The Ahwahnee Hotel opened in 1927, built to provide a luxurious place to stay for visitors of Yosemite National Park. But hotel guests were replaced by hospital guests during World War II when the U.S. Navy leased the property to treat sailors and Marines.
U.S. Navy takes over Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel
The Navy transformed the once extravagant Ahwahnee into what was commonly called a “special” hospital at the time. The first patients to arrive were injured sailors and Marines from the Battle for Okinawa.
The magnificent Grand Lounge adjacent to the dining room became “Ward A” for the mentally traumatized young veterans. After moving the artwork, rich tapestries and fine furnishings into storage, the Navy installed five rows of cots beneath the wrought-iron chandeliers flanked by massive stone fireplaces on either end of the ward. Ten elegant floor-to-ceiling panels ornamented at the top with stained-glass panels provided expansive views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point.
The Navy thought the resort’s remote location, tranquil environment and gorgeous scenery would make it especially well-suited for neuro-psychiatric rehabilitation. But the site quickly proved to be the opposite of what those patients needed. The towering cliffs caused many to become claustrophobic. Isolation and lack of diversionary social activities left some patients preoccupied with the awful memories of battle.
Within a few months, the new medical officer in command, Capt. Reynolds Hayden began aggressively phasing out psychiatric treatment at the Ahwahnee and converted the site to a general rehabilitation facility with physiotherapy equipment, a library, newspaper, six-lane bowling alley, pool hall, soda fountain, machine and wood shops.
The facility offered winter excursions to Badger Pass ski area and Camp Curry’s toboggan run. During the summer, swimming, fishing, and guided hikes, along with horseback riding and bicycling were popular. Regular transportation to Merced, Fresno, and Oakland was provided for patients and staff to take leave outside the park.
Additional activities included forming a staff/patient dance band, bringing in USO entertainers and showing Hollywood movies five nights a week. Concrete tennis and basketball courts were built as well as an “Oasis” beer joint, the only authorized pub in any Naval hospital in the world.
Ahwahnee reopens to visitors
Fortunately, all of the beautiful furnishings have been returned to the Ahwahnee Hotel’s serene Grand Lounge and the property serves as a hotel for park visitors once again. But if the lodging at Ahwahnee isn’t in your budget, you can still enjoy the its grand public spaces and 37 acres of gorgeous grounds.
While the splendid dining room with its soaring windows and log-beamed ceilings only serves breakfast and dinner to hotel guests, the Ahwahnee bar (with limited seating) is a perfect place for anyone to unwind after an invigorating hike. It offers moderately priced beverages, sandwiches, and soup indoors or on the patio, where you’ll enjoy magnificent views of the park.
Stunning year-round, nearly 75% of all Yosemite visitors come from May to October. The “off-season” is November through April.
Plan your visit to Yosemite: www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit.