Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Ahwahnee

As long as we've been here we hadn't yet gone to the Ahwahnee Hotel, but HH's son visited us from Albany this weekend, and we celebrated HH's and my birthdays and David's visit by breakfasting there yesterday morning. I've been to Yosemite twice before this stint as a volunteer but didn't go to the Ahwahnee then either, or don't remember going. It was a long time ago. But I would have felt outclassed and like I didn't belong or thought I would have been challenged and tossed out. If I think I have self-esteem issues now, hoo boy, back then was the dark ages.

Room rates there are in the $500 a night range and unless someone else is paying for it I won't be staying there in this lifetime, but breakfast is a drop in the bucket in comparison and now I can say I went.

The Ahwahnee opened in 1927 with a construction cost of $1.25 million. The site was chosen for its views of Glacier Point, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls (none of which appear in the photo below), as well as its exposure to the sun to take advantage of solar heating. The architect, Gilbert Stanley Underwood, also designed the lodges at Zion, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon's North Rim. The Ahwahnee, according to Wikipedia, is a prime example of National Park Service rustic architecture, or "parkitecture." 

Original plans called for a dining room capable of seating 1,000 (what?!) but they were scaled back to room for 350. As the maitre'd was leading us to our table yesterday I asked about the full house I expected they would have today, Mother's Day. (Happy Mother's Day to all you moms!) He sighed wearily, a day ahead of the horde, and said they were expecting 1,000. HH and I were going to go again today for their Sunday brunch. When I went online last week to make a reservation, availability was down to 9:15 and 9:30 for a brunch session that lasts for at least six hours, but yesterday was enough. It has the kind of prices you'd expect for a $500-a-night hotel. There's a regular menu but the Sunday brunch buffet is $45. Each. I'd have to not eat for a couple of days to get my money's worth at a cost like that. That's the dangerous thing about buffets.

The hotel is a National Historic Landmark and is on the National Register. I had no idea what the difference was so I looked it up. National Historic Landmarks are "historic buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts" that "possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States."  

The National Register is the "official list of the nation’s historic properties deemed worthy of preservation." There are over 90,000 of them, which is pretty funny because when I went on the road two years ago one ambition I had was to see all the places on the National Register. On the other hand, there are just over 2,500 Landmarks, which not only make them special but more likely to be crossed off my list.

The Great Lounge is the major public space in the hotel. It is 77 feet by 51 with 24-foot ceilings. There are fireplaces at both ends.

The other fireplace across the lounge:

Note the sign on the left side of the hearth, the same fireplace as above but a different view. It asks people not to dry their clothes by the fire. It's always amazing to me that people have to be instructed in basic manners...

...such as with this sign on the wall at the entrance to the lounge. What kind of behavior would necessitate a sign like this?

Ten floor-to-ceiling windows line the length of the room, each topped with a hand-stained, unique window. It's a shame they're blocked from the sun by an overhang, because their colors aren't as brilliant as they could be.

In 1943 the Ahwahnee was converted to a Naval Convalescent center. An improvement the Navy made was repainting the interior, covering the hand-painted designs of the original building.

This is one of the best examples I've seen of "parkitecture" blending seamlessly into its environment. 

This time around I wasn't overwhelmed or intimidated. I'm not one of those people who has to be told not to drape my wet clothes around the fireplace, or that I should behave appropriately. I wouldn't have had to be told back in 1977 or 1988, either. I suppose I was classy enough then after all.

I've been thinking about my friend Jane a lot this past week. The consistent theme of what people have said about her is her enthusiasm for life. I've said she went after it with heart and hands open; others said she lived her life full out, full of enjoyment; she was always of great spirit; still others remembered her laugh and her irreverent sense of humor. What a legacy to leave to those who love you. What a kind of life to live.

Thought of the day:

At the end of life, what really matters
is not what we bought but what we built;
not what we got but what we shared;
not our competence but our character;
and not our success, but our significance.
Live a life that matters. Live a life of love. - unknown