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Here is a floor plan of the Ahwahnee. Do you see a church? Take another look at it. Specifically, look at it upside down. See the church with a cross on the roof? Just a coincidence? I doubt it, that's the sort of subtle thing master architect's put in their designs! It fits well with the architect's concept of a building that lends to the reverence and awe inspired by Yosemite Valley. While from inside the hotel you probably would not consciously recognize the floor plan depicts a church, you may well subconsciously react to it. If nothing else, if you lived during the 20's when this hotel was built, a time when the general population of the United States was more "churched", you would be familiar with the cross layout of the Great Lounge. It was used in everything from small country churches to cathedrals. This would add to your experience, even if you didn't consciously realize it. This subtle use of visual clues to cue an emotional response is great architecture, and is one of the reasons this hotel is considered an architectural masterpiece!
As you step in through the doors of the hotel the view of the lobby shown above greets you. While not unattractive, you may have the feeling that this is not the stately entrance one might expect for a first-class hotel. The reason for this is very simple; the architect did not intend for this to be the main hotel entrance! Approximately ten days prior to the hotel's opening a major design error was discovered. The original porte-cochere was constructed with guest rooms above it. When vehicles arrived and parked with the engines idling to load and unload guests and luggage, the fumes from the vehicles rose up and wafted into the rooms above. The summers in Yosemite are very warm, and in an era before air conditioning, windows needed to be left open. Guests choking on the fumes of autos in a first-class hotel was not at all acceptable! So a new porte-cochere was quickly designed and constructed behind the hotel, along with a covered walkway from it to the lobby. Thus, what was intended as a side door became the main hotel entrance!
So where were the original porte-cochere and hotel entrance? The good news is they are still here, and with a bit of imagination you can experience them very easily. Simply walk to the center of the lobby. Look around and you will see the bar, which was originally called the "Indian Room" (political correctness strikes again!) Walk into the bar through the main doors from the lobby. In front of you is the bar, on either side of it are large stone columns. Look at the paneling and walls between the stone columns. They do not look quite right, do they? The bar area was the original porte-cochere. The rock columns on either side of the bar were the roof supports of the original porte-cochere. The walls with paneling were later added to enclose the room.
Check out the windows on the south end of the bar. Do they have a bit of an out-of-place 1950's look to them? Well, they don't look right because they are not in the same style as the rest of the hotel. They were added during the fabulous 50's. When they were added the hotel, built in 1927, was not yet historical, just old and in need of modernization! Now turn around with your back to the bar and look back into the hotel lobby through what was meant to be the main entrance doors! (Next photo on next page...)
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