Historic California buildings at risk in Yosemite wildfire

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As California’s Washburn Fire in Yosemite National Park explodes in size, it’s threatening the Mariposa Grove, a majestic stand of more than 500 giant sequoias, some of which are thousands of years old. Firefighters are waging a fierce battle against the flames to protect the grove, installing a sprinkler system for the ancient trees and removing fuels around their bases.

The wildfire is also putting some of Yosemite’s historic structures at risk, including one of California’s oldest mountain resorts.   

Galen Clark, seen here in front of his Mariposa Grove cabin in 1904, was Yosemite National Park’s first “guardian.” He played a major role in the early days of the park after President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation protecting Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove.

Courtesy of the National Park Service

Located within Mariposa Grove itself is the Galen Clark Cabin, a cabin from the 1930s that was built as a replica of an even older one, constructed some time before 1885. Galen Clark was Yosemite’s first “guardian” after Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Valley Land Grant in 1864, protecting the valley and Mariposa Grove for future generations. 

Clark played a significant role in Yosemite’s early history. After becoming enchanted with the landscape, he first settled in Wawona in 1857, building a small business and stagecoach stop, Clark’s Station (a separate building from the cabin in Mariposa Grove). Visitors to the area, and later, to Mariposa Grove, would come for a bite to eat and a place to rest; their horses could also graze in the meadowlands. 

Firefighters are protecting Galen Clark’s Cabin with a unique structure wrap that resembles tinfoil, often deployed in wildfires, enveloping the entire structure.   

Clark’s Station would eventually become the Wawona Hotel after the business failed and Clark sold it to the Washburn brothers. The sprawling hotel, which comprises several historic buildings, was evacuated when the Washburn Fire began to spread. It’s now one of California’s oldest mountain resorts, best known for its Victorian architecture, white facade and interiors filled with antiques from that time. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Captured in April 2022, the Wawona Hotel is now the oldest mountain resort in California. With its striking Victorian architecture and white facade, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. 

Captured in April 2022, the Wawona Hotel is now the oldest mountain resort in California. With its striking Victorian architecture and white facade, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. 

A.C./Yelp

Reservations for the hotel are canceled through at least July 11, and more than 700 people were evacuated from areas affected by the fire, including hotel guests, the Fresno Bee reported

On the grounds of the Wawona Hotel is a historic Chinese laundry, which was opened for visitors in October 2021 as part of a larger effort to highlight the contributions of Chinese immigrants to the park. In the late 1800s, Chinese laborers built Wawona and Tioga roads, working during the intense High Sierra winters. Two Chinese men — Ah You and Ah Louie — were head chefs at the Wawona Hotel.

The 1917 building was where Chinese workers in Yosemite, including those for the Wawona Hotel, washed and took care of their clothes. Now set up to look as it might have in the 1900s, it showcases a hidden immigrant history.  

Chinese immigrants who worked and lived in Yosemite National Park often took care of their clothing at the laundry building, seen here in 1947, on the grounds of the Wawona Hotel. It was reopened in 2021 to showcase the contributions of Chinese immigrants in Yosemite National Park. 

Chinese immigrants who worked and lived in Yosemite National Park often took care of their clothing at the laundry building, seen here in 1947, on the grounds of the Wawona Hotel. It was reopened in 2021 to showcase the contributions of Chinese immigrants in Yosemite National Park. 

Courtesy of the National Park Service

Fire crews are monitoring the area around Highway 41 near the Wawona Hotel, and putting out spot fires in the area, officials said in a July 11 update. So far, the Washburn Fire has burned through 2,340 acres, with mandatory evacuation orders and road closures in place. 

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