When we started planning our family vacation to Myrtle Beach, SC we knew that we wanted to visit Brookgreen Gardens, and when I looked at my Adventure Map, I picked out something else of interest that was nearby – Atalaya Castle – having no idea what it was or that it was in any way related to Brookgreen Gardens.
I loved learning the history of the gardens, and especially loved walking the grounds of Atalaya Castle. Its situated right across the street from the gardens, in Huntington Beach State Park. If you get a chance to visit, ABSOLUTELY get tickets for the audio tour – it is SO GOOD and really gives you a chance to explore the house and really understand what you’re looking at in each area and each room.
Anna and Archer Huntington purchased the land where Brookgreen sits in 1930. Anna had been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and her doctor suggested that they retreat somewhere warmer for their winters. Anna was a prominent sculptor, very successful for her time, especially being a woman. She earned more than $50,000 annually for her sculptures, and was the first female sculptor exhibited in New York. Archer was a philanthropist and industrialist son of the steel magnate Collis Huntington. He wanted nothing more than for Anna’s complete recovery, and so he imagined a beautiful home complete with indoor and outdoor sculpting studios for Anna where she could spend temperate winters away from New York.
When they visited the grounds of Brookgreen, they fell in love with the property, the area, the natives, and the low-country. They built Atalaya in 1931-1933, their modest winter home, and opened Brookgreen in 1932 as a public sculpture garden to house some of Anna’s work. I would like to tell you a little more about the Huntington’s, their beautiful home, and the gardens as I show you photos.
Archer was a lover of Spanish culture and architecture. He had Atalaya built without any drawn blueprints, describing it in great detail to the architect. It was designed in Moorish/Mediterranean Revival architecture, and employed many locals in its construction. It was the depths of the great depression, and the low-country was hard hit as the rice plantations were now gone, lacking the slave labor that had once made them rich, and without soil that could support farming equipment. Anna and Archer adored the area, and were known to be fair and warm employers.
Anna designed the beautiful teal wrought iron grills that helped protect the building from the strong sea storms. During its era, Atalaya was a beachfront home, though now there are substantial amounts of growth between the structure and the sea.
Atalaya featured 30 rooms, situated around a beautiful courtyard. The north side of the castle housed the live in employment, while the south side were the private quarters for the Huntington’s.
From 1942-1946, Anna and Archer vacated their home to allow the Army Air Corps to use it for training and surveillance – to this day, spent bullet casings still wash ashore.
The entire property is just over 9000 acres, originally encompassing 4 rice plantations.
The Huntington’s were quite private, and they built Atalaya to be their winter retreat. It lacks any formal entertaining areas, and rarely hosted any guests. When the Huntington’s were in residence, the would often keep the paved courtyard gates closed, and the property was completely blockaded off by the high walls.
Anna was a lover of animals great and small, but especially horses. It would only make sense that her estate would prominently feature a horse stable for her favorite mounts, Polly and Bob. Eventually, it would also house “Old Stevie”, a “hopeless old stallion, starved and wretched” that Anna had purchased to model the emaciate figure of Rocinante, Don Quixote’s steed. He was so weak when she purchased him that he could barely stand, and she constructed a special sling to help support him, and nursed him back to health.
She did not like to sculpt from figurines, preferring live models. In addition to stables, Atalaya also had dog kennels for their numerous canine companions, many of which were Scottish Deerhound. Anna was one of the country’s prominent breeders. There were also BEAR PENS, where she would temporarily house (and sometimes let loose) her models.
The courtyard is very large, divided by the covered walkway and the watchtower right in the middle. I loved the beautiful curved arches and the smaller details, like the irrigation run offs on the side of the paths which watered the gardens.
Atalaya means “watchtower” in Spanish, and the tower is featured very prominently in the center of the castle. The 40 foot water tower provided ample water pressure for the entire home, and provided a place for bats to roost and breed, reminding Anna of her Texas home. The bats also provided some relief from the mosquitos that plagued the low-country.
I love the thoughtful detail a the very foot of the watchtower, a small trough where Anna’s multitude of pets could quench their thirst.
As soon as you step foot into Anna’s indoor/outdoor studio, you really appreciate the beautiful morning light that floods both. The home is so thoughtfully constructed to take advantage of the morning light. She preferred her outdoor studio when the weather was accommodating, but when it was not, her indoor studio was a fine substitute.
Anna and Archer had their own separate study and bathrooms, and of course, a shared master suite. Archer as a man who really appreciated a good shower, and his bathroom featured SEVEN shower heads! They apparently all had great pressure from the water/watch tower. He also had a large wardrobe.
Anna’s bathroom was more modest. Their master suite is beautifully lit and very spacious. It’s easy to imagine what a spectacular view they once had of the beach.
The north side of the castle includes servants quarters, which were large and featured wardrobes and desks as well as decent bathrooms shared between each of the rooms. There was also a large kitchen, a laundry drying yard, an icebox (very important!) and modest dining room with seating for six.
I really enjoyed touring the winter retreat for the Huntingtons, learning about their legacy, and would recommend that anyone who is visiting Brookgreen also make a stop by Atalaya for some additional insight into the lives and the times of Archer and Anna.