07 July 2004

Le Conte Memorial Lodge centennial

Le Conte Memorial Lodge (photo: Stephen Joseph)

In 1905, the book A History of the New California: Its Resources and People, Volume I was published, providing information on diverse topics such as “pioneer days, agriculture, mining, irrigation, manufacturing, railroads, education.” Chapter XVIII was dedicated to the State University and informed:
On December 1, 1868, a number of professors were elected, among them the illustrious John Le Conte. The others were Professors Kellogg, Fisher, Joseph Le Conte—afterward world-famous—and others. Professor John Le Conte arrived in California in March, 1869, and soon thereafter he arranged the courses of instruction, set the requirements for admission, and issued a prospectus for the coming year. On June 14, 1869, in the absence of the president, Professor John Le Conte was appointed to discharge the duties of the office of president. Later his brother, Joseph Le Conte, became one of the strongest and most beloved professors of the university, to which he was devoted unto the day of his death. Much of the fame of the university is due to his illustrious career.

The University of California’s first professor of Geology and Natural History, Joseph Le Conte was an avid mountaineer who made many trips to the Sierras. He recorded his impressions in The Autobiography of Joseph Le Conte, which is published online complete with illustrations.

A close friend of John Muir, Joseph Le Conte co-founded the Sierra Club in 1892. Two years following his death, the Club erected the Le Conte Memorial Lodge in Yosemite Valley. The charming lodge, now a National Historic Landmark, was designed by Bernard Maybeck’s brother-in-law John White, who in 1924 would design the Hillside Club on Cedar Street in Berkeley.

Le Conte Memorial Lodge is celebrating its centennial amid controversy. Last year, U.S. Rep. George Radanovich (R-Mariposa) introduced a bill (H.R. 2715) calling for the removal of the Lodge from Yosemite National Park. Radanovich calls it a “special use,” while the Sierra Club believes that what lies at bottom is pure vindictiveness. The bill passed the House Resources Committee on a 21-to-20 vote last fall but has been stalled ever since.

The Sierra Club provides full information on the case, including links to news stories and editorials in the press.

The Bancroft Library sells A Yosemite Camping Trip, a journal of a trip to Yosemite in 1889, written by the professor’s son Joseph N. Le Conte, who accompanied his father on this trip. The account is illustrated by photographs taken with an early Kodak camera.


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