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Yosemite: the Park and its Resources (1987) by Linda W. Greene


A. In the Backcountry 1021
B. Hetch Hetchy and Lake Eleanor Dams 1023
C. Foresta Subdivision and McCauley-Meyer Sawmill 1025

1. Foresta 1025
2. McCauley-Meyer Sawmill 1025
D. Emergency Relief Projects 1026
E. Yosemite Valley 1027
1. Hydroelectric Power Plant 1027
2. Ahwahnee Row Houses 1028
3. Yosemite Village Historic District 1030
4. Camp Curry Historic District 1032
5. Yosemite Lodge 1033
6. Yosemite Village Garage 1034
7. Yosemite Village Gas Station 1034
F. Wawona 1034
1. Pioneer Yosemite History Center 1034
2. Section 35 1036
G. El Portal 1037
1. Hotel and Market 1038
2. Other Resources 1038

Chapter X will summarize the historic sites in Yosemite National Park listed in the National Register of Historic Places and those that are in the process of nomination. In this chapter the writer will briefly discuss a few of Yosemite’s resources whose significance, or in some cases lack thereof, in the park’s history has not been adequately covered elsewhere and whose recommended level of treatment in the park’s cultural resources management program should be noted.

A. In the Backcountry

The importance of cultural resources in the backcountry has been discussed. Major portions of some of the old historic roads in the park are now included in wilderness areas. Maintenance plans for them recognize the appropriateness of utilizing some historic stretches of road as trails, stabilizing between washouts and rockfalls as necessary. Resources such as the retaining walls and culverts along the Tioga Road should be inventoried, photographed, and recorded. Samples of early road and trail stretches should be preserved because they are symbolic of pioneer construction techniques. Associated historical sites still exist in some cases. Along the Wawona Road, for instance, one can locate stage stop sites and dumps. Rebuilt stretches and added switchbacks are also present. Recordation of those should be included in a comprehensive backcountry cultural resource survey.

A variety of tree blazes, consisting of cross-like forms, Ts, diamonds, simple chips, the “i” of the U. S. Forest Service, plus regulation blazes of the U. S. Army to accommodate posted regulations are significant resources present in the backcountry. Some blazes still exist from early treks along the Mono Trail. An early date of “July 4, 1877” has been found in Jack Main Canyon. The incidence of all such remains from sheepherders, early visitors, army patrols, trail contractors, the Park Service, and others provide significant information on backcountry use. Other unrecorded backcountry resources include sites where homesteaders cut logs for cabins; old trail maintenance campsites that functioned up through the 1960s, containing remnants of camp equipment, trash, and early tools; old cabin remains; and construction such as the corduroy road at Johnson Lake used to travel over that boggy area from the 1950s into the 1970s. (The Park Service added another corduroy road in Echo Valley during the 1950s that remains in good shape.) Concrete foundations of an old CCC camp exist on the way into Deer Camp at Empire Meadow.1

[1. Information taken from interview with Jim Snyder, 10 September 1985. A need exists to pinpoint significant sites for fire control purposes. Some are threatened by prescribed burns; others could be lost as wild fires are allowed to burn themselves out.]

Sections of the park also contain remnants of historical logging activity by the Yosemite Lumber Company near Chinquapin, Empire Meadow, and Deer Camp; the Sugar Pine Lumber Company above El Portal; and the Madera Sugar Pine Company in the south section of the park from the early 1900s up to the early 1940s. Remains such as skid roads, railroad beds, and rusted equipment can still be found despite the activities by CCC crews in removing thousands of railroad ties from old logging railroad beds and converting the old grades into usable park roads for firefighting purposes. Enrollees also removed logging cables and dumps and performed revegetation on some scarred areas. Yosemite National Park contains approximately 10,000 acres of lands that have been2 logged or show evidence of logging activity.

[2. Bob Pavlik to Kathleen Hull and Scott Carpenter, 28 April 1986, 4. The lumber companies themselves employed men to clean up old logging camps by burning or removing buildings and to clear railroad grades by piling and burning ties.]

Any remains from this period are indicative of various types of logging activity and changing technological process and illustrate the effects on the environment of that type of land use. The lumber industry takes an added significance as it relates to the conservation movement and boundary changes. Other important visible remnants of logging activity are the logging inclines of the Yosemite Lumber Company out of El Portal. The earlier one on the south side of the Merced River canyon, which operated until the fall of 1923, is used as a television line right-of-way. The second, on the north side, operated from 1924 to 1942 and is visible as a brush-covered scar. Few artifactual items remain, and neither incline has enough integrity to justify nomination to the National Register.

Only a small portion of the park wilderness has been formally surveyed. Although some work was done in connection with this study in terms of visiting and assessing backcountry patrol cabins and related resources, the majority of the research was performed in written records and through oral interviews on sites whose existence is already known. It is recognized that there are a variety of other resources in the backcountry that have not yet been found and recorded. Extensive and time-consuming field studies of areas that might be impacted by wilderness operations could not be completed under the scope of this report. Homesteaders and stock raisers, army trail- and map-makers, logging operations, CCC blister rust control workers, and NPS trail maintenance and construction crews have all impacted the wilderness and left their mark on it. It is hoped that this study provides some basis for evaluating the historical context and significance of historical resources that may yet be found in the backcountry in the course of survey, maintenance, or fire protection work. All wilderness cultural resources need to be protected until recorded through photographs and base maps, and until a determination of significance is made. A policy of natural deterioration is recommended for those resources.

B. Hetch Hetchy and Lake Eleanor Dams

The purpose of the Hetch Hetchy project, the largest water project ever undertaken by a municipality, as initially envisioned by the city of San Francisco, was to supply only an additional sixty million gallons of water a day. The Army Board of Engineers in 1913, however, advised that the city think in terms of assuming responsibility for the needs of all the people around the bay, about one million at the time of the Raker Act. Full development of the Tuolumne River would provide over 400 million gallons daily, which, with local supplies, would provide water for a population of four million, predicted for the area after the year 2000.

The resultant surge of population growth, however, far exceeded all estimates for the area around San Francisco. Fortunately, in the early 1920s the cities on the eastern side of the bay pulled out of the Hetch Hetchy Project and developed their own supply of water from the Mokelumne River. This enabled San Francisco to meet the increasing requests for water from its expanding suburban areas and industrial complexes. The Hetch Hetchy Project was planned and built so that additions could be made to various parts of the system as needed, such as increases in capacity on various parts of the aqueduct, without changing the basic design. The initial development of Hetch Hetchy, up to the first flowing of water into the city in 1934, cost about one hundred million dollars, an expense met entirely by the city without state or federal assistance.3

[3. City and County of San Francisco, San Francisco Water and Power, 14, 16, 18-19; Eckart and Stocker, “San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy Water Supply,” Part II: Details of Some of the Constructional Facilities That Are Helping in the Execution of This Titanic Task, in Compressed Air Magazine 27, no. 9 (September 1922): 247-50, and Part III: The Structural Features of the Dams for the Lake Eleanor and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoirs, in Compressed Air Magazine 27, no. 10 (October 1922): 283-88. Part IV of this series is entitled “Details of the Aqueduct Tunnels and of the Mechanical Facilities Employed in Their Construction,” Compressed Air Magazine 27, no. 11 (November 1922): 315-20.]

The construction of the O’Shaughnessy Dam and the associated water supply system for the city of San Francisco and surrounding area comprised one of the largest engineering projects of modern times. Work on it began with clearing the valley floor of timber to protect the impounded waters from contamination resulting from the decay of submerged wood. The next step involved cutting a diversion tunnel 900 feet long through the cliff on the south side of the dam site through which the river would be turned during construction and which would afterwards be used for the release of water from the reservoir. The construction of the arched gravity-type dam of cyclopean concrete was well planned and smoothly executed. The entire Hetch Hetchy water system, including the Lake Eleanor Dam, appears to be of a level of significance warranting nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. They possess not only engineering significance, but are nationally important in the history of the conservation movement and the development of National Park Service water policies. Because of the furor occasioned by their construction, they are the last intrusions of that type and magnitude to be placed in a national park. Their ownership by the city of San Francisco precludes preparation of forms by the writer. The loss of integrity of the Hetch Hetchy Railroad system also precludes its nomination to the Register.

C. Foresta Subdivision and McCauley-Meyer Sawmill

1. Foresta

The Foresta subdivision contains several mountain cabins of a very functional style, interspersed with some A-frames, constructed by weekend visitors and other short-term residents. Most are one- or two-room cabins with outdoor privies. None are considered to be of historical or architectural significance.

2. McCauley-Meyer Sawmill

The shed is in fair condition, although open to the weather. The rusty machinery has not fared as well, vandalism having taken its toll. Most of the belts are off their tracks; several have disappeared. The sawmill has no particular architectural significance and the site has no archeological merit. It is not of sufficient local historical importance to justify nomination to the National Register, although it is symbolic of an interesting aspect of the history of the region, specifically the lumber industry in terms of the development of small, independent sawmills, of which there were several in the park. It has been recommended that the machinery and shed be preserved and moved to El Portal in connection with the twentieth-century transportation exhibit, which also features mechanical items. There is an association with that town in that lumber from the mill was sold at El Portal and its engine came from a mine below4 the town. This writer believes that the structure should be left in place subject to natural deterioration. The site has been inspected and photographed.

[4. “Evaluation of McCauley-Meyer Sawmill, Yosemite National Park, July 16-17, 1974,” Historic Preservation Team (Gordon S. Chappell, Roger E. Kelly, and Robert M. Cox), Western Region, to Associate Regional Director, Professional Services, Western Region, 26 July 1974.]

D. Emergency Relief Projects

The New Deal contribution to the National Park System is only now being thoroughly assessed and properly recognized. Probably part of the reason for this is that the period of the Great Depression and the subsequent government relief programs still seem to be “recent” history. Although it is usually recommended that events and people be viewed from some distance in time, enabling their proper placement in historical contexts, in this case such delay might result in irretrievable loss of an important cultural resource in many areas of the park system.

In Yosemite there are two main concentrations of Civilian Conservation Corps remains. Near the Yosemite Institute complex at Crane Flat are several tent cabin terraces and a stone water fountain from the earliest camp in the area. Three buildings remain from the 1934 period and are in use at Crane Flat—an oil shed (No. 6013), a former cook’s quarters used as a staff cabin (No. 6020), and a former office that has been renovated as a shower room (No. 6024).

The portable structures now used by the Institute were retrieved from the Naval rehabilitation center at the Ahwahnee Hotel at the end of World War II and set up at Crane Flat in 1946 to serve as permanent structures for the blister rust control activity that had been going on in the area since the early 1930s. Two of these—a messhall (No. 6014) and an office/barracks (No. 6016)—might have had some historical significance in terms of conservation efforts except that they have undergone many alterations. It is also uncertain whether originally the buildings were moved intact or disassembled and rebuilt. After the blister rust control effort was discontinued in 1967, road and forestry management crews used the camp until the Yosemite Institute took it over in 1973 for use as an environmental education campus.

Another area containing CCC remains is at Wawona where one can still see some of the original service buildings of the Wawona camp. They are in fair condition, having been altered and adapted for modern-day use. Structures remaining from the 1934 period include a repair garage (No. 4020), a four-stall garage (No. 4023), a seven-stall garage and light plant (No. 4025), and an office (No. 4027) used today as the Wawona ranger district headquarters. These structures, because of their alterations over the years and the lack of a typical CCC complex configuration, have not been recommended for nomination to the National Register.

Remains of the Cascades CCC camp consist of concrete foundations and a standing chimney. Any additional CCC camp remains found in this or any other park should be closely evaluated for integrity and significance, however, and not dismissed as a too recent intrusion in an historical area. Just as significant as structures built for the CCC enrollees are those built by them. Usually such buildings also demonstrate major importance in terms of rustic architecture, but their identification with the CCC adds another dimension of historical significance.

E. Yosemite Valley

1. Hydroelectric Power Plant

The Yosemite power plant contains all of the original electrical generation and switching equipment installed in 1917-18. Despite its significance as one of the few intact and relatively unaltered systems of its type left in the state and the only generating facility of its kind in the National Park System, by the 1980s decisions on major rehabilitation work and the future of the system became necessary. Critics believed power generation inside national parks to be no longer appropriate. Proposals to abandon the system also reflected the park’s desire to restore the Merced River to a free-flowing stream and improve fish habitat. The Park Service has decided to abandon the hydroelectric generating system and convert to commercially purchased power. This will result in removal of the diversion dam and intake structure; of the entire redwood-stave and steel penstock, trestles, surge tank, and support equipment; and of major portions of the interior powerhouse equipment for display and interpretation at the Fresno Metropolitan Museum. The Italian Renaissance-style power plant will be retained and rehabilitated on the interior to house the new switchgear for the commercial electrical system.5

[5. USDI, NPS, “Preliminary Case Report, Yosemite Hydroelectric System,” February 1986, 1-4.]

2. Ahwahnee Row Houses

Employee residences Nos. 107 to 113 built by the Yosemite National Park Company in the Tecoya area during 1922-24, fronting on the Ahwahnee Meadow, were inspected by a historical architect in the course of this study. At the same time, this historian searched concession records expected to contain pertinent information on their construction. These six L-shaped houses originally had the same interior plan but have been greatly modified over the years by removal of interior walls and the construction of additions. Only Building 112 appears to retain its original configuration. Exterior fabrics consisted of hollow tile, boards and rails, stone, processed metal, stucco, and rustic logs and boards. Originally built by the Yosemite National Park Company as employee quarters, the reason for the different exterior coverings is unclear.

A unified complex such as this, possessing a similar design but fabricated of different materials, would seem to have been constructed for a specific purpose. It has been stated that they served as an experimental group—as prototypes for employee housing—testing fabric durability or different insulation methods. This writer found no documentation to support this theory. As DSC Historical Architect Paul Cloyd has noted, if their construction were an experiment, the outcome evidently had no documented or visible impact on later construction, the concessioner sticking with wood-framed and wood-sided dormitories in the 1930s. It is therefore, difficult to claim significance on that basis.

Cloyd also points out that their architectural style is incompatible with the tenets of rustic architecture. The use of manufactured as opposed to natural materials and their intrusive position relative to the nearby meadow, conflict with the conceptual criteria so obvious in the village historic district. Their integrity has also been lessened as a result of modifications through the years.

The concensus at this time is that we do not have sufficient data to justify nomination of these structures to the National Register on the basis of architectural or historical significance. An agreement has been reached between the Yosemite Park and Curry Company and the National Park Service for the transfer of the Curry Company archives to the Yosemite Research Library and Records Center. This action will ensure the careful use and professional preservation of a vast body of important data relative to the park and its concession history. If additional data in those archives comes to light on the buildings’ purpose and design, they should be re-evaluated. Even though their original purpose might not be clear at this time, they are superior in style to much of today’s modern housing and should be retained for park use if feasible. Six of the small houses on Ahwahnee Row (H 101/102, H 103/104, H 105/106) were made into duplexes in 1932.

3. Yosemite Village Historic District

Another important area within Yosemite National Park that should be left in as intact a condition as possible as the Yosemite Village Historic District. This group of rustic-style residences, administrative facilities, and historic sites comprises a significant enclave of early National Park Service structures.

The northwest portion of the district contains the site of J. M. Hutchings’s 1865 cabin, apple orchard, and sawmill, and the site of the small cabin built by John Muir. No aboveground remains exist except for a few apple trees. Southeast of these sites is the National Park Service residential area of sixty-eight buildings dating from 1911 to 1951. Four of them are wood frame houses built by the army, surviving examples of military architecture on the valley floor. The Park Service moved them into the new group of rustic residences in the late 1920s and early 1930s because their original location blocked the view of Yosemite Fall. The other residences and dormitories display some variation of the Park Service rustic style of architecture and formed part of the new residential area developed by the Park Service beginning in 1918 as an effort to move the center of activity from the Old to the New Village. This area includes ancillary structures such as woodsheds and garages and more modern structures that are not considered historically or architecturally significant, such as 1950s-era residences and school.

Southwest of the residential district and near Yosemite Creek is the park superintendent’s residence and garage. Originally erected by the army in 1912, the Park Service almost completely rebuilt the house in 1929. Southeast of the residential group is the old Pioneer Cemetery, bounded by a low stone wall on the north and east sides and a row of trees on the south and west. To the southeast is the administrative and business portion of the New Village, which includes:

Rangers’ Club—an employee residence with garage and woodshed, built in 1920 with funds contributed by Stephen T. Mather. Its design was intended to set a precedent for the use of rustic architecture in the New Village;
Administration Building—built 1924;
Museum Building (present Valley District Building)—completed 1926;
Post Office—previously the post office was housed in the Cosmopolitan Saloon (early 1880s), Sentinel Hotel (1897 to 1913), Old Village store (1914 to 1920, when new building erected to the west), until this one completed in 1925. Leased to postal department for twenty years, then reverted to Department of the Interior and used by postal service under special use permit. The post office building is rather unusual in that it contains postal facilities on the ground floor and living quarters for postal employees on the second.
Pohono Indian Studio—built in 1925 as the new studio of photographer Julius Boysen;
Ansel Adams Gallery—a complex of five buildings erected in 1925. Main building originally known as Best’s Studio. Other buildings included a darkroom, single-family residence, garage, and duplex residence.

The Yosemite Village Historic District contains elements of the entire range of Yosemite history, from pioneer homesteading and enterprise through state, army, and National Park Service administration of the area. It also contains buildings associated with early Park Service residential, administrative, and interpretive efforts. There is also potential for significant findings in historical archeology. The district’s importance lies in its totality, which is of greater significance than any individual component, although several of the buildings are individually significant also. An assault on the integrity of any individual structure in the district compromises the integrity of the whole. The National Register form for the district, completed by Gordon Chappell, Western Regional Historian, NPS, and Robert Cox, Western Regional Historical Architect, NPS, in 1976, which should be examined for further detail on individual structures, points out that no other complex in the National Park System illustrates as well the range and variation of the rustic architecture style as conceived and implemented by the National Park Service.6 Because the significance of the district lies in the spatial, architectural, and historical relationships of the structures, no attempt should be made to change its physical characteristics or alter its boundaries.

[6. For further information on the Yosemite Village Historic District, see National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form prepared by Gordon Chappell and Robert Cox in 1976.]

4. Camp Curry Historic District

Camp Curry, or Curry Village, at the base of Glacier Point at the east end of Yosemite Valley, contains in the midst of a shady forest hundreds of canvas tent and wooden cabins plus motel-type units and an administrative facility. At the entrance to the camp stand the original registration office (1904) and the rustic entrance sign (ca. 1914). The several structures of the complex in the National Register are important in exemplifying Camp Curry’s early history and architectural style.

The camp opened in 1899, but the first permanent structure, a large wooden dining room and kitchen, was not built until 1901, burning in 1912. The registration office was erected in 1904, with a new dining room, studio, cafeteria, and auditorium following in 1912. A year later the Currys added a pool and bathhouse. Only the registration office and pool/bathhouse remain of this original complex. The auditorium has been converted to guest units. The dining room, after being rebuilt in 1929, burned in 1973 and was replaced. A fire in 1975 destroyed the sections housing the studio and cafeteria.

Two nomination forms exist for this property. The Camp Curry Historic Site form highlights four buildings that are the oldest surviving elements of the original camp: the Curry Residence, built in 1917 and currently serving as employee housing; the Tresidder Residence, built in 1916 and used as an employee residence; the Registration Office, that at the time of the nomination housed the Mountaineering Center; and the Swimming Tank Bathhouse, serving as a shower building, barber shop, and general storage room. That structure burned in 1977 and has since been replaced. The significance of Camp Curry lies in its philosophy of providing low cost lodging for Yosemite visitors and in the rustic style of architecture used in building construction, which, characterized by unpeeled logs and bark strips, differed from the later Park Service interpretation of that style, but provided a prototype for later valley structures.7

[7. See National Register form for Camp Curry Historic Site prepared by Leslie Starr Hart and Merrill Wilson in 1976. The Mountaineering School is now in the new structure east of the registration office, which is now used as a guest lounge and for postal services.]

A second nomination form was written for Camp Curry structures that collectively are exemplary of the camp ideal and enhance the historic setting but that have only minimal significance individually. Those include bungalows with bath built between 1918 and 1922, tent cabins dating mostly from the late 1920s and” early 1930s, cabins without bath built after 1928, and the Stoneman House, the former auditorium and dance hall converted into guest rooms. The historic district also contains several bathhouses and toilet facilities, an ice skating rink and warming room, two employee housing sections with canvas cabins and some cabins without baths used for employee housing.8

[8. See revised National Register form for Camp Curry prepared by Leslie Starr Hart and Merrill Wilson in 1979.]

5. Yosemite Lodge

The original buildings of the Yosemite Lodge complex—the U. S. Army barracks—stood northwest of the modern lodge buildings. None of those early structures remain. The newer lodge was constructed in 1956 and is not architecturally or historically significant. Canvas tents and cabin facilities and guest use areas have changed through the years, either by replacement or relocation. Several more modern motel-type buildings have been added. The present bungalows, built mostly in the 1920s, are simple frame rustic structures. Some of the cabins without baths used for lodge employee housing were brought by D. J. Desmond from the Owens Valley Aqueduct project after World War I. They are not considered significant. The lodge complex is a standard park commercial venture, intended to fill the gap between the more primitive accommodations of Camp Curry and the more expensive ones of the Ahwahnee Hotel.

6. Yosemite Village Garage

This structure, built in 1917, stands on its original site. It displays on the exterior aspects of the early rustic architecture style in Yosemite Valley. It is the only structure of that style in the commercial area east of the Yosemite Village Historic District. It has sustained several alterations and would not qualify for the National Register.

7. Yosemite Village Gas Station

This structure was built about the same time as the Yosemite Village garage. Its once classic rustic exterior has been completely destroyed by refurbishment in the late 1940s and 1950s.

F. Wawona

1. Pioneer Yosemite History Center

This interpretive center, part of the MISSION 66 program for the park, is a popular aspect of the park’s interpretive program and is a restful and educational way to ingest some of the park’s early history and personalities. The establishment of the center was carried out with thoughtful planning and professional expertise and undoubtedly saved many historical structures in the park from an untimely demise.

The center was nominated to the National Register in 1971 as an historic district. It was rejected as an artificial district with the recommendation that the thirteen buildings involved be inventoried on an individual basis to ascertain their historical and/or architectural merit. Because all but two of the structures had been moved, it was necessary to evaluate them as exceptional properties.

Four of the buildings lacked any significance for Yosemite history: the rail fence came from Aspen Valley for visual effect; the blacksmith shop was moved from a Madera County ranch as an interpretive device; the Cuneo Cabin (Hope Cabin) came from Hodgdon Meadow to house audio-visual equipment for the original interpretive program and was later refurbished as a turn-of-the-century schoolhouse. The cabin was actually built in the mid-1930s as a summer cabin; the “Washburn Barn” is on its original site but actually served as the garage for the Shell Service Station that once operated on the old Wawona Road. The structure, built in the early 1920s, has no particular merit.

In September 1975 Merrill Ann Wilson, Historical Architect, Denver Service Center, and Leslie Starr Hart, Cultural Resources Specialist, Yosemite National Park, made an onsite investigation of the history center. On the basis of their investigations, nomination forms were forwarded for what was then thought to be the Jorgensen Studio (Art, local); the George Anderson Cabin (Exploration/Settlement, local); the Hodgdon Homestead Cabin (Architecture, local); the Acting Superintendent’s Headquarters (Conservation, local); the Yosemite Transportation Company Office (Architecture and Transportation, local), and the Covered Bridge (Engineering, regional). A listing of current National Register properties is available in the next chapter.

Of the two remaining buildings—the Crane Flat Ranger Patrol Cabin and the Powderhouse (Old Jail)—Hart noted a conflict in construction dates for the former (1900 vs. 1915) and also questioned its exceptional significance as a “moved structure.” It is clear now that the 1915 date is the correct one. The building is not being nominated to the National Register despite its local significance in architecture and transportation for two reasons. First, the fact that is not on its original site, has been reconstructed, and is in an artificial setting adversely affects its integrity. Second, its maintenance and upkeep should be ensured by its location in the history center. Furnished in a fashion reflecting the lifestyle of a ranger in the early 1920s, it is an important part of the living history program9 representing the changes in administration of the park and its roads. The powderhouse also shows a conflict in construction dates, 1880 or 1890. It was probably built by John Degnan in the late 1880s while he was employed by the state for road repair and other odd jobs. It has no particular historical significance.10

[9. Robert C. Pavlik, “A Summary of Nine Buildings Being Considered for National Register Nomination,” typescript, 2 pages, no date (ca. 1985). The building’s original stone foundation and three giant sequoia trees planted adjacent to the cabin by its early occupants are still visible at Crane Flat.]

[10. Leslie Starr Hart to files, Alaska/Pacific Northwest/Western Team, Denver Service Center, 16 December 1976.]

2. Section 35

Section 35 is a historical community with a long cultural background, some families having lived there for several generations. Most of the improved parcels support vacation or recreation homes and cabins built primarily in the 1950s and later, with a few earlier 1930s-1940s structures. Although no structures of historical or architectural significance have been found in Section 35, any anticipated removal of structures in that area should be preceded by a careful review process on a case-by-case basis. Several families homesteaded the area very early, but so far as is known, most of those original structures are gone. There is always a slight chance that resources of that period remain that have not yet shown up on property lists or during initial Park Service on-site surveys. Because many of the construction dates of buildings that have been given to Park Service officials have not been substantiated, further search in courthouse records will probably be required for structures that seem questionable in terms of period of construction and significance. That kind of detailed property-by-property research was not possible in the scope of this report. It is the kind of study best performed by a full-time park historian able to spend long days researching county records and interviewing landowners. (During the course of this study, the Vagim property was researched in that way by Bob Pavlik and found not to be historically or architecturally significant.) This also applies to properties in El Portal, Aspen Valley, and Foresta that may need to be evaluated in more depth on an individual basis as the federal government purchases them.

G. El Portal

As the site selected for Park Service and Yosemite Park and Curry Company residential and administrative functions, the potential for adverse impacts on existing sites and structures in El Portal is great. This small village, with a long history of aboriginal and Anglo occupation, contains a variety of sites and structures with varying degrees of archeological, historical, and/or architectural interest.

Beginning in 1905, activities related to various railroad, lumber, and mining interests left their distinctive mark on the town and its buildings. The town’s older businesses lie in the vicinity of the present library and fire station. Although no sites or structures of National Register significance have been found, the houses and business establishments of El Portal, including the library, hotel, and present store, comprise an interesting enclave of vernacular architecture that is pleasing to the eye. Most of the town’s older bungalows have been added on to or improved through the years with whatever material happened to be available and display a variety of fabrics and styles. Three early-twentieth-century railroad houses also remain; they have been determined ineligible for the National Register because of a lack of associative historical significance or architectural significance. Because of their personalized architectural style, individual structures in El Portal are deserving of study and careful consideration during Park Service planning and development of the village and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis as they are purchased by the government. Again, this is the type of study best accomplished by a full-time professional park historian. El Portal is a quaint and close-knit community with a fragile heritage that could easily be damaged by modern development.

1. Hotel and Market

The existing hotel has undergone interior changes with the addition of walls and other alterations to make it suitable as living quarters for National Park Service employees and Yosemite Institute personnel. Although the building exterior has integrity of design and workmanship, the present hotel—the fourth one in the town—is not historically or architecturally significant. The present market has exterior integrity but has undergone some interior change. It is not considered significant.

2. Other Resources

Other historical resources in the El Portal area not considered eligible for the National Register include:

the library (old store) dating from ca. 1934;
the town’s third school, built in 1930 and replaced in 1962, which was developed into a community church in 1967-68 after the Park Service declared its intention to burn it;
the El Portal garage, built in the 1950s along with a community hall and now used by the fire department;
the El Portal Motor Inn, built in the early 1950s;
the Leland J. Cuneo tungsten rod mill ruins located above the present sewage treatment plant at the railroad wye. Cuneo had two mill sites on the land—the Donna and the Gary—with the mill located on the latter site. Cuneo built the mill about 1952, evidently to serve a tungsten mine near Big Meadow. The mill ended operations about 1964 due to the low price of tungsten. It also processed gold11 ore.
a few excavations from mining operations; and
the old Hennessey ranch house site in the trailer village.

[Editor’s note: Footnote 11 is missing—dea]

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