Who was a geologist, a university professor, and a founding member of the Sierra Club?
The History and Meaning of LeConte Memorial Lodge
Harold W. Wood, Jr.,
Chair, LeConte Memorial Lodge Committee, Sierra Club
Remarks at the Centennial Re-Dedication July 3, 2004
Good afternoon, and thank you all for
coming to our re-dedication of the LeConte Memorial Lodge. We are celebrating
100 years of the LeConte Memorial Lodge, but in doing that we are not really
celebrating a building, but more importantly a host of people that have in
some way been associated with the building and Yosemite for over 100 years. My
name is Harold Wood, and I am the current chair of the Sierra Club’s
LeConte Memorial Lodge Committee. It gives me a great deal of pleasure
to realize that I follow in the footsteps of the first chair of that committee,
Edward T. Parsons, an early Sierra Club leader for many years, and his wife,
Marion Randall Parsons, who was the second chair of the Committee. As
Bonnie Gisel told us, this Memorial was named for Dr. Joseph LeConte, who well
deserves this honor. But the LeConte Memorial Lodge is also about a host
of other people, and I am going to name some of them now. I want you to think
about what these people all have in common – it is not that they are
all Sierra Club members, because not all of them were, but there is something
else – something special – that all of them have in common which
I want you to be able to see at the end of my talk this afternoon.
In telling the story of Leconte Memorial
Lodge, we are not only talking about Dr. LeConte, who Bonnie so eloquently
talked about, but we are also talking about a whole host of people who are
connected with it. For one thing, we are talking about people like YOU – the
volunteers and visitors who make the LeConte Memorial Lodge program possible!
We also have to talk about many other
people from history to the present, including John Muir, the first President
of the Sierra Club; Galen Clark the original Guardian of Yosemite who later
served to staff the Sierra Club’s predecessor visitor center in Yosemite
Valley; Robert Underwood Johnson, who together with John Muir worked to establish
the Yosemite National Park. We must mention
William E. Colby, who was the first Sierra Club member to staff the predecessor
to LeConte Memorial Lodge, the Sinning’s Cottage public Reading Room,
established at the request of the State of California Yosemite Commissioners
in 1898. William Colby went on to serve as Secretary of the Sierra Club
and as a Club luminary for over 50 years. We have to mention Frederick
Law Olmsted, the architect who recommended originally that Yosemite be kept
as natural as possible. We must mention Harriett Monroe, the founder
of Poetry magazine, still in existence, who attended the original
dedication ceremony 100 years ago today. I’ve already mentioned
Edward T. Parsons, first Chair of the LeConte Memorial Lodge Committee, and
the second chair Marion Randall Parsons, a Club mountaineer and book reviewer
for the Sierra Club Bulletin. There are more modern people we must remember
as well, including Ansel Adams, who served as curator here for three summers. Then
there is Nancy Newhall, David Brower, and Ansel Adams who collaborated on the This
is the American Earth exhibit at the LeConte Memorial Lodge. There
are too many others to mention, but some of the curators of the twentieth century
included Enid Michael, who was also a National Park Service botanist; Mary
Hallesy, who served in the 1970’s for ten years, Pat Mosley, who served
as curator for nine years, leading up to today, our curator Bonnie Gisel. There
is someone else I have to especially name, and that is George Pettit, who for
the last 18 years has been a stalwart for Leconte Memorial Lodge, the creator
of all the exhibits and displays and responsible for virtually everything you
see in the interior of the Leconte Memorial Lodge today. [cheers]. We
have to mention at least three U.S. Presidents too, beginning with Abraham
Lincoln, who signed the original Yosemite Grant; Theodore Roosevelt, who went
camping with John Muir – right up there at Glacier Point [points above
and behind], and Ronaled Reagan, who was President when the Leconte Memorial
Lodge was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987 by the National Park
Finally, I have to mention that while
we all got you here on the ruse of the LeConte Lodge Centennial, this is also
another very important date. Today is our current curator Bonnie Gisel’s
birthday, so let’s all wish her a very Happy Birthday! [cheers]
Bonnie has done so much in the last three years to reinvigorate our LeConte
Memorial Lodge program!
All these people represent the best of
higher education, the arts, the press, government, and business and industry,
as well as the Sierra Club. Let’s try to think of what else they
have in common.
To really understand the involvement
of all these luminaries exemplified by LeConte Memorial, we can see a
successive parade of “FIRSTS.” Although we talk about today
as a Centennial, we need to go back not just to 1903 when building construction
started, and not even just back to 1890 when Yosemite National park was established,
but way back to President Lincoln.
In 1864, President Lincoln signed the
Yosemite and Mariposa Grant – giving these areas to California to operate
as the FIRST public park granted by the federal government..
In 1870, Professor Joseph LeConte visits
Yosemite with 10 of his students and FIRST meets John Muir. In 1890,
John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson successfully lobby Congress to establish
Yosemite National Park, but we must remember that at that time Yosemite Valley
and the Mariposa Grove are not included. Two year later, in 1892, the
Sierra Club is established, primarily as a kind of Yosemite defense league
to support and protect, and expand the new National Park. Sierra Club and John
Muir begin lobbying to get Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove receded to
the federal government to be added to the Yosemite national Park. It took 14
years before it achieved this.
In 1898, the Sierra Club is FIRST requested
by the California State Commission to establish a public reading room and information
center at a small cottage in the old "Yosemite Village” at “Adolph
Sinning’s Cottage.” It was staffed the FIRST year by a young
William E. Colby, who later served as the Secretary of the Sierra Club for
50 years. Later, Galen Clark, a charter member of the Sierra Club, after retirement
as the Yosemite Guardian, staffed the public reading room.
In 1901, the Sierra Club launched its
FIRST Outings Program, aimed for the high country above Yosemite Valley. An
elderly Joseph LeConte joined the Outing, but while still in Curry Village,
takes ill, and died. But this was the beginning of the Sierra Club Outings
program, which is still going strong today, all over the country, with national,
chapter, and group outings. A couple of years later, in 1903, John Muir,
President of the Sierra Club, went camping in Yosemite with President
Theodore Roosevelt. That same year, LeConte Memorial began construction.
Finally, 100 years ago today, on July
3,1904 the LeConte Memorial Lodge s dedicated, at a ceremony that includes
not only leading Sierra Club figures presided by William Colby, but academics
from the University of California, and writers and poets, such as Harriet Monroe,
who I already mentioned. From the beginning, the Sierra Club maintained a library
in LeConte Memorial, which we continue today.
Finally, in 1906, the Sierra Club's campaign
to get Yosemite Valley returned to the National Park finally succeeded. This
was a great cause for celebration – Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa
Grove were finally part of the Yosemite National Park!
Ten years later, the Sierra Club welcomed
the National Park Service to Yosemite when it was FIRST established in 1916. We
remember fondly the creation of the National Park Service, with Sierra Club
member Stephen Mather as its first director and another Club member, Horace
Albright, as assistant director and later a long-time director. The Sierra
Club fought for the establishment of the National Park Service, and we still
love it! So, I thank Mike Reynolds for participating with us here today,
as our “junior” partner ! [laughter]
Over the years, LeConte Memorial Lodge
continued to be in the forefront of national park history. LeConte sponsored the "LeConte
Memorial Lectures" that become the basis for the FIRST National Park Service
interpretive programs that occur all over the U.S. in national parks today.
The parade of people involved with Leconte
Memorial continued over the decades. A young Ansel Adams is caretaker there
for three years, beginning in 1919. He later returned in the mid-50's
to install an exhibition, "This is the American Earth." This
award winning exhibition of photography and free-verse in 1960 became the FIRST "Exhibit
Format" book, arguably the first modern "coffee-table book." The
project was conceived by David Brower, and written by Nancy Newhall, who are
among the inspirations for our LeConte Memorial Lodge “Words for Wilderness” program
today. I hope you have all submitted some of your Words for our chain of words
around the world!
In 1985, the LeConte Memorial Lodge was
designated by the National Park Service under the Presidency of Ronald Reagan
as a National Historic Landmark. This is a prestigious distinction,
fewer than 2500 historical sites nation-wide receive this designation. The
two most important reasons for this designation was its unique architecture,
explicitly designed by architect John White to fit in the verticality of Yosemite
Valley's granite walls; and the history of the Sierra Club and its
role in Yosemite and the entire national park system.
During the 1990’s, the Sierra Club
worked hard to re-build the infrastructure of the Leconte Memorial Lodge. The
granite walls were literally disintegrating, and the roof had huge leaks. It
may not seem like much to sandblast the walls and repair a roof, but it was
a crucial task to enable us to build exhibits and continue the evening programs
in this wonderful space, and the Sierra Club and the National Park Service
collaborated on this important project. We then proceeded to remodel
the interior, installing a new lighting system to replace antiquated lights,
to provide for lighting of displays, and to install electrical system for the
screen for evening programs.
In the last few years, we have moved
to renovating the content of our displays and programs. Sierra Club volunteer
George Pettit designed and built three major displays and a host of smaller
items for LeConte to better explain the history of LeConte Memorial Lodge and
the Sierra Club in Yosemite. Curator Pat Mosley launched an evening speakers
program, helping LeConte to better fulfill its educational mission.
In 2002, we hired our most prestigious
curator, Dr. Bonnie Gisel, who for the last three years has greatly invigorated
our program, proving once again that LeConte is not just a building, but is
really about people!
So what do all these people I’ve
mentioned have in common? These were and are people with great diversity -
inspired to creative arts, to celebrate environmental values, to learn about
science and human and natural history. What is it that they all have
I submit to you that what they have in
common is that they all had something – an attitude - and helped
inspire each of us to adopt the same attitude – an attitude best
described using Bonnie Gisel’s phrase:
“an attitude of caring for the
world that we live in.”
That is what all of you bring here today!
The fact is, you are all National Treasures!
I submit to you, that is the true meaning
of the Sierra Club LeConte Memorial Lodge!
Re-Dedication of LeConte Memorial
Michael Reynolds, National Park Service, Yosemite National
Bernie Zaleha, Vice-President, Sierra Club
Bruce Hamilton, Conservation Director, Sierra Club
Bonnie Gisel, Curator, LeConte Memorial Lodge
Harold Wood, Chair, Sierra Club LeConte Memorial Lodge Committee
Centennial Day Photo Album
Rededication Photo Album
Learn more about the LeConte Lodge Centennial.
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Information and Donations
For more information, during the summer contact Sierra Club LeConte Memorial Lodge
Curator, P.O. Box 755, Yosemite, CA 95389, 1-209-372-4542; e-mail:
During the winter, contact LeConte Lodge Committee Chair, Harold Wood, P.O. Box 3543,
Visalia, CA 93278; phone: (559) 697-3525; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tax deductible donations to support the new exhibits and renovation efforts of the
LeConte Memorial can be made to "Sierra Club Foundation," marked for the "LeConte Lodge Fund."
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