Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years, By Horace M. Albright and Marian Albright Schenck, Foreword by Robert M. Utley
Chapter 5: Personnel and Personalities, 1915
One of the first things the new partnership of Mather and Albright faced was park administration. A lot of Mather’s criticism to Lane had been about the miserable conditions in the national parks he had visited, not just the rundown physical aspects, but the dirty, unhealthy conditions of lodging, food, and sanitary facilities. He blamed most of these on the men in charge of the parks.
Mather learned there was a general superintendent, Mark Daniels. Without even knowing Daniels, he disapproved of him and his whole setup. Mather questioned me very closely about the period during which Daniels had held the position of general superintendent and landscape engineer. I tried very hard to be diplomatic, as I personally liked Daniels. So instead of giving out much information, I simply handed over the department file. One of the first things Mather read was an account of the Louis Hill episode.
Hill, president of the Great Northern Railroad, was vitally interested in Glacier National Park. His railroad had built the hotels and chalets, even many of the roads, in the park. He welcomed the opportunity to meet with Mark Daniels. Hill had a private car waiting in St. Paul when Daniels joined him. Attached to the train were special cars that contained Hill’s private limousine and his favorite horses. Fine food and plenty of “wet goods” smoothed the long trip to Glacier Park.
As Daniels and Hill were enjoying a leisurely horseback ride out in the park, Hill idly wondered why Mount Henry was bald, with trees growing only partway up the sides. Daniels instantly pulled out his little information notebook to see how much money there was in the congressional appropriations for Glacier. The sum was three thousand dollars— the entire appropriation for Glacier’s administration, protection, and construction. Everything! Daniels made the grand gesture. “Mr. Hill, I have three thousand dollars with which I will reforest Mount Henry. There will be trees all the way to the top.” Hill, who knew a lot more than Daniels about Mount Henry, was horrified. Instead of pleasing Hill, it threw him into a rage. He thought Daniels was absolutely crazy, tore up plans for the rest of the trip, and, returning to St. Paul, called in his lawyers and ordered them to file charges against Daniels. Nothing ever came of it though.
One day Mather called me in and said he had to make a decision about Daniels. Although he had done some good things in the way of designing park structures, they had turned out to be vastly too elaborate and costly. In short, any good points were counterbalanced by his odd bookkeeping system and his abrasive treatment of people he considered beneath his social level.
I was thrilled when, for the first time, Mr. Mather asked for my evaluation. I spun this around for a moment. Does a twenty-five-year-old “clerk” speak up with an honest assessment that might be at odds with his boss, or does he slip smoothly out of any definitive answer? Instantly I decided I could never be anything but totally honest with this man for whom I was developing such respect. I gave my opinion of Daniels in a few words: intelligent, artistic, clever, good conservationist, erratic, poor administrator, no financial sense.
Mather was always a very fair man and listened carefully. Then he quietly tore up his chart on Daniels and decided to do nothing until he got to know him personally. It was a method of decision-making that I saw repeated many times through the years of our partnership.
Next Mather turned to the problem of personnel running the individual parks. Most of them were political appointees. Many positions were filled when political power changed in a state or in Washington.
Mather decided he would hold a conference of park supervisors to meet and evaluate them in person and lay before them his ideas, plans, and principles. He decided to hold this meeting in San Francisco. He had come to the conclusion that the two great expositions to be held in San Diego and San Francisco in 1915 afforded the opportunity to publicize the national parks and encourage waves of visitors to Yosemite and Sequoia. Through the increased interest and visitation to the parks and the attendant publicity generated from this, he could focus congressional attention on a bill to create a national park service. So he called a conference of supervisors to be held in Berkeley in March 1915.
This was the first time I witnessed Stephen Mather in action. It was something to see.
Mather had one more idea to put into motion before we left for California. He was at heart a public-relations man and wanted the country to be aware of the national parks. He felt that he needed a fulltime publicity man and contacted an old friend from his reporting days in New York—in fact, the best man at his wedding. At this time Robert Sterling Yard was the Sunday editor of the New York Herald. Yard was enticed into giving up his job and moving to Washington, where he would be in charge of publicity for Mather. As there was no money available from the government, Mather guaranteed him five thousand dollars a year out of his own pocket. Yard would join him immediately to make the trip to California with us. Thus was born a gifted and brilliant publicrelations team of Mather and Yard.
With plans and ideas popping from Mather’s head every minute, I was frantically busy trying to carry them out and, at the same time, perform all my usual duties and a good many of Mather’s routine ones. From the very beginning, he said that he hated office work, administrative minutiae, what he called chores. With his nervous energy, he simply couldn’t sit still at a desk and handle details. He preferred to conduct business with people he felt were important to his plans over long lunches or at elegant dinner and theater parties. He felt he could accomplish more this way than with the normal business methods. And in many respects he was right. Mather of Chicago made himself a known, well-liked, and admired personage in Washington in a very short time.
While we were working on plans for the conference in San Francisco, Mather was faced with a more serious matter—money. The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee was a rough, tough Irishman from Brooklyn, John J. Fitzgerald. He was the original penny pincher, suspicious of any new monetary proposal and ruthless in questioning witnesses. Mather was advised by everyone in the Interior Department to pad his proposed budget because Fitzgerald would chop it with a meat ax. He disregarded this and stated firmly that he would handle government finance as he had handled his business finance—honestly.
He could do nothing about the current appropriations bill before the Congress, estimates for the fiscal year beginning June 1, 1915. But he was prepared with a list of projects for the 1916 bill. One of the first proposals he made before the committee was to allow the government to accept donations of money or land for national parks.
Fitzgerald took an instant dislike to Mather because he had never heard of anybody wanting to donate expensive territory to the government. Even with help from William Kent and other newfound friends in the Congress, Mather didn’t fare very well, and he temporarily put appropriations on hold. He concentrated on happier thoughts—his San Francisco conference.
Rounding up his personal party for the trip to California, Mather chose seven men. Robert S. Yard went to keep pumping out publicity during the trip. W. B. Acker, assistant attorney in the Interior Department, was included not because he was the only person who had a comprehensive grasp on operations in the parks, but because he had fought hard against invasion of the parks, especially Hetch Hetchy, and was also a formidable exponent of maintaining parks in their natural state with as little development as possible. Guy E. Mitchell, chief of the Executive Division of the U.S. Geological Survey, was knowledgeable about parks in general and a fierce adherent of them. Robert Marshall of the Geological Survey was already in Mather’s mind to head a national parks bureau when it was established. Colonel Lloyd Brett, an army officer, was superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. California’s Congressman Denver E. Church was an important adherent of Sierra parks near his Fresno district. And finally, Horace Albright went as private secretary, man Friday, and handler of all details.
Mather had gone on ahead of us to Chicago, but the complete party assembled there and on March 3 boarded a unique private Pullman car from the Santa Fe Railroad, named Calzona. It was most luxurious, with drawing rooms and bedrooms on each end and a spacious midsection, furnished beautifully with club chairs and tables for our conferences. Little touches for our comfort and pleasure were added, such as a writing desk equipped with engraved railroad stationery, cigar stands and spittoons (the latter fortunately unused), a table with glasses, pitchers of ice water, and, if requested, something stronger to drink, and a small phono- graph with a rack of records ranging from Caruso to Victor Herbert’s operettas and current dance music. As low man on the totem pole, I had the job of winding the phonograph up when someone felt like music. We thoroughly enjoyed this railroad car with all the comforts of a luxury hotel.
Mather held conferences most of the way across the country. This was a favorite diversion of his, for everyone to sit around and “jaw,” as he put it. We discussed almost everything concerning parks, the upcoming conference in Berkeley, legislation, and personnel. But our conversation ranged far beyond that. One time the topic would be deadly serious— how to get the Grand Canyon made a national park while at the same time crossing swords with powerful mining men and the United States Forest Service. The next time it would be stories of Yard’s and Mather’s younger days as newspapermen in New York, the most memorable being the hilarious tales of Mather’s scoops during the famous Blizzard of ’88. And on and on.
Through an interesting coincidence, we added another man to our party as far as Trinidad, Colorado. This was Major General Hugh L. Scott, chief of staff of the U.S. Army. He was in civilian clothes on a mission to the Ute Indians, for he was one of only a few white men who were experts in the use of Indian sign language. Our acquaintance with him paid off later because of his agreement with us to remove troops from Yellowstone Park. He and Colonel Brett mapped out how this might be accomplished.
So every minute on Calzona was an interesting and educational experience for us all. In those few days, we got to know each other well. The camaraderie made us real friends.
The party arrived at La Grande Station in Los Angeles at 6:20 P.M. on March 7. We were there only long enough for Calzona to be switched to the last section of the 6:30 regularly scheduled train bound for San Diego (held for an extra half hour while our car was being attached). We also left Congressman Church at the station.
In addition to Mather’s innate curiosity to see new things, we were led to San Diego by his desire to meet some old friends and interest them in helping to promote a national park bureau. He also wanted to study the big exposition being staged there in conjunction with the one in San Francisco. He was interested from the architectural standpoint because he already had in mind the need for distinctive structures in the national parks.
We arrived in San Diego at 9:50 P.M. and were met by newspaper reporters and an array of dignitaries from the Chamber of Commerce. I learned for the first time that Mather reveled in this sort of thing. He always had a speech ready for the occasion. He didn’t fail this time, and it duly showed up in the newspaper the next day.
In 1915—16 there were two expositions to be held in California, in San Diego and San Francisco. Both were to glorify the state and commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal. Additionally, San Francisco wanted to show the world how the city had risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the earthquake of 1906. So of course Mather’s first order of business was to have an extensive tour of the exposition as well as the famous zoo in Balboa Park. At the latter, he insisted that one of his group feed some of the wild animals. This surely separated the men from the boys. Marshall proved the bravest, feeding a mother lion and cubs.
After one last coverage of the exposition, we boarded Calzona, were honored guests at a banquet in Los Angeles, and by 10:00 P.M. were headed north once more. After we settled into our berths, Mather took us all by surprise: “You can’t go to bed now. We’re making a stop at Lang to show you where some of my mining properties are located.” It was the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere when we dutifully got out in the desert and stared into the darkness while Mather and his partner, Thomas Thorkildsen, by the light from the train windows, ruminated over a map and discussed mining. I could hardly believe this day was still March 8—or was it March 9?
As I lay in the darkness, listening to the rhythmic click-clack of the wheels, I shook my head in wonder. I was certainly learning a lot about Stephen Mather. I thanked my stars I was young, strong, and healthy. His energy would have killed someone who wasn’t. Had I not been so exhausted, I would have been too excited to sleep, as tomorrow I’d be in San Francisco, only a few minutes and a bay away from my precious Grace.
On Monday, March 9, our train pulled into San Francisco early in the morning. It was a beautiful day. Well, was is the right word. Mr. Mather and I went up to the Palace Hotel, where I got him settled in a fine suite on the third floor. When I was ready to leave, I told him I’d be staying at my mother’s home in Berkeley and gave him the telephone number. He looked surprised and asked: “Where are you going? We have many people to visit here in the city. It’ll probably take all day. Then I have arranged for a dinner party tonight at the hotel for a group interested in Yosemite and the Tioga Road. Very important that you take notes on this.”
Here was another decision to be made. Do I just quietly put my entire private life on hold or do I draw a line? Again I had to weigh the problem carefully because I would be working under Mather for a year. I liked and respected him and felt an honest relationship was the best policy, so I replied, “I’m sorry, Mr. Mather. You know I have a fiancee here in Berkeley who has been very patient and understanding about my work in Washington and my decision to remain with you for a year. “We haven’t seen each other in over six months. With the conference starting tomorrow, we’ll be very busy, so I know I won’t see much of her then. I’ll work with you today until time to catch a boat for the East Bay to meet her when she’s through teaching.”
He obviously was not used to someone objecting to his instructions. Silently he gave me what I always called his “eagle-eye stare.” Then abruptly he said, “I want to meet this girl. Go to Berkeley, see her and the family. But bring her back to the Palace for dinner at eight.”
Emboldened by this, I added that I must have some other free time for her even if it was during the conference. He shrugged his shoulders, nodded, and told me I only had to attend important conferences and committee meetings. He’d see about evenings. We had forged another link of understanding and friendship.
I took the broadest interpretation of Mather’s instructions and left the hotel immediately, caught the ferry for Berkeley, and went directly to my mother’s home. She was surprised and delighted to see me, as were my two brothers when they came in. Dewey had graduated from Berkeley High School and was splitting his time between working and attending Wilmerding in San Francisco, learning both building trades and mortician techniques. When he received certificates in these, he could go home to Bishop and step into Dad’s businesses. My older brother, Leslie, had graduated from the university in 1914 but had stayed on to work toward a master’s degree in history. We had lunch together while I filled them in on all my doings and heard theirs. It was wonderful to see them again, busy and happy.
Even though I knew it was too early for Grace to be home from her teaching job, I walked over to the Nobles’ home and ate another lunch with Mrs. Noble. Of course, Grace knew I was in the Bay area but had no idea I was in her kitchen. So when she came home, she banged the front door closed and dropped whatever she was carrying on the hall table, chattering all the time to her mother about some event at school. As she rounded the corner into the kitchen, she didn’t see me for a minute. Then she did! With an Indian war whoop she flung herself on me, dancing up and down, kissing me and babbling happily. Really not knowing her too well, I was rather taken back—but totally delighted. Grace was twice as beautiful as I had even dreamed, so vivacious, with her big brown eyes dancing like stars in that lovely face.
Her mother quickly remembered that she had some marketing to do, which left the engaged couple to catch up on their six months apart as well as discuss the future. Actually we had only a few hours, but we did make one major decision. We would somehow get married this year. The addition Mr. Mather had made to my salary was now sufficient to support two of us. Grace also had saved a good deal of her small salary and was ready to throw that into our pool for transportation, furniture, or whatever. It was amazing that two people who had been together so little could have such a deep understanding and love for each other. I think our correspondence had plumbed the depths of our minds. We were best friends as well as sweethearts.
About six o’clock I called a taxi, and Grace and I went in style to the ferry, crossed over to San Francisco, and went to the Palace Hotel. I sent a bellboy to tell Mr. Mather we were in the lobby, and he came down right away. On meeting Grace, he was obviously stunned by her beauty. She certainly was a vision in a lovely peach silk gown, wearing her grandmother’s gold earrings and the little pendant on a gold chain, my first gift to her. I was equally enchanted by her. Don’t forget, I had never seen her dressed up in “Palace Hotel high fashion.”
Mather led us to a quiet corner, ordered some refreshments, and excused himself, saying he had some business to take care of before his other guests arrived. I don’t know where he went, but he was back in a short time. In one hand he had a corsage of roses and, in the other, a small box. He handed both to Grace and laughingly said, “I don’t know how Horace could ever have been lucky enough to get you. I wasn’t around at that time, but I wish you all the happiness in the world.” Inside the little velvet box was a small Tiffany brooch, silver with a diamond in the center. Grace was overwhelmed, and, always spontaneous, she jumped up and gave him a bear hug and a kiss. He threw his head back and just roared with laughter, saying that was the finest reaction he’d had to a gift in years. They were dear, close friends from that day on.
The other guests appeared very soon: six of them, all males. The only problem that arose from eight men and one woman was that everyone tried to sit next to Grace. Mather, of course, got one side and A. B. C. Dohrmann the other. It was all right with me, as I could look directly across the round table at her. Mather ordered a delicious dinner and fine wine. And I learned something new about my fiancee. She refused the wine, stating very courteously but firmly that she did not drink alcohol.
Aside from a few polite remarks about the dinner and inquiries about our trip, the conversation was entirely on Yosemite and the Tioga Road. Mather explained that he had already had discussions about this with another group of friends, including Sierra Club officers, at lunch that day at the Bohemian Club. The more he talked, the more excited he got about his plans for the road.
Finally he bluntly said: “I got you all together to call for contributions to buy the Tioga Road toll rights. I already have an option on them which calls for payment of about fifteen thousand dollars. I’ve put up one thousand myself and held up my partner, Thorkildsen, for another thousand. The Sierra Club has pledged funds and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce made me a pledge, so I have about eight thousand raised or pledged. How about it? If each of you put in one thousand, the deal is closed.”
Needless to say, he had his money right then and there. He went on to close the deal, acquired the Tioga Road, and thus opened a new entrance to Yosemite Park. He even got one of those men at our dinner, an attorney, to handle the legal work, free. This was my first real experience with Mather’s mesmerizing power of enthusiasm and persuasion. It was not the last by a long shot.
Mather had arranged for his national park supervisors to meet at the Sigma Chi House on the University of California campus at Berkeley on March 10. This was merely to greet his twenty-four guests while I assigned rooms and straightened out any problems they might have. I settled on Bob Yard as my roommate. Mather had been a Sigma Chi here and had later donated money for this new house. He had arranged with the current members to evacuate it for a week. He paid them to go to a hotel or bunk up with friends in other fraternity houses. His excuse for using the fraternity house was that he wanted to bring his park people together in a convivial and fraternal atmosphere, the spirit he wished to instill in his organization. He felt the park personnel would gain a feeling of camaraderie, a unity of purpose to accomplish his ideas and plans.
At 10:00 A.M. on March 11 the conference opened in California Hall on the university campus. There were about seventy-five men: superintendents, supervisors, and custodians of national parks and monuments; representatives of concessioners, transportation, and railroad companies; officials from other governmental agencies such as the Forest Service and Bureau of Entomology; officers of the Sierra Club; several congressmen; and just anyone interested in the future of the national parks and monuments. One was Enos Mills, the “Father of Rocky Mountain National Park.” Arthur Arlett represented the governor of California, and Mrs. E.T. Parsons of Berkeley had simply read about the conference in the local paper and come to see what it was all about.
Although Stephen Mather was the titular head of the conference, he did little more than introduce speakers. He recognized his lack of knowledge about the parks and the people in charge of them and about those operating the concessions. Basically he turned it over to Mark Daniels, the general superintendent and landscape architect of national parks, who was not only quite knowledgeable about the parks but also a good public relations man, a fine speaker, and an engaging personality. Furthermore, he was young, handsome, and projected an image of a leader, forcefully presenting ideas and plans for the future.
One of Daniels’s most interesting ideas was his “village” concept. Probably because he was primarily an architect, he visualized that when visitors to a park became numerous, five thousand or so, the visitors’ area would resemble a small city and should be treated as such. As a “village,” it must have all the amenities of a municipality—water, electricity, telephones, police, a sanitation system, and food and lodging accommodations of all types. Projections should be made for future growth of tourism and for additional “villages” as needed. This was a perfect example of the grandiose visions that Daniels advocated. Although Mather liked the idea of small “villages,” he didn’t want “cities” in his parks.
Mather had scheduled an interesting evening at the Sigma Chi House and had suggested that I bring Grace.The dinner was to be put on by the ladies of the Sierra Club, with Joseph N. (“Little Joe”) Le Conte and Will Colby, president and secretary of the club, as hosts. I was bursting with pride as I introduced my fiancee to the gathering that night. We had a great time with tales of Sierra outings, entertaining stories from our park supervisors, and, with Grace at the piano, loud and enthusiastic singing. And I learned something new about my chief. He had a fine baritone voice and loved to belt out the songs.
On March 12 the conference opened an hour later, again in California Hall. Mather and I decided it was important that I attend both sessions because they featured the men who actually operated the parks. As we had known few of them before this meeting, Mather told me to take notes, sizing them up. We’d compare our impressions later. Among others, the speakers were Walter Fry, supervisor of Sequoia National Park and the leading authority on forest fires; Gabriel Sovulewski and David Sherfey, supervisor and resident engineer from Yosemite; Samuel F. Ralston, supervisor of Glacier; Dr. W. P. Parks in charge of Hot Springs; and Colonel R. A. Sneed and Charles Ziebach of Platt and Sullys Hill National Parks. It really tested my concentration to stay awake when the latter two gave interminable talks on areas that were far below standards for national parks.
I came back to reality when I suddenly realized that W. B. Acker was at the lectern. He gave a fine talk on the history of the national parks and was followed by Roe Emery and David Curry, both fiery concessioners. No one could have slept through their speeches. When the conference broke up, I made it a point to speak to both of these men as well as other concessioners like Ford Harvey and Enos Mills, sensing they would be extremely important in the future.
Later, when we were back at the Sigma Chi House, I singled out the only two men who represented national monuments, Chester Campbell of Petrified Forest and John Otto of Colorado.
Mr. Mather was rather indifferent toward national monuments for two reasons. In his opinion, they were substandard to national parks, and most weren’t “natural scenic wonders,” although there were exceptions like Muir Woods. Obviously everyone, including Congress, ignored them financially. From the information I had read in Washington as a history buff, I had found most of them fascinating, especially those in the Indian country, such as Rainbow Bridge, Chaco Canyon, and Navajo.
It was shocking to me to learn that Campbell and Otto received only one dollar a month compensation for overseeing their monuments.Worse still, they actually were expected to pay their own way for the trip to Berkeley. That showed how little Mather and I really knew about our park system. I told Mather about this, and he felt equally badly. Before we left, he sent his personal checks for their expenses, an advance of $150.
This awakened us to take a closer look at the welfare of our twentythree orphan monuments. Actually, they stayed ignored by Congress for a long time, so there was little we could do for them. The general public rarely knew they existed, or they were too far off the beaten track to visit. With no tourist traffic, there was no money from the Appropriations Committee.
I’ll tell a little bit more about John Otto to illustrate the sad condition these monuments were in and the even sadder condition their custodians faced. I had instructed Campbell and Otto when they returned to their monuments to send me an expense account detailing the advance Mather had given them. I also told them that if there was any money left over, they were to return it to Mr. Mather. Well, Campbell’s came in immediately with his check for about fifty dollars, but I didn’t hear a thing from Otto. Finally on May 5 I wrote him a letter reminding him of my orders and also said I was “disappointed” in him.
Well, poor fellow, I guess he was really wounded, for back came not one but two separate letters as well as his New York bank draft for fortysix dollars. He apologized and said he’d put the money owed Mather in the bank thinking that “Mr. Mather may come through our way some other trip soon,” and he’d give it to him then.
Needless to say, I felt terrible about the “Hermit of Monument Canyon,” as he was called locally, who spent most of his life single-handedly improving and taking care of his monument—all for twelve dollars a year. I immediately wrote him, praising his work and assuring him that “I am not feeling at all unfriendly to you. Both Mr. Mather and myself are very much interested in your work, and ever since hearing your description of the Colorado National Monument, we have been looking forward to some time of meeting you in Grand Junction and going through the Monument with you.”
As Mather was going to have a cozy dinner at the Sigma Chi House with his park personnel only, I decided I could slip away for a short time. I had gotten intrigued with these men and wanted to know them better, so I explained to Grace that we could go out to dinner, but that I felt I should join the group at the fraternity house afterward. As always, she was quiet and understanding. We ate at a little Chinese restaurant in Berkeley and walked back across the campus, just as we did on the night we got engaged, and I left her house by nine o’clock.
Then I joined the gang at the Sigma Chi house. It was a real rouser, for Mather was a great mixer and had broken the reserve of his guests, who were pretty much his age or older. It was quite an opportunity for both Mather and me to get to know these experienced men—and learn a great deal from them, I must add.
The next morning our conference changed locale. We all assembled at the Fillmore Street entrance to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco at 10:00 A.M. Few conference participants except national park people appeared. We were met by a full-fledged band, a group of officials in high silk hats from the Southern Pacific Railroad, and Arthur Arlett, who greeted us on behalf of “my illustrious chief, Governor Hiram Johnson, and through him, our Commonwealth.”
We were escorted by the band, blaring out martial music as well as University of California fight songs, to the Union Pacific exhibition pavilion. We must have been a rare sight for exposition visitors. Who on earth were these peculiar-looking fellows who warranted a brass band? There was no standard uniform yet for national park people, so every man was dressed differently: odd pants, boots, shirts, and hats—a pretty scraggly lot. Only a few of us “dudes” from the East were in suits, ties, and city hats.
The members of our party were to be the luncheon guests of the Union Pacific at its replica of the Old Faithful Inn, outside of which was a scaled-down version of a geyser with hourly eruptions, just like the real thing in Yellowstone. About midway to the inn, we happened to pass a bathing beauty concession. Here people could pay to go inside to see lovely girls swim around in a pool and then lie out on a sundeck to dry and show their forms in, for those days, shockingly abbreviated bathing suits.
Mather and his small Washington contingent kept marching to the Old Faithful Inn without noticing that most of his park personnel had dropped off. So when he looked around and found the majority missing, he ordered me to go find them. I did, but they flatly refused to come to the inn for lunch. I was too young and had no authority, so I gave up, went back, but didn’t dare tell Mather where they were. He fussed and fumed, but our remnants, being honored guests, ate lunch and then walked to the afternoon session of the conference in the Southern Pacific Hall.
Again Mather told me to find “those bastards,” strong language for him. Of course, I knew where they’d probably be. Sure enough, they were still looking at the bathing beauties two hours later. This time a few men listened to me, but most never budged until I rounded them up to go back to Berkeley late in the afternoon. I never did tell Mather that I had known where they were all the time.
Back at the Sigma Chi House that evening, Mather let bygones be bygones. He had invited a group of the evicted Sigma Chis for dinner with his men. During the evening he asked the fraternity boys to render some college songs and cheers. Now most of the national park men were past middle age, hard-bitten outdoorsmen, and few had been near a college prior to this conference. They stoically sat through the entertainment until the Sigma Chis suddenly gave the University of California’s rousing fight cheer, “Oskie Wow Wow, Whiskie Wee Wee.” With that one old fellow loudly exclaimed, “Thank God, it’s finally time for a drink!”
The next morning the Sigma Chi House was vacated, when most of the conferees left for their homes. Only Mather, Yard, Marshall, and I stayed on. Yard wanted to delve into information at Daniels’s office. Mather had another project in mind.
When I had moved Mather back to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, he suggested we talk over an idea he had. I had already learned that “talking over” an idea meant listening while he restlessly paced around the room, gesturing to make his points, his words barely keeping up with his mile-a-minute brain.
He had decided that he would pick a park as a model for others in the system. Yosemite, of course, was his favorite. He would build or expand all necessary facilities, such as sewage disposal and a power plant. He would renovate lodging where possible, construct new hotels and eating establishments if necessary. And he had already decided that the latter things were necessary.
He kept using Mark Daniels’s word “village.” I finally spoke up and asked, “Does this mean stores, hotels, restaurants—like a village or town has?”
Everyone had gotten a good laugh out of Mather’s statement at the conference a few days before: “Scenery is a splendid thing when it is viewed by a man who is in a contented frame of mind. Give him a poor breakfast after he has had a bad night’s sleep, and he will not care how fine your scenery is. He is not going to enjoy it.” Now he ignored my question and instead asked, “Horace, what do you think about my idea?”
Another fork in the road, another decision for honesty, agreement, or ducking the question. I replied, trying not to cross him but to downplay the whole thing, “I really didn’t like Daniels’s idea from the start. This sort of thing could get out of hand, grow into a nightmare that could overpower the natural scene. Maybe if you were always there to check on it, but someone like Daniels, who thinks in rather grandiose terms, could allow the growth of the ‘village’ as tourist traffic increases. Well, a veritable city could spread across the floor of the valley. Why don’t you go slow, investigate the situation for a while?”
He sank into a chair, nodded thoughtfully, and remained silent for some time. Then he suddenly jumped up and said, “I don’t like David Curry. If we follow Harvey’s idea, we could eliminate him from the Yosemite.”
As yet I wasn’t used to Mather’s sudden mental leaps and tried to figure out where his “village” idea and David Curry fit in. Mather had been deeply impressed by Ford Harvey’s talk at the conference, in which he strongly advocated single concessions in national parks. Harvey, of course, was the son of the founder of the Fred Harvey Company, which ran the hotels, restaurants, and dining cars for the Santa Fe Railroad, including El Tovar Hotel at Grand Canyon. Not that Harvey felt all concessions should be under the same company, but all of one type should be, such as one lodging concession and one transportation concession.
“Hotels in each national park should be in one man’s hands,” Harvey had said; “he should not be there simply with a license to get as much money as possible, but should have a definite obligation and responsibility in the way of satisfactory service I firmly believe that this service must be a regulated monopoly.” Mather loved those last two words and used them frequently when he spoke on this topic.
David Curry, who operated a large camp company in Yosemite, had spoken up vigorously against Harvey, saying that the idea was all right for a hotel monopoly but should not include all overnight accommodations; there should be different levels of concessions based on the tourists’ ability or desire to pay. There would be competition, not between concessions of the same class, but between different classes. Harvey had agreed and said that was what he had meant too. But Mather had unconditionally accepted the concept of monopoly and clashed with Curry accordingly.
Pacing back and forth in his suite, Mather now began to spell out his thoughts. He expanded on the idea of more and bigger accommodations and services in Yosemite to lure thousands of additional tourists to the park. He grew more and more excited as he talked, and suddenly he jabbed his finger at me and said, “We’ve got to get going on this whole thing right away. Set up a luncheon or dinner party as soon as possible. I’ll give you a list of men to invite to it.”
Mather’s list for his impromptu dinner party was impressive, some of the wealthiest men in both northern and southern California. I do not know exactly what transpired when they got together, for I was spending my last hours with my Grace. We had a candlelight dinner in San Francisco and three trips back and forth across the bay. It was worse than I imagined to kiss her good night—and good-bye. But I had learned through being with Grace that she was always the brave one, the chin-up girl, the smiling Pollyanna, as she was this last night before I had to go back to Washington.
When I returned to the hotel, Mr. Mather was waiting for me. A note in my key box said to come to his room whenever I happened to get in, no matter what the hour. He answered my knock immediately, saying, “Come in, come in. I must tell you what I did tonight.” He was elated, as his dinner party in a private room of the hotel had gone well, and apparently his goals had been reached.
He had emphasized to his guests that all California would benefit by travel to the national parks in the state, but new and finer facilities would have to be built to encourage visitation. Together that night they formed the Desmond Park Service Company and agreed to put up $250,000 to get it going, to buy out the Lost Arrow and Yosemite Park Company, and to construct more accommodations. Of course, Mather agreed to invest in it too. Joseph Desmond, a supplier to construction camps (including Hetch Hetchy), was chosen to operate the new company, which would be in direct competition with Curry’s camps. To help it get started on a good financial footing, Mather went so far as to promise a long lease for the company, to allow it to install bars and sell liquor in the park, and even to turn over army buildings for immediate extra accommodations. Laurence Harris (owner of a tent and outdoor equipment firm) and A. B. C. Dohrmann (a hotel supply company owner), and probably others as well, would be in a position to make quite a profit for their companies too, so they were chosen to sell stock in the new company.
I remained silent during this jubilant report until he finished with, “Well, Horace, what do you think of all this?” Frankly I felt a little sick, but didn’t let on except to point out that there were several elements that would have to be checked out with the Interior Department solicitor. Actually, from a legal standpoint, I was concerned about Mather’s ability to give out twenty-year leases, turn over army property, and sell liquor in a national park. Most of all, could he, in his official position, invest in a profit-making company to quash competition?
Nothing dampened his enthusiasm, and I said no more that night. He was so delighted that his conference had turned out successfully, that his Tioga Road was assured, and that his plans for the future of Yosemite seemed in good shape. He was raring to get back to Washington and carry them out.