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Not So Rough
Yosemite Hotel gets first major renovation since 1927
Yosemite's Ahwahnee Hotel is about to undergo a major renovation by Hornberger + Worstell.
Kenny Karst

After more than 80 years, Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel will be getting a much-needed facelift. The National Park Service recently announced the selection of San Francisco–based architecture firm Hornberger + Worstell to oversee a complete refurbishment of the 1927 edifice.

Designed by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood and built to attract well-heeled, politically influential guests as a way to help finance the park, the Ahwahnee is generally regarded as the most architecturally splendid of all the national park lodgings. The six-story structure’s sturdy walls of rough-cut granite seem to emerge from a 3,700-foot cliff-face. The lofty, well-appointed interiors feature sweeping views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls. Even with room rates starting at $420, the hotel is usually booked solid.

The hotel under construction in the 1920s.

The project will involve a seismic retrofit as well as updating the electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems. The interiors will also be spruced up. The public spaces and most of the 109 rooms and 14 cottages will receive a new coat of paint and restored furnishings. “Architecturally and visually, we’re not looking at any changes,” said Scott Gediman, public affairs officer for the park. “The challenge with renovating a historic landmark is how to update it while keeping its historic integrity.”

While the scope of the work is still being finalized, the remodel is not currently emphasizing sustainability and there has been no mention of alternative energy sources. Gediman did say, however, that new energy-efficient lighting might be part of the renovation.

The Ahwahnee's interior marries mountain lodge and country club aesthetics, including here, in the great Lodge room.
Courtesy DNC Parks & Resorts

The project, which is estimated to cost $80 to $100 million, will be paid for with National Park Service funds along with a capital-improvements fund raised by the park concessioner. Stimulus money, however, will not be part of the financing. An environmental impact report is expected in the late fall, and a public comment period on the proposed plan will continue to the spring of next year, with work anticipated to begin in fall 2010. The renovation should take about two to three years to complete.

The project drew about 50 proposals from firms across the country, and the selection was made by a panel of historic preservation architects, landscape architects, and structural engineers put together by the National Park Service. Hornberger + Worstell was chosen largely for its experience working on historic hotels such as the 1888 Hotel del Coronado in San Diego and the 1904 Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. According to Gediman, the firm also had an edge because it was located relatively close by and had relationships with a wide range of specialized subcontractors.

Lydia Lee