Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel, Finally Restored | Travel | Smithsonian
The Ahwahnee Hotel was built in 1927 to draw affluent and influential tourists into the park and give them a Ritz-Carlton experience amid Yosemite's wilderness. (Robert Holmes / Corbis)

Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel, Finally Restored

Interior designers spared no detail in bringing this historic lodge back to its luxurious origins

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When management at the Ahwahnee Hotel – Yosemite’s fabulous Arts and Crafts style lodge built in 1927 – wanted to fix damaged chandeliers in the dining room last year, they feared having to settle for costly and inferior replacement parts. No problem: Phoenix Day, the San Francisco firm that provided the original fixtures for the room, had been saving the original molds for the past 83 years.

The giant metal chandeliers along with the soaring 34-foot ceilings and walls of wood and stone make the room look like a Viking palace. A nattily appointed Viking palace, as the dining room along with many other parts of the Ahwahnee just underwent a $12 million refurbishment.

In the 1920s, visitors to Yosemite were mostly campers. The Ahwahnee was built to draw affluent and influential tourists into the park and give them a luxurious experience amid Yosemite’s 1,000 square miles of wilderness.

Over the years, there have been many renovations. This one was spurred by the need to update the building’s fire detection, alarm and suppression system, and the goal was to undo an earlier restoration that strayed from the Ahwahnee look: woodsy elegance combined with artisan textiles and stenciling.

Designers Richard Kollath and Edward McCann of Kollath-McCann Creative Services researched Yosemite’s archives to select textiles, colors and accessories that complement those used during the hotel’s historically significant period, from its opening through 1942. New hallway carpeting replicates the design on an 80-year old Turkish kilim rug, similar to the kilims that have been displayed throughout the hotel since its opening. Throughout the building, original furniture was refurbished, refinished and reupholstered to capture its historic look.

The Ahwahnee houses many historical artifacts, which have also been restored and put on display. They include a fine collection of Paiute, Washo, Yokuts and Western Mono baskets from the early 1900s. The gathering baskets, storage and cooking bowls, sifters, winnowers and fish traps were used as decoration on the fireplace mantles in the Ahwahnee’s early years. During the renovation, the hotel acquired more antique baskets – some for decoration, some to be showcased in new cabinets.

The result of all the work: a stunning building, inside and out.

One of the Ahwahnee Hotel’s earliest guests was photographer Ansel Adams, who captured iconic images of Yosemite on film. He also had a bit of fun while he was there, appearing in the Ahwahnee’s December Bracebridge Dinner show – held every year in the dining room—in the late 1920s and even directing the show in 1929. One suspects that if Adams could stand on the show’s stage again, he’d smile. Outside the enormous windows, Yosemite’s grandeur endures. And inside, the historic Ahwahnee look continues.

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