Historic California buildings threatened by Yosemite wildfire

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

The wildfire is also endangering some of Yosemite’s historic structures, including one of California’s oldest hill stations.

Galen Clark, seen here in front of his Mariposa Grove cabin in 1904, was Yosemite National Park’s first “keeper”. 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 in Mariposa Grove itself is the Galen Clark Cabin, a 1930s cabin that was built as a replica of an even older one, built sometime before 1885. Galen Clark was the first “keeper” of Yosemite after Abraham Lincoln signed the land of Yosemite Valley. Grant in 1864, protecting the valley and Mariposa Grove for future generations.

Clark played an important role in Yosemite’s early history. After being enchanted by the scenery, 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 from the area, and later from Mariposa Grove, came to grab a bite to eat and rest. their horses could also graze in the meadows.

Firefighters protect Galen Clark’s cabin with a unique structural wrap that resembles aluminum foil, often deployed during forest fires, 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 includes several historic buildings, was evacuated when the Washburn Fire began to spread. It is now one of the oldest hill stations in California, best known for its Victorian architecture, white facade, and interiors filled with antiques from that era. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

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

AC/Yelp

Reservations for the hotel are canceled until at least July 11 and more than 700 people have been 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 opened to 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 the Wawona and Tioga roads, working through the intense High Sierra winters. Two Chinese men – Ah You and Ah Louie – were chefs at the Wawona Hotel.

The 1917 building was where Chinese Yosemite workers, including those at the Wawona Hotel, washed and cared for their clothes. Now laid out to look like it might have looked in the 1900s, it features hidden immigrant history.

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

Chinese immigrants who worked and lived in Yosemite National Park often took care of their clothes in the laundry room, seen here in 1947 on the grounds of the Wawona Hotel. It was reopened in 2021 to showcase the contributions of Chinese immigrants to 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. The Washburn Fire has so far burned 2,340 acres, with mandatory evacuation orders and road closures in place.

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