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Yosemite to restore names to historic attractions under $12-million settlement

The historic Ahwahnee Hotel
The historic Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park.
(John Walker / Associated Press)

The Majestic Yosemite can be called the Ahwahnee Hotel again.

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 that name — and several others — to be restored to their historic attractions.

“I’ve said from literally Day One that these names belong with these places, and ultimately belong to the American people,” Yosemite National Park spokesman Scott Gediman said Monday. “So to have this dispute resolved is huge.”

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

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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.

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 will then revert to the federal government, leaving no question as to whether the park can continue using them, Gediman said.

Perhaps most important, he said, the litigation has also affected how agreements for national park concessions are structured. Newer deals now specify that private companies can’t independently own names and trademarks associated with park attractions.

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“It set a precedent for the over 400 national park units across the country, which is extremely significant,” Gediman said.

The famed Ahwahnee Hotel was established in the 1920s and has played host to such celebrities 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 & Snowboard Area.

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.

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Curry Village was renamed Half Dome Village during the legal dispute.
(National Park Service)
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The tarp renaming Curry Village Half Dome Village came down on Monday.
(National Park Service)

“People were crying,” said Gediman, who was there when the cover was removed from the entrance to Curry Village on Monday morning. Visitors who were gathered at the historic site recalled holding engagements, marriages and even christenings there, he said.

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“Places like the Ahwanee Hotel and Curry Village, they both bring out such deep emotions in people and people have such connections to them.”

In addition to the signs, the historic place names will need to be changed back on websites, brochures, hotel menus and other promotional literature.

The park can also 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, Gediman said.

“But for the most part, the most important thing to focus on is the fact that it’s done — the settlement was literally signed this morning and we’re done,” he said. “These original place names have returned, and we are ecstatic.”

alex.wigglesworth@latimes.com Twitter:@phila_lex


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