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Yosemite landmarks change names, visitors shake heads: ‘It’s a crazy situation’

A traffic sign in Yosemite National Park was changed Tuesday, March 1, 2016 to reflect new names for The Ahwahnee hotel and Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. The changes were made because of a trademark dispute between the National Park Service and Yosemite’s former concessionaire, Delaware North.
A traffic sign in Yosemite National Park was changed Tuesday, March 1, 2016 to reflect new names for The Ahwahnee hotel and Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. The changes were made because of a trademark dispute between the National Park Service and Yosemite’s former concessionaire, Delaware North. rappleton@fresnobee.com

Dirk Kyle drove to Yosemite National Park from Fresno on Tuesday to meet with some friends at The Ahwahnee. When they got there, one friend from Southern California was out a mug.

“He’d been saying he wanted an Ahwahnee coffee mug for ages,” Kyle said with a hearty chuckle. “When we got here, we realized we were a day late and he’d never be able to get one.”

Kyle was aware of the ongoing struggle between the National Park Service and its former concessionaire, Delaware North, but he didn’t expect to find plaques, signs and awards with electrical tape covering all uses of The Ahwahnee name. The building, which opened in 1927, on Tuesday officially became The Majestic Yosemite Hotel.

“It’s a crazy situation,” Kyle said.

The name changes to The Ahwahnee and several other well-known Yosemite destinations were announced in January. Delaware North is currently suing the Park Service, requesting millions in compensation for the names, which it believes were part of the concessionaire’s contract. Delaware North also holds the official trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The Park Service is fighting the lawsuit, and filed a petition with the Patent Office to cancel the trademarks, but it still felt the name changes were necessary Tuesday to ensure a smooth transition between Delaware North and incoming Aramark, a Philadelphia company that bought the concession rights for around $2 billion.

At Curry Village, big tarps were placed over all signs with the new name of Half Dome Village.

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel saw a steady stream of guests Tuesday afternoon. Most stopped briefly to look at a wall of plaques and shake their heads.

“It’s history – you can’t just cover up history with tape,” one woman said as she stormed to the front counter. The hotel’s four-diamond award, given in 2015 by AAA, has its old name blacked out, as do several plaques explaining the establishment’s long history.

The gift shop has been stripped of all its merchandise bearing the old name. The new goods, at least at the former Ahwahnee and Wawona hotels, had not arrived as of noon Tuesday.

A group of bellmen outside the main entrance to The Ahwahnee still were adjusting to the changes.

“I’ve said ‘the Ahwah – Majestic Yosemite Hotel’ a few times when answering the phone,” one said.

“It’s hard,” another added. “Some of us have worked here 20 or 30 years. We’ve said that 10 or 15 million times.”

Guests Stuart and his wife, Kirsten, who did not want to give their last names, said the confusion among the hotel’s staff – which also were battling a new computer system all day – worked out in their favor.

“We were staying in one of those little economy rooms down the way,” Stuart said. “I guess the staff didn’t realize that workers would be by to work on our room at 5 a.m., so we got booted out – then upgraded to the presidential suite.”

The couple has been staying at the lodge regularly for around 40 years. Before that, they camped at the park in a Volkswagen bus.

“JFK stayed there, I think,” Stuart said of the suite. “It’s named after him, and it has a secret room inside.”

Stuart said the staff had technical issues and was quite busy, but he was satisfied with the efforts to accommodate everyone.

One image, however, stuck out to him.

“It was a shock to see employees scraping off the Ahwahnee name inside an elevator,” Stuart said.

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