Atalaya: Amazing Winter Retreat of Sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington
A Late Blooming Love Between Anna Hyatt and Archer Huntington
This is the story of how Anna Hyatt Huntington and Archer Huntington's late blooming love led to building beautiful Atalaya and Brookgreen Gardens. Atalaya, their winter retreat, still stands on a South Carolina beach as a monument to their love. Brookgreen Gardens still blooms as it showcases the sculptures of American Artists, a monument to their dedication to art and culture.
Doorway to Atalaya
Well known American Sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington
Anna Hyatt (1876-1973) began sculpting as a young woman, first using domestic animals as models, later using zoo animals for models. Anna trained at the Arts Students League in New York City, and also studied with the well-known American sculptor, John Gutzon Borglum, creator of the presidents' heads at Mount Rushmore.
Archer and Anna's Late Blooming Love
Anny Hyatt was already an established and well-known American sculptor when she met and married Archer M. Huntington (1870-1955), a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist. Many of her life-size animal sculptures were already being shown in museums, parks and public places around the world and by 1912, she was earning $50,000 a year from her sculpting, a substantial sum at that time. Anna and Archer met rather late in life when they worked together on a charitable project in NYC. She was forty-seven and he was fifty-three when they married in 1923.
Shortly after their marriage, however, Anna contracted tuberculosis, and the Huntington's decided that a winter home in a milder climate would be good for Anna's health. They purchased three large plantations totaling 6,600 acres on the Atlantic coast near Murrells Inlet, South Carolina for $225,000. Here they built their winter retreat, Atalaya, and started their plans for Brookgreen Gardens to showcase Anna's sculptures in a natural outdoor setting.
The Visionaries - A Sculpture by Anna Hyatt Huntington
Covered Walkway at Atalaya
Atalaya Castle Designed by Archer Huntington
Atalaya was conceived and designed by Archer Huntington who was not only a businessman, but a scholar and noted authority on Spanish culture at the time. The house was designed in the Moorish Revival style, similar to architecture found on the Mediterranean Coast. The thirty room house faces the Atlantic ocean and is built in the form of a large square. Each of three sides is 200 feet long, with a shady open courtyard in the center. It is landscaped with palm trees. The house was built without plans as Archer had the design in his head. In the midst of the Great Depression, Archer hired all local labor, a huge boon to the depressed area of coastal South Carolina.
Graceful Open Arches at Atalaya Look into the Shady Courtyard
The Atalaya Courtyard
Cooled by Ocean Breezes
Atalaya had no air conditioning and no central heating. Each room has a fireplace; ramps instead of stairs into the house allowed wood to be brought in by wheelbarrow. The windows open wide to catch the fresh ocean breezes, and, in traditional Southern manner, windows all have decorative grates on them to keep out intruders.
Stair Railings and Window Grates Were Designed by Anna Hyatt Huntington
Anna designed wrought iron furniture, railings and grates for Atalaya
Because Anna was quite ill with tuberculosis the first years at Atalaya, she was unable to work on large sculpting projects. However, she amused herself by designing decorative wrought iron window grates, stair railings, planters and furniture for Atalaya. She also designed the decorative doors. Most of the doors in the home are dutch doors, designed so that the top half could be opened while the bottom half stayed closed to keep the dogs indoors.
Beautful Window Grates Designed by Anna Hyatt Huntington
Brick Laid In the Extruded Method of Bricklaying
It is said that there are over a million bricks in Atalaya. Archer commissioned the bricks to be made locally and the construction to be built by local workmen. Local people were trained to lay the bricks to his specifications in the extruded style, with the mortar squeezed out from between the bricks. There's a story about one crew that worked for days building up a wall and carefully smoothing out the mortar between each brick. When Archer saw it, he had the wall torn down and rebuilt!
The Water Tower - The Centerpiece of Atalaya
The water tower is at the center of Atalaya. Designed by Archer Huntington to be a work of art as well as utilitarian, the water tower stands 40 feet tall in the center of the courtyard in the middle of the covered walkway which goes under it. The water tower houses a 3,000 gallon cypress water tank that was filled with water from a nearby artesian well.
The Watertower, Inspiration for the Spanish Name, Atalaya.
Alligators are a Common Sight
Alligators are a common sight near Atalaya as there are fresh water and brackish water ponds nearby. They are even seen on the beach sometimes. This one meandered across the driveway just a few feet away from Atalaya's main entry, and visitors keep a lookout for him when they walk around the grounds.
An Alligator Crosses the Drive Near Atalaya
Gates in the Entry Courtyard
Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973)
Atalaya and Brookgreen Gardens were named National Historic Landmarks because of Anna Hyatt Huntington's important artistic contributions. Today, Atalaya lies within the bounds of Huntington Beach State Park. Visitors must enter the park in order to take a guided or self guided tour of Atalaya.
Although the building has been maintained and repaired, there are no furnishings inside the home. It is still well worth seeing. There is a small museum with many historic photographs and anecdotes about the Huntingtons. The rustic courtyard is often used for wedding receptions that are scheduled through Huntington Beach State Park.
Slide show of interior of Atalaya
My Personal Interest in Atalaya
On a personal note, I became interested in Atalaya after visiting Brookgreen Gardens and seeing Anna Huntington's work. It is amazing in its detail as well as its expressive realism.
One other fascinating fact - as I learned about the Huntingtons, I discovered that they were among America's first RVers! They traveled cross country in a special trailer built to accommodate their needs and the needs of the animals (dogs, monkeys and birds!) that traveled with them.
A few years ago, my husband and I were fortunate to spend two months at Huntington Beach State Park where we served as volunteer hosts at Atalaya. During that time, we had the opportunity to examine many of the historic photographs and writings of the Huntingtons at the museum and enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at this historic landmark.
Fighting Stallions - Sculpture by Anna Hyatt Huntington
Brookgreen Gardens - A Showcase of Sculpture and Flowers
For more on the accomplishments of the Huntingtons, see my article on Brookgreen Gardens, Archer and Anna Huntington's vision of beautiful gardens and a setting for Anna's sculptures. Brookgreen Gardens is also on the National Historic Landmark register, and houses an amazing collection of American sculptures as well as beautifully designed gardens. If you enjoy beautiful flowers and would like to see more of Anna and Archer's creations, do drop in to take a look!
All photographs and text in this article are copyright by Stephanie Henkel. Please do not copy without permission of the author.
Copyright ©2011 Stephanie Henkel