The Ahwahnee Hotel and other Yosemite National Park landmarks soon will be renamed amid a legal dispute between the government and the facilities' outgoing operator.
On March 1, the famed Ahwahnee — a name affixed to countless trail guides and family memories — will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. And Curry Village, a collection of cabins near the center of the park that has carried the same name since the 1800s, will become Half Dome Village, park spokesman Scott Gediman said Thursday.
"This is not something we did willingly," said Gediman, noting that the government was fighting to reclaim the old names in hopes that they someday will be restored.
"It would totally change the experience to visit Yosemite without these names," said Jeanne O'Neil, a Bakersfield resident who has visited the park annually for 36 years. Each time, she stops at the Ahwahnee for a glass of iced tea.
"I would expect this decision to create a huge public outcry," O'Neil said.
The dispute arose after Delaware North — which had operated Yosemite's hotels, restaurants and outdoor activities — lost a $2-billion bid last year to renew its contract.
The company said that it had been required to purchase "the assets of the previous concessionaire, including its intellectual property, at a cost of $115 million in today's dollars" when it took over operations in 1993, spokeswoman Lisa Cesaro said.
That intellectual property included the original names, she said.
Now Delaware North wants to be paid more than $50 million for the rights. Cesaro said the company was willing to lend the names for free until its court claim is resolved.
"It's always about the money," O'Neil said.
The National Park Service has said that rights to the names were never part of Delaware North's original deal, and that the new concessions contract with Aramark makes clear that the names will not be sold this time either, Gediman said.
Still, the name changes were necessary so that Aramark could reliably plan ahead for its takeover in March, Gediman said, and so that visitors would have advance warning about the moves.
Yosemite National Park — another name that also is claimed by Delaware North and remains in dispute — will stay put, Gediman said.
Park Service officials have accused Delaware North of opportunistically following the lead of other private operators, who have experienced mixed success in claiming the naming rights of government-owned icons like Tavern on the Green restaurant in New York's Central Park and Phantom Ranch at the floor of the Grand Canyon.
As the Yosemite legal battle continues, the courts first must decide if Delaware North's trademark is valid and, if so, whether the amount the company is seeking is legitimate. The government claims that the intellectual property is worth $3.5 million.
The Ahwahnee Hotel — a onetime host of Queen Elizabeth II, John F. Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin — is the most valuable asset in the Yosemite deal.
The 1920s hotel has a huge stone fireplace where thousands of people unwind each year playing board games, grabbing a hot drink or sitting on the built-in benches around the hearth.
Also affected will be:
Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, becoming Yosemite Valley Lodge.
Wawona Hotel, becoming Big Trees Lodge.
Badger Pass Ski Area, becoming Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.
"Yosemite is an iconic public asset. Its names exist in people's hearts," said Julie Mastrine, a 24-year-old activist at Care2, a Bay Area technology company that is hosting a petition urging Delaware North to drop its claim to the names. "It's preposterous that anyone can claim to own them."
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