People cried when Yosemite restored historic names like the Ahwahnee. Here’s why

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park employees remove a sign revealing the original name of the Ahwahnee Hotel, changed several years ago in a dispute with former concessionaire Delaware North.
(Brian van der Brug /Los Angeles Times)

The Ahwahnee Hotel was named in the 1920s.

Curry Village dates back to the 19th century.

So does the Wawona Hotel.

These were iconic names in one of the most iconic places in California: Yosemite National Park.

So there was deep anger a few years ago when the National Park Service was forced to change those monikers in a bizarre trademark dispute.

Life went on at Yosemite as the landmarks got new names, though some visitors still used the old ones out of habit and defiance.

But this week, to the joy of many, the old names returned as part of a multimillion-dollar settlement in the trademark case.

Yosemite National Park
Signs are taken down and the names of the Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village are being restored.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

“People were crying,” said National Park spokesman Scott Gediman, who was there when the cover was removed from the entrance to Curry Village on Monday morning. “Places like the Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village, they both bring out such deep emotions in people and people have such connections to them.”

Here’s a primer on the dispute and the final settlement:

What happened this week?

The National Park Service on Monday reached a $12-million settlement in a long-running legal battle with Yosemite’s former facilities operator that permits the Ahwahnee name — and several others — to be restored to their historic attractions.

The U.S. government paid $3.84 million of the settlement, and Aramark, Yosemite’s current concessions operator, paid $8.16 million.

The park also can resume using hundreds of logos and slogans that were in dispute, such as “Go climb a rock,” which appears on merchandise advertising Yosemite Mountaineering School. It’s expected to take several months to restore all the references.

What landmarks are affected?

 Ahwahnee Hotel
The historic Ahwahnee Hotel is lit up as dusk falls over Yosemite National Park.
(John Walker / Associated Press)

The famed Ahwahnee Hotel has played host to such well-known figures as Queen Elizabeth II, John F. Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin. It was one of the highest-profile properties renamed in 2016, pending the outcome of the lawsuit, but there were others.

Curry Village, a collection of cabins that had carried the name since the 1880s, became Half Dome Village. Yosemite Lodge at the Falls was renamed Yosemite Valley Lodge. Wawona Hotel was renamed Big Trees Lodge, and Badger Pass Ski Area became Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area.

Curry Village
The historic wood sign at Camp Curry.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

For about three years, signs advertising many of the attractions were simply covered with tarps bearing the temporary names.

On Monday, the tarps came down.

What was the dispute about?

The dispute began in 2015 after Delaware North Companies Inc., which had operated the park’s restaurants, hotels and outdoor activities, lost a $2-billion contract renewal bid to rival Aramark.

Delaware North sued, claiming that when it took over operations in 1993, it had been required to purchase the previous concessionaire’s intellectual property, which included the names of the attractions. The company wanted to be paid more than $50 million to allow Aramark to continue using the disputed names.

The name change was widely criticized.

“How could the government be dumb enough to allow any confusion to exist about what belongs to the public and what belongs to a concession contractor operating on public land?” wrote Times columnist Michael Hiltzik.

“The principle here is clear. Trademarks over the names and other intrinsic features of iconic destinations such as The Ahwahnee should benefit the owners of those destinations — the taxpayers. Ideally, the government would own these marks, and it could license them to concessions operators for the duration of their contracts,” The Times Editorial Board wrote.

Under the terms of the settlement, Aramark will pay Delaware North to use the names through the end of its contract in 2031. Ownership of the names then will revert to the federal government, leaving no question as to whether the park can continue using them, Gediman said.