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Ahwahnee Hotel may get massive seismic overhaul

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Ahwahnee Hotel may get massive seismic overhaul

Postby copeg » Mon Mar 09, 2009 7:42 pm

From the San Jose Mercury News
Yosemite's famed Ahwahnee Hotel may get massive seismic overhaul
Yosemite National Park's historic Ahwahnee Hotel, a landmark destination with stunning views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point, could be closed for up to two years under a proposal by park officials to ensure it will survive a major earthquake.

With its towering ceilings, wood beams and massive stone fire places, the luxury hotel, built in 1927, is widely considered among the grandest of all lodges in America's national park system, and among the most famous hotels in California. It's also a major moneymaker for the park and the surrounding communities.

On Wednesday, Yosemite officials requested $137 million in federal funding to overhaul the hotel as part of President Barack Obama's stimulus program. The request was the largest item on a list of hundreds of Yosemite projects, said Scott Gediman, a spokesman for the park.

"The seismic retrofit of the Ahwahnee Hotel is a project we have had on the books for years. It has to be done," Gediman said.

It isn't clear where the Department of Interior, which oversees the national parks, will rank the Ahwahnee upgrade or whether it will be funded at all. Gediman said Yosemite leaders expect to find out by June if some or all of the money will be approved.

If the project does receive funding, it would take at least a year to begin construction, Gediman said, because of the time needed to obtain permits and allow people with existing room reservations to visit.

Concerns over the hotel's safety were highlighted in 2002. That year, the National Park Service paid URS Consulting, a San Francisco firm, to complete a 250-page report looking at the hotel's structural integrity in an earthquake.

How dangerous a big quake would be to the 81-year-old hotel is unclear, however. On Thursday, Acting Yosemite Superintendent Dave Uberuaga refused to release the seismic safety report to the Mercury News, calling it outdated. However, his spokesman could not cite any exemptions in the federal Freedom of Information Act that would allow the information to be kept from the public.

"It is 7 years old,'' Gediman said. "The information could have changed in terms of what the standards are for the retrofit. If we release it we'd have to take out some of the numbers."

Any shutdown of the Ahwahnee would present a major change for Yosemite and the economics of the surrounding communities. The hotel employs 300 people. Each year, thousands of tourists pay roughly $450 a night to stay there.

Last year, the park concession company, Delaware North, reported total gross revenue of about $125 million. Although the company does not release sales figures for individual businesses in the park, the Ahwahnee and its 123 rooms could bring at least $20 million a year, given its rates and 97 percent occupancy.

Officials at Delaware North said they want the public to understand the Ahwahnee remains open for business.

"This is a hypothetical situation. It is a project on a proposed wish list. We don't know if it is going to be funded,'' said Kenny Karst, a spokesman for Delaware North.

Closing the hotel could also shock the budget of surrounding counties. Mariposa County, where the hotel is located, last year derived $10 million of its $42 million general fund from the county's 11 percent hotel tax.

"We'll be watching this,'' said Mary Hodson, deputy county administrator. "Closing it would have a significant impact. The Ahwahnee is such a major attraction, some people want to come up here just to say they stayed in the Ahwahnee Hotel."

The hotel was built because Stephen Mather, the national parks director in the 1920s, wanted to lure business and government leaders to national parks to help raise their profile.
It worked.

Over the past 81 years, the guest list has been full of famous people, from heads of state like Queen Elizabeth, John F. Kennedy, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and the shah of Iran, to movie stars ranging from Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo to Brad Pitt and Robert Redford.

"Most national park visitors would consider the Ahwahnee to be the crown jewel of national park lodges," said David L. Scott, co-author of "The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges."
But eventually all buildings get old.

"It's a huge draw for Yosemite National Park. At some point, though, a lot of these historic hotels need major surgery,'' Scott said. "It's hard to do major work and still keep them open. It's just a case where you have to bite the bullet."

The Obama administration asked the National Park Service, like other federal agencies, to come up with lists of construction projects that could create jobs as part of the $787 billion stimulus bill that the president signed last month. Within that bill, the National Park Service received about $750 million.

Yosemite is no stranger to earthquakes.

In 1872, the Owens Valley earthquake, centered in Lone Pine about 100 miles away and estimated at a 7.4 magnitude, violently shook the park. In 1980, a 6.2 quake centered near Mammoth Lakes, about 40 miles away, frightened tourists and caused rock slides that blocked park roads and injured two hikers.

"The place has been shaken in the past,'' said David Oppenheimer, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park. "It's not as prone to earthquakes as the Bay Area, but it's not Kansas either."



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Re: Ahwahnee Hotel may get massive seismic overhaul

Postby rlown » Mon Mar 09, 2009 8:44 pm

I hope they get it retrofitted in the next 5 years. My wife and I were married at the chapel, had our reception in the Ahwahnee Solarium, and our honeymoon in the Ahwahnee. I plan to take her back their for our 20th.

Russ
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Re: Ahwahnee Hotel may get massive seismic overhaul

Postby Hetchy » Mon Mar 09, 2009 9:34 pm

I agree, I hope they retrofit. The Ahwahnee is really cool, and I don't normally go in for such extravegance. I went there often in the 90's just to hang out. Memorably once with a girlfriend who was a wine representative for a vineyard. We went to a wine tasting there at the lodge in the Great Room... I remember the Sangiovese wine (when it was new here!) among others.
What a cool experience to stay there, taste the wine, and climb to glacier point from the valley floor in the cold crisp air of fall. Fall is a special time in the Park. :)
Ha! After high school let out for summer the senior year, I recall Bridgette and I drove all the way up to the Ahwanee in the dead of night.. fueled by strawberry milk and clove cigarettes(she smoked those terrible things, not I!) just for the hell of it! We had no money for a room (doubt we could have got one anyways!).. so we just drove right back down after a scramble around the base of El Capitan in the dark!

I would recommend that superb place to everyone! :) Long Live the Ahwahnee!
Last edited by Hetchy on Mon Mar 09, 2009 9:55 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Ahwahnee Hotel may get massive seismic overhaul

Postby rlown » Mon Mar 09, 2009 9:41 pm

We were married in mid February. Snowstorm, 2 feet of snow on the ground and all the guests had to chain up to get there. We had coyotes and deer on the meadow outside the Solarium. It was magical.

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Re: Ahwahnee Hotel may get massive seismic overhaul

Postby giantbrookie » Sun Mar 15, 2009 11:03 am

Because have not seen the specific technical reports on the Ahwahnee, I do not know what level of ground motion that will likely damage the hotel, but I can say the probability of significant damage within a reasonable human time frame (say ordinary life of the building) is likely to be very low, in contrast to a much more active seismic environment such as the SF Bay Area or Los Angeles region. The latter regions feature active faults that are very close to (or run through) urban areas, and the rate of earthquake occurrence for any given time period is vastly greater than the nearest significantly active fault zone to Yosemite Valley (the frontal faults at the base of the eastern escarpment). Although folks in Yosemite felt the 1980 Mammoth Lakes EQ and the more distant, but much stronger, 1872 Owens Valley earthquake,the valley benefits from the fact that is far away from major sources, and the seismic energy attenuates significantly over that distance. Accordingly the level of shaking in 1872 or 1980 in Yosemite Valley was much less severe than the intensity of shaking experienced by parts of the Bay Area in 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake or parts of southern California during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, for example. That is not to say that the nearest likely scenario earthquake (say a M7+ in the June Lakes area) would not cause damage in the valley (note that such events are less than a tenth as likely per given time window than comparably-sized events in the LA or SF areas). Muir wrote of rather significant rockfall in 1872 and there is geologic evidence of major rockfall in Kings Canyon tied to events as distant as the 1857 earthquake on the south-central San Andreas fault.

I guess the bottom line is that I wouldn't stay away from the Ahwahnee if they don't get the funds for the retrofit. There are risks one assumes in every moment of one's life. The risk in transit (from an automobile accident) to Yosemite Valley is vastly greater than the probability of an earthquake damaging the hotel while you stay or dine there. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that there are a number of natural hazards, such as falling tree limbs (that have killed a few Yosemite visitors over the years), and rockfall, that are well behind highway hazards, but likely ahead of the seismic hazard one would face staying at the hotel.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: Ahwahnee Hotel may get massive seismic overhaul

Postby AldeFarte » Sun Mar 15, 2009 10:26 pm

I agree with GB. The risk of being hit by a drunk driving illegal alien is far greater than the risk of earthquake danger at the hotel. I would not even give it a consideration when planning . However, I am easily convinced that there is a sufficient scarefactor that will sooner or later force the hotel to comply. obamer largesse, or not. jls
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Re: Ahwahnee Hotel may get massive seismic overhaul

Postby copeg » Tue Mar 17, 2009 7:00 am

http://www.mercurynews.com/breakingnews/ci_11927854
Yosemite sure: Ahwahnee retrofitting is needed but about five years away

By Paul Rogers
Mercury News
Fixing Yosemite National Park's famed Ahwahnee Hotel so it won't collapse in a major earthquake will not begin for at least five years, the park's top official said Monday.

In his first interview on the subject since the hotel's structural vulnerability became public last week, acting Yosemite Superintendent Dave Uberuaga added that if and when seismic work begins, much of it will be done in the winter months, when there are few tourists. He also estimated the hotel would have to be completely closed for about six months, not the two years previously mentioned.

"We want to minimize the impact to the visitors, the concessionaire and the local tax base," he said. "But the reality is that the Ahwahnee is a grand old hotel, and it is getting to the point where there are specific components that must be fixed."

The Mercury News reported last week that the Ahwahnee, a luxury hotel in Yosemite Valley with 123 rooms that is widely considered among the grandest lodges in America's park system, needs $137 million in repairs and upgrades, according to Yosemite staff estimates.

At the time, a Yosemite spokesman said the park is requesting the money as part of President Barack Obama's stimulus package. On Monday, Uberuaga said that isn't accurate.

Rather, he said, he has worked since becoming acting superintendent in January to get the Ahwahnee project placed on a five-year priority list that goes to the National Park Service, and ultimately is considered for funding by Congress.

He has asked his staff to study it along with other projects needed at the 1927-era landmark, from new plumbing to lighting, and then rank them by cost and urgency.

Uberuaga said he hopes to obtain funding for some early renovation work, such as upgrading the Ahwahnee's fire safety system, within one or two years, then build up to the seismic job, which he estimated could ultimately cost $60 million. That work will probably require varied funding, from federal money to private donations to some of the franchise fee that Delaware North pays to operate hotels, restaurants and gift shops in the park, he said.

Other national parks hotels have undergone similar improvements. Uberuaga previously supervised the renovation and seismic upgrade of the Paradise Inn, the 1916 lodge in Washington's Mount Rainier National Park. The Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park, built in 1903, also recently completed a $30 million renovation and seismic retrofit.

News that the Ahwahnee could close for repairs alarmed Mariposa County last week, after a Yosemite spokesman said the work could close the hotel for two years. The county, where the hotel is located, last year derived $10 million of its $42 million general fund from the county's hotel taxes. The Ahwahnee charges up to $450 a night for rooms yet has 97 percent occupancy rate. It also employs 300 people.

Uberuaga said he would prefer to do the work in stages that would allow the hotel to mostly stay open.

"Some disruption, even a short closure, say six months, is a reasonable investment for the life and safety for every visitor, and preserving the cultural icon this hotel is," he said. "It would be irresponsible not to preserve and protect it. I personally take responsibility for that building."
Monday, locals were relieved.

"To hear it isn't going to shut down for two years is good news. They are on the right track," said Mariposa County Supervisor Brad Aborn, whose district includes the park.

The need for the work was spelled out in a 2002 seismic report from San Francisco firm URS.
That document, which the park at first declined to release but has since been made public, said plaster ceilings in the hotel would collapse, walls would buckle and the ground under the hotel — made up of loose, often wet, sandy soil — could liquefy in the kind of quake that has a 10 percent chance of happening every 50 years.

"Because of localized structural failures, there is the potential for loss of human lives," it concluded.

The report recommended: A seismic retrofit of the hotel's foundation to inject concrete to form 620 columns, each extending 40 feet down; building up to 75 new concrete walls, each 1 foot thick to provide bracing; rebuilding the roof and five huge stone columns in the dining room, and reinforcing log trusses in the ceilings with steel tie rods.

There is some good news for the hotel, whose guests have included Queen Elizabeth, Bing Crosby and John F. Kennedy.

On Monday, a top Bay Area seismologist checked the numbers in the 2002 report and said ground motion at the hotel would be 30 to 40 percent less than the report estimated, under new seismic hazard maps released last year and based on studies of recent earthquakes in Taiwan and Turkey.

The Ahwahnee still needs an upgrade, but the park also needs a new study, she said.

"It's an old building. It was built before modern building codes," said Mary Lou Zoback, vice president of Risk Management Solutions, an engineering firm in Newark.

But is it dangerous to sleep there? Although the Sierra is capable of big quakes — a 7.6 shook the Lone Pine area in 1872 and caused massive rockslides in Yosemite — they can be hundreds of years apart.

"It's far riskier to drive to the Ahwahnee than to stay in it," Zoback said.
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