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Yosemite Hotels Get Their Historic Names Back After Trademark Dispute

After a years-long legal dispute, a historic hotel in Yosemite National Park will revert back to its original name — The Ahwahnee.
Ben Margot
After a years-long legal dispute, a historic hotel in Yosemite National Park will revert back to its original name — The Ahwahnee.

The names of several major hotels and camp villages at Yosemite National Park in California are being restored, after a years-long trademark dispute.

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel is back to its original name, The Ahwahnee. And a set of cabins that was temporarily called Half Dome Village now carries its historic name, Camp Curry.

"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 told the Los Angeles Times. "So to have this dispute resolved is huge."

A legal settlement announced on Monday ends a dispute that started in 2015, when Yosemite didn't renew the contract of its longtime concession provider, a subsidiary of major vendor Delaware North. Instead, it awarded a 15-year contract to Yosemite Hospitality, a subsidiary of the company Aramark.

Delaware North sued. And as NPR's Kirk Siegler reported at the time, it emerged that the company had trademarked the names of a number of the sites it managed.

To give up those trademarks, it was asking for a large sum – much larger than the National Park Service said they were worth. Delaware North wanted $50 million for the trademarks and service marks, Siegler reported. "No thanks, says Yosemite Hospitality — and the National Park Service. They put the value of the assets at just $3 million."

Under the terms of the settlement deal, Delaware North is transferring the trademarks and service marks to Aramark. And at the end of Aramark's contract, "those trademarks and service marks will transfer at no cost to the National Park Service," according to a statement from the NPS.

The U.S. government paid $3.84 million and Aramark paid $8.16 million to Delaware North, Gediman told the Times.

For the period where the names were changed, some of the landmarks just had plastic tarps with the new names covering the historic signs.

On Monday, Yosemite put two photos on Twitter. The first showed a plastic sign welcoming visitors to "Half Dome Village"; the second showed the plastic removed and the original wood sign welcoming visitors to "Camp Curry."

The Ahwahnee was built in the 1920s in an effort to attract wealthier visitors to the park, according to the hotel's website. The striking building draws from a diverse range of architecture and design traditions, including "Art Deco, Native American, Middle Eastern, and Arts & Crafts Movement."

The Wawona Hotel, which has been called the Big Trees Lodge since 2016, is also back to its original name. When it changed, former Wawona manager Monica Hubert told Siegler that "those names are all oriented towards the [Native American] tribes that were in Yosemite. ... There's reasons why they're actually named those things."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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