Beautiful RARE certificate from the Wawona Hotel Company
issued in 1904. This historic document was printed by Cabery & Company and has an
ornate border around it with a vignette of the Wawaona Hotel with Half Dome Mountain in the background. This item has the signatures of the Company's President, John S. Washburn and Secretary, Edward P. Washburn and is over 105 years old. The certificate was issued to J. F. Washburn and endorsed on the back by Juline F. Washburn. This is the only certificate from this famous hotel that we have seen and believe it to be quite rare.
The Wawona Hotel is a complex of seven structures built on the upper edge of a large meadow in the southwestern corner of Yosemite National Park. The buildings are laid out in a relatively formal pattern on the edge of a rolling hill overlooking the meadow. The front elevation of the main hotel building runs north-south. A circular drive with a centered fountain leads up to the hotel. The exterior walls of the structures, to the northwest, east, south, and southwest of the main hotel building, are all aligned with the cardinal directions, contributing to a Victorian formality. The area of Wawona, an Indian term for "Big Trees," became part of Yosemite National Park in 1932.
The buildings were constructed over several decades, beginning as a development at a stage stop on a passenger and freight line. The first building of the present development to be constructed was "Long White" or Clark Cottage built in 1876. A fire in 1878 destroyed the rest of the original stage stop buildings, but Long White remained and became the anchor for the new Wawona Hotel group. The main hotel building opened in 1879. The "Little White" or manager's residence was complete in 1884. Landscape painter Thomas Hill's studio was finished in 1886 adjacent to the main hotel structure. The "Little Brown" or Moore cottage took its place east of the main hotel building in 1894. The "Long Brown or Washburn cottage may have been completed in 1899, although the exact date of its construction remains open to question. The Annex was completed in 1918. Three more buildings were constructed to augment hotel facilities (including a store and an employee dormitory) in 1920, but none is extant today.
The buildings of the hotel complex have a number of features in common. They are all of wood-frame construction with painted exterior finishes. They are all more than one story in height with multiple exterior porches or verandas and some decorative woodwork. All have undergone certain changes in recent years to improve the quality of the seasonally-offered guest services and to make the structures safer for occupancy. Cosmetic finishes such as paint, wallpaper, and carpeting over the original floor materials, have all been updated. Most of the bathrooms have new fixtures. Sprinkler systems and baseboard heaters have been added. New shakes were put on the roofs in recent years. Many of the furnishings throughout the hotel are period pieces but are not original to the structures. These period pieces are not included in this landmark nomination. Any original remaining furniture, light fixtures, or paintings are included.
The Long White or Clark Cottage, completed in 1876, is a wood building with a balloon frame. The one-and-one-half-story building, rectangular in plan, has an exterior siding of weatherboards finished at the corners with cornerboards. The gable roof and multiple dormers are finished with wood shakes. The veranda surrounding the building is sheltered by a skirt roof supported by chamfered posts with curvilinear brackets. A railing with diagonal cross pieces encircles the veranda. The railing and the detailing of the eaves' woodwork are elements of a simplified Greek Revival architecture. Most of the windows in the building are six-over-six double hung. The south gable end of the building contains a small shed, constructed between 1890 and 1917 by which time all of the dormers were added. All of the eight guest rooms contain baths, added during the 1940s by decreasing the numbers of original guest rooms. The interiors may contain the original painted ceilings. Room configuration dates from the 1940s; sheetrock covering the 1940s wall partitions dates from the early 1980s. For these reasons only the building's exterior, first-floor ceiling, and 1940s room configuration are included in this nomination.
The main building of the Wawona Hotel (1879) is a balloon-frame structure generally T-shaped in plan. The foundation is stone and wooden piers, hidden by a latticework skirt that is in turn covered with vines. Exterior walls are drop-channel siding. A two-story veranda encircles much of the building. The veranda's railing is in a simple geometric pattern of rectangles. The building is sheltered by a hip roof, and a skirt roof wrapping around the building covers the veranda. All of the roofs are finished with wood shakes. An addition at the north end of the building, dating from 1914, contains much of the present dining room and kitchen space. That addition changed the building's plan from an "L" to a "T." The present lobby and expanded dining room date from 1917-1918, when the building's interior was remodelled. The lounge and sitting room south of the lobby also date from that time, as does the lobby configuration with the small office behind the registration desk. The upstairs contains dormitory space for hotel employees. The tall windows in the building are principally four-over-four double hung. The four-panel wood doors that lead out to the veranda have transom lights above. These original doors retain their hardware and have new locks for improved security.
The front of the hotel is nearly symmetrical. The main entrance to the hotel is through french doors near the central portion of the veranda. Above the entrance is a fourteen-light fixed transom. The lobby, with its 1917 light fixtures, is a central space with two sitting rooms and guest rooms to the south, and the dining room and small bar to the north. A small staircase to the right of the registration desk has a decorative balustrade and leads upstairs to the dormitory space. French doors lead out from the lobby to a porch at the rear of the building. The sitting rooms contain fireplaces. Windows and interior doors are surrounded by heavy wood moldings, and picture moldings wrap around the upper walls of the rooms. The dining room and bar have hardwood floors. Box beams in the dining room give the ceiling a coffered effect. The lighting fixtures hanging from the ceiling have Giant Sequoia cones woven into their suspending chains and as a decorative fringe around their shades to bring to mind the grove of Big Trees two miles away.
The manager's residence, now known as Little White and completed in 1884, is a small L-shaped building with intersecting gable roofs. The veranda that wraps around the building is sheltered by a skirt roof. All of the roofs are finished with wood shakes. The railing around the veranda is simple and consists of two parallel boards connecting the chamfered posts. The windows are four-over-four double hung. The original four-panel doors and their hardware remain, again augmented by new locks.
The interior of the building has undergone some renovation. The kitchen of the manager s residence is now bathrooms for the guest rooms. Baseboard heat warms the rooms. At some time in recent years the sprinkler system was added. The building retains its original high ceilings and wood moldings.
The Hill Studio (probably 1886) to the northwest of the main hotel building is a one-story building with a cruciform plan. Originally built as a painting studio and sales room for landscape painter Thomas Hill, the building saw a variety of uses since his death in 1908 including ice-cream parlor, dance hall, and recreation room. These changing uses resulted in changes to some of the original fabric. Most of these changes were reversed when the building underwent a partial restoration in 1967. Other changes, such as the restoration of the skylight, are scheduled for completion soon.
The present roofline of the shake roof presents a steeper pitch than the original standing-seam metal roof. A small balustrade mimicking a widow's walk tops the building. The porch on the front elevation is sheltered by a skirt roof. Details of the picket-type porch railing and spindly upper brackets are reminiscent of a perpendicular Eastlake style. The building's foundation is hidden by a skirt of beaded siding. Exterior walls are drop-channel and beaded siding. A four-panel door is centered on the front elevation. On the interior, ceilings are beaded siding and floors are hardwood. A painted wood wainscot encircles the walls. The wood doors, all surrounded by moldings, have four panels. An exterior elevator has been constructed at the rear of the building adjacent to the back porch steps. It is not attached to any historic fabric. The base of a circular fountain directly in front of the main entrance dates from the nineteenth century. Intrusion alarms and a halon fire suppression system have been installed in the building.
The Little Brown Cottage (1896), also known as the Moore Cottage, sits picturesquely above the main hotel building on a little knoll. The building is nearly square in plan, with a small shed- roofed addition on the east. The hip roof is pierced by dormers on the north and south and topped with a cupola with Palladian windows looking out in the four cardinal directions. The gable ends of the dormers are filled with diamond-pattern shingles. The cornerboards of the cupola are small pilasters. The veranda surrounding the building has a skirt roof that tucks up under the bracketed eaves of the main roof. Decorative "gingerbread"-type brackets at the tops of the chamfered posts and the railings between the posts add an elegance to the structure that is repeated in the sawn bargeboards in the dormers. Exterior walls are drop-channel siding with cornerboards finishing the edges. The tall windows of the first floor are one-over-one double hung. The building's foundation is screened by a skirting of beaded siding.
The original high ceilings on the first floor of this structure remain. Original four-panel doors and their hardware are also intact. Upstairs wood moldings with bullseye corner panels surround the door openings. The building has undergone the usual cosmetic and safety updates. The hardware on the original four- panel doors has been restored. New wallpaper in a tasteful period design now covers the walls up as far as the picture molding, and carpeting covers the original wood floors. The remodelled bathrooms contain principally new fixtures, although the sinks may be original.
The Long Brown or Washburn Cottage was probably constructed in 1899-1900, although an exact date is lacking. The large wood- frame building is two-and-one-half stories in height, and generally rectangular in plan. The structure originally looked similar to the Clark Cottage--a long, rectangular one-and-one- half-story building. The second story and present attic were added in 1914 and the hipped-roof addition at the south sometime between 1914 and 1932. A veranda wrapping around most of the building's first floor has detailing similar to that on the Moore Cottage. The chamfered posts have jigsawn railings and the same bracket gingerbread of double-scrolls and diamond patterns. A skirt roof covers the veranda. The main gable roof of the building runs north-south. Paired eave brackets and bargeboards are similar to the Moore Cottage. These eaves on the gable ends have cornice returns, a detail typical of Greek Revival buildings. Vent openings in the gable ends are pointed, paralleling the shape of the gable. Roofs are finished with wood shakes. Windows are one-over-one double hung. The exterior is sheathed with drop-channel siding edged with cornerboards. The foundation is screened by a vented skirting of horizontal siding. A staircase and additional balustrade were added on the north end of the building in 1951 to serve as a fire escape. Additional windows were added to the structure at the same time when the interiors were remodelled.
The Annex, constructed in 1917-18, is a two-and-one-half-story building with a partial basement at the west end. The large wood-frame structure is rectangular in plan and surrounded by a two-story veranda. The balustrades edging the verandas are simply patterned vertical balusters with horizontal rails. Porch posts have T-shaped diagonal brackets giving a Stick-Style appearance to the building. The gable roof and skirt roofs around the gable ends are finished with wood shakes. Exterior walls are finished with wood shingles painted white. The foundation is screened by a latticework on the north and central portions of the building. The basement area at the south end is sheathed with wood shingles. Most of the building's double-hung windows are paired, as are the doors entering the guest rooms from the verandas. Double sets of french doors on the south and north gable ends provide access to those areas of the building. The large room at the west end is a common space with a large stone fireplace, wood panelling, and decorative ceiling moldings. The building has changed little since construction.
The fountain and reflecting pool in front of the main hotel building, finished in 1918, are on the original location of a first fountain existing prior to 1899. The fountain is circular in plan with a cube-shaped architectural form on top with four of its sides pierced by arched openings. The fountain is made of river cobbles like those that line the entrance drive.
Wawona 's architectural importance to American architecture is as the largest existing Victorian hotel complex within the boundaries of a national park, and one of the few remaining in the United States with this high level of integrity. The site is listed in the National Register as nationally significant in the area of art, regionally significant in the areas of commerce, conservation, and transportation, and of local significance in the area of exploration and settlement.
Although the architecture of the individual buildings is not extremely noteworthy--buildings such as these were derived from the mainstreams of contemporary architecture--the integrity of the hotel complex is unusual. Constructed over a forty-year period, the buildings have an architectural unity established by their formal placement on the rural landscape, by the principal building material, and by their form and massing. The porches and verandas around the rectangular buildings are a common feature that further unite the structures and encourage an airy connection with the landscape. The variety of often subtle stylistic elements livens the architectural unity. The buildings contain elements taken from the Greek Revival style, such as the cornice returns on the eaves of the Washburn Cottage. Stick- Style and Eastlake details appear in railings and brackets. Even Palladio's classical elements appear in the cupola of the Moore Cottage. The simple structures and their specific details illustrate a broad spectrum of stylistic concerns present in American architecture from the 1870s through World War I.
The hotel complex contains additional aspects of architectural significance. The hotel retains integrity of function by providing the same visitor service it has for more than 100 years. The complex is still frequented by travelers visiting the region seeking a quieter, more subdued atmosphere than the Yosemite Valley. The buildings retain considerable architectural integrity, particularly on the exteriors where nearly all of the buildings' exterior fabric pre-dates World War I. This unusual combination of intact complex and functional integrity is particularly noteworthy.
Wawona Hotel's regional significance in the area of commerce is based on its resort history as a major California hotel catering to Californians, other Americans, and foreign tourists for more than a century. Famous visitors to the hotel include former presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes, President Theodore Roosevelt, and presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan. The hotel is of local significance in the areas of exploration and settlement, and conservation because it was constructed on the homestead of one of Yosemite's earliest settlers, Galen Clark, appointed the first official protector of Yosemite as a state park. The hotel is of regional historical significance in the area of transportation as the stage station adjacent to an important river crossing on the south fork of the Merced and along a pioneering stage route.
The complex is of national significance in art because it contains the Thomas Hill studio, also known as the Pavilion, where landscape painter Thomas Hill worked in the summers between 1886 and his death in 1908. Hill, considered one of the last painters of the Hudson River School, had an earlier studio in Yosemite Valley. John Washburn, owner and builder of the Wawona Hotel, was courting one of Hill's daughters at the time that Hill moved his operations out of the Valley. Washburn constructed the studio for Hill's use and undoubtedly with some personal goals in mind. A working studio and sales area of a famous artist attracted more visitors to his hotel and showed a strong commitment to the family of his future wife.
The Wawona Hotel's atmosphere as a rural, Late Victorian resort remains. From simplest beginnings as a homestead and stage stop in the 1850s, the development blossomed into a resort with perpendicular axes, centered fountains, and the grassy plazas with a Victorian sense of formality. This formality, also evident in the relative symmetry of the architecture, is characteristic of the time. The Wawona 's integrity of exterior architectural design and of function as a Victorian resort in continuous operation for more than 10 years are unique in a national park.
History from National Parks Service.
Wawona’s Yesterdays (1961) by Shirley Sargent
There were fourteen Washburn brothers and half brothers in Putney, Vermont. Three of them came to California to seek their fortunes and found modest ones in a mine and general store at Mormon Bar, two miles from Mariposa. Edward, John and Henry Washburn were stalwart, bearded men with pioneering, adventurous spirits. Their mine and store weren’t challenging enough so they improved the Chowchilla Mountain Road from Mariposa to Wawona and, on December 26,1874, purchased the stopping place then known as Clark and Moore’s.
Wawona was called Clark’s Station, Clark and Moore’s, and Big Tree Station, but was named permanently Wawona, the Indian word for Big Tree, by Jean Bruce (Mrs. Henry) Washburn in 1884.
The Washburns bought the lodging house itself, the open bridge which they covered, irrigation ditch, sawmill, barn and 160 forested acres. The original hotel burned to the ground in 1878, but, undaunted, the brothers proceeded to erect in 1879 a new 140- by 32-foot hotel building, called the Long White. By the time U.S. Grant visited later that year, cedar trees had been planted and a large fountain installed.
Partnerships with Wm. Coffman, E. W. Chapman, Charles and John Bruce were short-lived as the three brothers made a good, ambitious team. They not only ran the hotel, but also operated a winter ranch near Madera, the Wawona Road, which they built to Yosemite Valley in 1875, and the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company which they formed in 1882. 15
Because of its isolated location, the hotel had to be self-sufficient. A post office was established about 1886; telephones came soon after 1905, electricity in 1908. Springs, wells, a large irrigation ditch supplying water for cattle, hogs, sheep, horses as well as crops of hay and timothy in the The Washburn Brothers—
Julius, Henry, John, Edward
extensive meadows were developed. There was a store, a saloon, a truck garden, an apple orchard and a bear cage that was used occasionally for a jail! 15
In his 1886 book, In the Heart of Sierras, James Hutchings described the Wawona scene eloquently. “The very instant the bridge is crossed, on the way to the hotel, the whole place seems bristling with business, and business energy. Conveyances of all kinds, from a sulky to whole rows of passenger coaches, capable of carrying from one to eighteen or twenty persons each, at a load, come into sight. From some the horses are just being taken out, while others are being hitched up. Hay and grain wagons; freight wagons coming and going; horses with or without harness; stables for a hundred animals; blacksmiths’ shops, carriage and paint shops, laundries and other buildings, look at us from as many different stand-points.”
The Washburn brothers superintended all of this together, but each had a few specific jobs. Henry ran the stage lines and was the contact man, making frequent business trips and arranging publicity. Edward P., the bachelor brother, kept the books and superintended the help, meals and rooms in such a way as to make guests happy, comfortable and eager to come back another time. John S., who greatly resembled General Grant, did the bookings and ran the outside—gardens, ice, water, firewood. etc. Clarence Washburn, John’s son, remembers that the brothers “all pulled together as a team and each could and did handle any hotel job.”
Wawona was their main money-making concern, but the brothers had a financial finger in Glacier Point, almost all public transportation, and owned the Wawona stage road which was a toll road. By their energy and vision, they helped put Wawona, as well as Yosemite, on the map and in people’s hearts and minds.
The Washburns were considerate employers with loyal help including some who worked for them over fifty years. When the hotel was at its peak in the early 1900’s, twenty Chinese worked in the kitchen, garden and laundry.
Ah You was chef for half a century and was famed for his delicious pies. Most of the Chinese help lived up-stairs in a building near the smokehouse. At first when they were moved to a larger, newer building, with a bathtub, near the laundry, Ah You, Ah Louie, Ah Wee and the others complained of its large windows and spaciousness.
Noted as fine, generous hosts the Washburns gave turkeys to their numerous employees at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Hattie Bruce Harris remembers, “We smoked our own ham, and bacon from a hog given each family, scraped and ready for pickling down, and along with this were big boxes of tenderloin and milk cans full of sausage. I spent weeks gathering oak bark for the smokehouse.” 18
Charlotte Bruce Gibner wrote in 1955 that, “Wawona was famous for its food. It had its own garden from which all its vegetables came; they killed their own meat; they fished the rivers; milk came from their own dairy and, in game season, there was venison. A typical Wawona breakfast consisted of fruit in season, beefsteak, ham and eggs, hot cakes and corn-bread with home-made preserves. This was not to give the diner a choice, but to be eaten in its entirety. The rate for room and board was $4.00 a day.” 19
For years, fresh trout was served at dinners. In the early days Indians caught them in the nearby river and streams; then Jay Bruce accounted for 32,000 of them in two seasons. But the biggest, most consistent fisherman of all was young Clarence Washburn. He was so busy catching from 75 to 300 fish a day he didn’t have time to think up fish stories. Several years he went back to college with $400 clear after paying for his horse’s summer feed. 15
The Wawona operation was a great family enterprise. The superintending Washburn brothers were related by marriage to the Bruces who were active various hotel concerns. Albert O. Bruce ran the saloon and store, daughter Hattie worked first as a chambermaid in the hotel and later as a skilled telegraph operator in San Francisco, son Bert became a more or less official hotel photographer with his sister Hattie assisting in the dark room. Other Bruces worked in various capacities.
Wawona Hotel Store in 1914. The building at one time housed a saloon
The Bruces were intermarried with the Leitchs, Bruce M. Leitch was justice of the peace; and to the Baxters, in whose family was Ed Baxter, a State Assemblyman. Both Leitch and Baxter were friends of the Washburns and worked in the curio shop at Mariposa Grove.
Thomas Hill was closely associated with the hotel from 1885, when his daughter married John Washburn, until his death in 1908.
Aside from such family connections, the Washburns employed many Mariposans and Chinese for their hotel and turnpike company.
Tourist season — April to November — was hotel season; during the winter, when their own operation was snowbound, the Washburns spent a month or so at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel. In season, they lived on the main building’s second floor.
The hotel had charm, atmosphere and luxury. There were three fountains spaced across the grounds, one in front of Hill’s studio, another which still cascades in front of the main building and a third in back of the main hotel building.
Most of the hotel buildings front on the lovely, serene meadows which appear today much as they did in 1856 or 1910, although the golf course has tamed the lower end. In his book Yosemite Trails published in 1911, J. Smeaton Chase wrote that the “Wawona Meadows themselves might be called the Sleepy Hollow of the West. It is the most peaceful place that I know in America, and comes near being the most idyllic spot I hove seen anywhere . . . Here is unbroken meadow, green as heaven, a mile long, wing knee-high with all delicious grasses and threaded with brooklets of crystal water. It is surrounded with a rail-fence that rambles in and out and around about and hither and thither in that sauntering way that makes a rail-fence such a companionable thing . . .”
All the hotel buildings had names. The Long White, just to the right of the present main hotel building, was built by the Washburns soon after an 1879 fire destroyed the original lodging house they had bought from Clark and Moore.
About 1885, the Main Hotel building was built on the site of Clark’s original home and rude hotel. Today, it is a gingerbreaded, wide-parched, many-windowed building little changed appearance from the 1880’s. A high-ceilinged dining room and kitchen were added to it in 1917 and the Washburn’s apartments upstairs have been turned into guest rooms. The building may not possess any particular architectural merit, but its old-fashioned “western resort” style lends a kind of charming elegance and character unmatched in more modern hotels.
The Pavilion, Hill’s Studio, was built in 1884 and stands now as recreation building. In 1900 the Small White, now called the Manager’s Cottage, 20 was built and, for years, rented summers at a handsome price to a family from Los Angeles.
Hutchings wrote that the Washburns gave a true “New England welcome” to their guests and it is a matter of record that many of them came back season after season.
One satisfied visitor in 1911 was Jackson A. Graves, who wrote later, “Wawona Hotel is pleasantly located. It is an ideal place to rest in. There inertia creeps into your system. You avoid all unnecessary exercise. You are ever ready to drop into a chair and listen to the wind sighing through the trees and the river singing its never ending song . . .” 21
Over the years, the hotel grew from one building to eight, from 160 acres to 4,000. Arrivals ranged from a few horse-drawn stages a day to many using over 700 horses and then, in 1916, motor stages, principally Thomas Fliers and Pierce-Arrows.
Henry Washburn died 1902, Edward in 1911, John in 1917. Clarence, who had been assistant manager and active in the hotel management since 1907, became general manager. In 1917, he added the Hotel Annex and the Sequoia building, a swimming pool, a 3,035 yard golf course in one end of the meadow and a landing field in the other. 15 He could and did accommodate 300 guests, half of them “repeaters.” At peak times, tents were used for the overflow.
In the first, tire-blowing years of automobile travel, Huffman’s Garage at Wawona and Miami Lodge did a busy trade. They repaired cars so they could chug on into Yosemite Valley; then, if they made it back to Wawona, fixed them again for the onerous trip to Fresno. The hotel of course benefited by the enforced overnight stops of the cars’ passengers. 15
Two Army pilots mode the first aircraft landing at Wawona December 8, 1925. Soon after that, Frank Gallison, a Mariposa native, made daily flights from Merced and hotel guests had mail and the San Francisco papers with their breakfast coffee. Also, Gallison flew guests over Yosemite Valley for $7.50, giving them thrills forbidden now by law. 15
Clarence Washburn married Grace Brinkop in 1913, and their daughter, Wawona, was born at the hotel the following year. An only son died in youth, leaving no one to take over the family business. For that and other reasons, Clarence sold the Washburn holdings — lock, stock, hotel good name and 3,724 acres — to the Park Service in 1932.
The hotel furniture and fixtures were purchased by the Yosemite Park and Curry Company for whom Clarence managed the hotel in ’33 and ’34. After that he moved to Indio where he became a leading citizen and in 1961, at a vigorous 75, was managing the Hotel Potter as he has since 1936.
An era had ended at Wawona. Since 1934 the hotel and its facilities have been managed by the Yosemite Park and Curry Company. Tennis courts have replaced the garage, two of the fountains are gone, Stella Lake is no more — yet the old time atmosphere is still there. The Company has restored a tiny bar downstairs in the main hotel and has always kept one room furnished in the grand old style.
The charm, compounded of sunny meadow, surrounding forest and timeless peace remains, the hotel as it was in Galen Clark’s time, Pallahchun — a good place to stop!