I almost fell out of my chair when a press release from the Park Service about name changes in Yosemite popped up on my computer. Not being April 1, I knew it wasn’t a joke.
The controversial name changes happened after the outgoing (as of Feb. 29) concessionaire Delaware North claimed they acquired the names from Yosemite Park & Curry Co. when coming to the park in 1993. Delaware North now wants $51 million for the names.
The Park Service believes the names belong to the American public, and Delaware North had no authorization when, in 2002, it filed applications to trademark the iconic names. Eventually this fiasco will be decided in the courts.
The nearly 90-year-old, five-story, 99-room Ahwahnee Hotel, built with tons of trucked-in steel, timber and stone from the area, opened July 14, 1927. It was named a historical monument in 1977.
Early day guests included Queen Elizabeth II of England and Prince Philip, President John Kennedy, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, Lord and Lady Astor, the Crown Prince of Sweden, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Gertrude Stein, Tom Mix, and Will Rogers to name a few.
Curry Village, soon to be Half Dome Village, and the Wawona Hotel, being renamed to Big Trees Lodge, had their own long and colorful histories.
Badger Pass, established in 1935, is California’s oldest ski resort and deserves a better name than Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.
I can’t help but think what my grandparents, my father, and uncle would say about changing all these historical names, including the Ahwahnee Hotel which will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel.
Like millions upon millions of people who have emotional ties to Yosemite National Park, my family also had lifelong memories from their Yosemite experiences.
My grandfather Arthur Wilkinson managed the Standard Oil gas station on the Valley floor for about 10 years in the mid-1920s. He and his wife Myrl lived in a tent with their two young sons during the summer seasons. Their sons, my uncle Bob, and my father Clayton Wilkinson, attended Yosemite Elementary School.
My grandmother once told me she remembered a certain young man, Ansel Adams, was always running around with “that little box camera in his hand.”
In historian/author Shirley Sargent’s book, “Enchanted Childhoods - Growing up in Yosemite Valley,” there is a photo of my father and his brother standing next to one of the first bi-planes to land in Yosemite Valley in the mid-20s. The inquisitive youngsters were about 4 and 6 years old at the time. It wasn’t the first plane to land in the Valley (that occurred in 1919), but it was one of the last before the Park Service banned that activity.
Then there was the time the brothers were invited to a 100-plus cast party being held at the end of filming scenes for a movie starring Clara Bow when they were about 11 and 9 years old.
My grandmother’s first reaction was she did not want them around those “Hollywood people” who drank and smoked, and who knows what else. My grandfather decided to let them attend, where they ended up dancing the Charleston before the crowd circled around them. They came home with their pockets half-filled with nickles and dimes that the crowd politely tossed on the floor while they danced.
Prior to entering the military service, my father and uncle delivered produce to the park from their hometown Modesto during their college years.
My uncle also worked a couple summers as a “soda jerk” in the Ahwahnee Hotel Sweet Shop. He told me the Sweet Shop was small (12 stools at the counter and four small tables), and it was a one-man operation - preparing the order, serving it, collecting the money, and washing the dishes.
It was there that he met and served movie stars Dick Powell and his current wife, Joan Blondell. My uncle told me the couple ate heartily, and were satisfied with the meal, leaving a “hefty” 50-cent tip.
I’ve never forgotten these stories told to me as a youngster.
People have grown accustomed to corporate America paying for the rights to place their names and logos on about 65 professional sport stadiums for an annual total of more than $170 million.
But the Ahwahnee Hotel, Wawona Hotel, Curry Village, and Badger Pass are much more than colossal concrete structures filled with plastic chairs.
These names are part of our state and country’s history, and the lifelong memories of the millions of people who have been touched by them.
The old names deserve to stay.