Strangely beautiful Atalaya.

Monday, January 11

After a few days of laundry, rain, and Bruce fighting a cold, we got a call from the Mac guy–it’s done! After pick-up it was a nice sunny day so we stopped by the Myrtle Beach State Park and down the road a bit, the Huntington Beach State Park site of Atalaya, (translation: The WatchTower), the winter home of Anna and Archer Huntington.

huntington_beach_stpark (1 of 12).

When the Huntingtons purchased the three rice plantations between the Waccasaw River and the Atlantic, a defunct hunting club sat on the best vantage point with panoramic views of the sea. Now, oaks, pines, and palmettos block those views, although from the 40ft openwork watchtower (housing a water tower within), the view must still be spectacular.

huntington_beach (1 of 1)

Archer, remembering his favorite Moorish architecture from his scholarly pursuits in Spain, began to build their winter home there, somewhat organically, using the openwork brick motif and exposed mortar blobbing out between bricks on the solid walls. He had an expert local mason, who, I presume, doggedly followed his wealthy patron’s whims as faithfully as he could, with no clear blueprints or guidelines. It had simply grown, room by room, until Archer decided there were enough.

huntington_beach_stpark (7 of 12)

This eccentric, one-storey structure was actually built around the hunting club, which was afterwards torn down.

As we approached the main building, it appeared large but unprepossessing, with rough graying masonry walls, and rows of high windows covered by wrought iron grates painted blue-green, perhaps to suggest the verdigris of bronze.

DSCN7473

From the website photos, I’d thought it was the zoo Archer had provided for Anna’s living sculpture subjects, but it was their actual home, divided into two main courts by a Moorish-arched walkway, where the right turn led to their private quarters, dining room, study, sunroom, library, bedrooms, studio, etc and the left turn led to servants’ quarters, kitchen, pantries, laundry, and utility rooms.

huntington_beach_stpark (9 of 12)

Every room had its own fireplace and chimney, and it’s said that Archer seriously miscalculated how much wood the whole building would require for comfort.

The building is now empty of furnishings and the whitewash throughout has long since flaked away, leaving the whole atmosphere somewhat bleak. Two great storms have seriously cracked some of the brick walls and the curving steps up to the roof views are closed to the public and probably all but intrepid caretakers.

For the Huntingtons, the ‘sunroom’ was the only place for visitors, where afternoon tea would be served. There were no guestrooms, no houseguests, and few were invited to dine. There was no ostentation here. Anna had designed some wrought iron chairs and a glass-topped table for the dining room, and when dinner was done, they would pull the chairs out to the sunroom or overlook to catch the sunset.

 

Atalaya was an exclusive retreat: for Archer to write his poetry and scholarly books and for Anna to pursue her sculpture: in a large, sky-lit studio on cold days and an equally large, outdoor court for good-weather days. The stables were adjacent to this space, so her equine models were always at the ready.

From this estate, ran a long, straight road that led to Brookgreen, their garden Paradise. This is now crossed by Route 17, (King’s Highway).

This is a four-lane highway that runs through the chaotic commercial sprawl of Myrtle Beach: giant water parks, big-box stores, fireworks stores, RV dealers and parks, tall, glass-fronted beachwear/surf shops, and dinosaur and pirate-themed miniature golf; until it reaches the preserved Huntington lands.

myrtle_beach_stpark (8 of 8)

We also checked out the Myrtle Beach State park, which had a lovely, dense campground, well-filled with many full-time campers as well as tents (brrrr). The beach and pier, just beyond the well-protected dunes was serene and inviting, and though we didn’t see any horses (the admissions gate had warned us) we saw lots of hoof-prints in the sand. When we inquired about rates at the camp office, the lady said how much she enjoyed the natural contrast to all the crazy sprawl of Myrtle Beach.

 

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