance in the rooms in 1989.
Ahwahnee Hotel was listed in the National Register of Historic Monuments in 1977.
If you go
There are several entrances to Yosemite and you can choose your path to the park by looking at the Ahwahnee Hotel website.
As you walk through the park, look for signs for the Ahwahnee Hotel. A magnificent stone portal at the entrance of the hotel lets you know that you have arrived. The valet parking is always available or you can park yourself anywhere in the Sequoia wooded car park.
Have a good trip.
Beware of wine lovers! Ahwahnee is now booking for Vintner & # 39; s Holiday 2012. This year there will be eight sessions, the first one starting on November 4th. Check the Ahwahnee Hotel website for more information on this exciting event.
Special thanks to Lisa Cesaro, of the DNC Parks and Resorts of Yosemite and Tami von Isakovics of Ellipses Public Relations for helping us with information on the Ahwahnee Hotel and Yosemite Valley.
If you wish to read more details on the Ahwahnee Hotel, there are two short but excellent books on the subject. L & # 39; Ahwahnee – Yosemite & # 39; s Grand Hotel, by Keith Walklet and The Ahwahnee – Yosemite & # 39; s Classic Hotel, by Shirley Sargent. Both books are available on Amazon.com.