The Ahwahnee (Majestic Yosemite) Hotel is a grand hotel in Yosemite National Park, California, on the floor of Yosemite Valley, constructed from steel, stone, concrete, wood and glass, which opened in 1927. It is a premiere example of National Park Service rustic architecture, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. The Ahwahnee was renamed the Majestic Yosemite Hotel on March 1, 2016, due to a legal dispute between the US Government, which owns the property, and the outgoing concessionaire, Delaware North, which claims rights to the trademarked name. In the early 1900´s the first director of the National Park Service, Stephen Mather, decided that Yosemite needed a first class hotel. While Mather no doubt enjoyed the finer things in life, and was a part of the income and status group that would frequent first class hotels, his motives weren´t entirely aimed at building the kind of hotel he and his friends would enjoy. As head of the fledgling Park Service, and a master politician he understood that the wealthy and powerful held the keys to obtaining the priority and funding that his new department would need to further it´s goals of both protecting the parks and making them accessible to the public.
Just before opening, the director noticed that the porte-cochere planned for the west side of the building, where the Indian room now sits, would allow exhaust fumes from automobiles to invade the premises. A hastily designed Douglas Fir pole porte-cochere entry and parking area were erected on the east side of the hotel to correct this.
With towering 34-foot high ceilings, enormous pine trestles and granite pillars, the chandelier-lit Majestic Yosemite Dining Room is as spectacular as it is inviting. The kitchen area reflects the original design concept; it includes separate stations for baking and pastries and was never reduced when the original project was downsized. High quality kitchen appliances were installed so the hotel could compete with fine dining establishments, and the facility was specifically constructed to handle special events and functions. Only the Grand Dining Room uses real wooden beams for fire safety reasons. Every detail was carefully thought out. The alcove window at the end of the room perfectly framed Yosemite Falls when the hotel was completed. The dining room is 130 feet long and 51 feet wide, with a 34-foot ceiling supported with rock columns creating a cathedral like atmosphere. They have live piano music for dinner.
The Great Lounge is one of the main public spaces in the hotel. The large space spans the full width of the wing and nearly its full length (minus the solarium). There are two large fireplaces on either end of the room made from cut sandstone complete with seating on both sides. The interior work was carried out by a number of artisans. The individual border designs in the beams of the Great Lounge are by artist Jeanette Dryer Spencer. The rugs on the walls and draped over the banisters are actually Persian rugs. The site for the hotel is below the Royal Arches rock formation in a meadow area that had served in the past as a village for the native Miwoks, who formerly lived in the valley, and a stables complex known as Kenneyville. The site was chosen for its views of many of the iconic sights in Yosemite, including Glacier Point, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls, and its exposure to the sun allowing for natural heating.
On either side of the lounge is a series of floor to ceiling plate glass picture windows ornamented at their tops with stained glass. The husband and wife team of Ackerman and Pope were chosen over artist/interior designer Henry Lovins from Los Angeles. Lovins' interior design renderings, provided by Elizabeth Lovins (Director of the Hollywood Art Center Archive), depicted a “Mayan revival” drawing of Hispano-Moresque styling. Ackerman and Pope created a style that mixed Art Deco, Native American, Middle Eastern, and Arts and Crafts. Much of the original decoration originally was Persian. Ackerman and Pope actually became consultants in Iran. Pope even has a mausoleum built for him by the Shah. These stained glass windows were made by Jeanette Dryer Spencer.
The people who settled in this area many centuries ago are now referred to as the Northern Sierra Miwok. They established their villages alongside the rivers and streams of the Sierra Nevada from the Cosumnes River on the north to the Calaveras River on the south. Other Miwok groups lived to the west and south in California’s great central valley as far west as Mount Diablo and south as far as Yosemite National Park. The Sierra and Plains Miwok used both the twining and coiling methods of making baskets. Young willow branches were used as the foundation for both types of baskets. Redbud fibers were wrapped around the willow coils in the coiled baskets. Coiled baskets took more time to make, and were used when the basket needed to be watertight. Twined baskets were used for carrying and as seed beaters. Like most California Indian groups, the Miwok relied upon acorns as a mainstay of their diet. Acorns were harvested in autumn, dried and stored in large granaries called cha’ka. These could be eight or more feet high and were made of poles interwoven with slender brush stems. Resembling large baskets, they were lines with pine needles and wormwood, the odor of which repelled insects and rodents. The cha’ka was thatched with short boughs of white fir of incense cedar to shed snow and rain.
The Mountain Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) tree is common throughout Yosemite Valley, but especially along the banks of the Merced River in the western half of the valley and just as you enter the valley from El Portal. Cornus is a genus of about 30–60 species of woody plants in the family Cornaceae, commonly known as dogwoods, which can generally be distinguished by their blossoms, berries, and distinctive bark. The flowers, or at least what appear to be the flowers, are large, typically 3 or 4 inches across. They are not in fact single flowers, but heads of tiny flowers surrounded by petal-like bracts. The flower bracts start with a greenish tint, but turn white by the time the actual flowers start to blossom. You may find dogwoods with pink blooms on the grounds of the Ahwahnee Hotel, but these are ringers, smuggled in from a nursery elsewhere. The pink dogwood is Cornus florida, a species of flowering plant in the family Cornaceae native to eastern North America and northern Mexico with showy pink bracts.
In the 1950's, guests complained of loud noise coming from the Great Room at The Ahwahnee (as it was called until 2016). When hotel staff walked in, they found Lucille Ball playing piano, and Judy Garland singing alongside of her. That's just one of several stories at this hotel, and they're just two of several icons who have visited. President John F. Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill and Walt Disney have all hung their hats at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, a National Historic Landmark, Historic Hotel of America and AAA four-diamond property in Yosemite National Park. They have both guest rooms and cottages. The biggest drawback to the Majestic Yosemite (Ahwahnee) Hotel is price, around $250 off season to $500 per night in peak season. Even if you have the budget, it may be hard to get in: rooms fill up fast and early. If you don't have any luck, try calling for reservations 7 days in advance (when the cancellation policy takes effect) to snag a newly-canceled spot. Nonetheless, this is definitely a place to check out if you visit Yosemite. As always, please leave a comment.
Majestic Yosemite Hotel: http://www.travelyosemite.com/lodging/the-majestic-yosemite-hotel/
History of the Ahwahne: http://www.historic-hotels-lodges.com/california/ahwahnee-hotel/ahwahnee-hotel-history.htm
California Historical Society: http://californiahistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2016/03/naming-yosemite.html
Julia Parker Basket Weaver: http://hikehalfdome.com/category/history/
Miwok Indians: http://factcards.califa.org/cai/miwok.html
California Baskets: http://www.californiabaskets.com/pages/miwokhome.html
Mountain Dogwood: http://www.yosemitehikes.com/wildflowers/dogwood/dogwood.htm
Animal Life in Yosemite: https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/grinnell/contents.htm