SUBROSA
Number 46   January - February 2006
                 

ANNA HYATT AND ARCHER MILTON HUNTINGTON -
ATALAYA AND HUNTINGTON BEACH STATE PARK

By Dorothy Fansler


It was Anna Hyatt and Archer Milton Huntington's common love of the arts that first brought them together during the early 1920s .  Much to the surprise of their friends they married on March 10, 1923, their mutual birth date.  Archer was born March 10, 1870.  Anna was born March 10, 1876.  Both Anna and Archer flourished in their marriage and Anna characterized Archer as the ultimate sculptor's husband who supported her work not only financially but emotionally as well as spiritually. 

It was the search for a healthy winter environment for Anna that brought them to South Carolina.  In 1927 Anna Hyatt unveiled her El Cid, a very powerful sculpture in bronze based on the early Spanish hero who drove the Moors from Spain and liberated the Spanish culture. The sculpture received great critical acclaim. Later that same year it was discovered that Anna had developed a tubercular physical condition as a result of a severe cold and her generally weakened physical situation.  This caused the couple to begin a long search for a better winter climate to aid in the recovery of  her health.

Atlantic Ocean in front of Atalaya

While sailing down the Intercoastal  Waterway in the early 1930s, the Huntingtons discovered coastal property in upper Georgetown County, South Carolina.  A brochure for the property stated that the acreage was a hunting and fishing preserve that featured an ancient garden and farmhouse near the Waccamaw River as well as a house on the beach.  The purchase was made of 6,635 acres, later increased to 9,127 acres, rounding out Brookgreen Gardens' present boundaries.  The total cost of the properties was $225,000, which comprised the Brookgreen Rice Plantation as well as three other rice plantations. 

The Huntingtons wished to turn the Brookgreen properties into a sculpture garden as well as an animal and plant preserve.  They envisioned the gardens  as a backdrop for the work of  Anna Hyatt and  other American sculptors, as well as a gentle winter climate in which Anna might recover her health.  Anna and Archer chose to live in the beach house while they built their more permanent winter home Atalaya. This is where they would live and work while Brookgreen Gardens were being developed across the causeway connecting the Gardens with the new house site. The Huntingtons enjoyed  living among the dunes, but their beach house had been constructed for summer occupancy only, and proved quite chilly at times during their winter visits. 

Watch tower within Atalaya compound

From the beginning their plan was to build a home of their own design to replace the beach house.  The entry for April 15, 1930 in Anna's diary reads, "Archer has also decided to build something, decided that the sea-wall is an excellent start and what he has in mind would probably be a hair raiser to an architect."  The decision to build was made in the spring of 1930 as the Huntingtons prepared to return north.  As Anna  reflected on the good work she had begun during her first winter there she realized that it was the serenity of the place, the beauty of unspoiled nature and the grandeur of the ocean to which she had become most firmly attached.  In her diary she wrote, "Spring foliage is starting--especially the live oaks, their young leaves almost yellow, and there was a great variety of wild flowers along the road--probably there would be an infinite variety and the birds are so numerous--I hear their sweet notes outside of my window early mornings, their piping ever above the roar of the ocean." 

Work began on the new house in January 1931.  The Great Depression badly affected the local economy and Archer, in an effort to relieve some of the financial stress, hired many skilled and unskilled workers from the area surrounding Brookgreen Gardens and the new winter house to begin the project.  The name Atalaya was first applied to the house in December 1935.  The name was translated by Archer  from Spanish and meant, “watch tower.”  The tower, situated in the courtyard of the 200 foot by 200 foot single story building, was used for water storage but also afforded a glorious view of the ocean.

Approach to Atalaya

Archer, a well-known Hispanic scholar, used his intimate knowledge of Spanish and Moorish architecture as well as his own imagination to design Atalaya.  No known architectural drawings or blueprints existed of the house.  Mr. William Thompson, the contractor and his workers built  according to Archer's oral instructions.  It was rough going because most of the men were working outside their normal experience of building.  As spring approached, the Huntingtons headed north again leaving behind instructions for continuing the work.  While making preparations to return south the following fall, they learned that the roof still had many leaks but that the water system was functioning and that the electric power would soon be established.  Still, it was distressing for them to learn that not all of  the instructions had been followed or carried out correctly.  In her diary on Dec. 6, 1932 Anna wrote, "The house will be very livable when all we have in mind is carried out...".  That fall they had sent a vanload of furnishings and clothing, and they finally arrived at Atalaya in early December.  The next six months were very busy and Anna's diary stated, "Men working New Year's Day--No Holiday here."  As the construction phase of the courtyard was completed, Frank Green Tarbox Jr., the horticulturist of Brookgreen Gardens’, began landscaping with palms, palmettos, and grass. 

As early spring approached  the masons were finishing the open brickwork on the roof, tower, and walkway.  The walkway was then covered and flowers planted in the concrete planter boxes.  In May 1932 all outside work was stopped and the Huntingtons left, not returning to Atalaya until March, 1934. 

Moorish walls within the compound of Atalaya

When completed in 1933 the brick structure's front faced the ocean and the 40-foot tower was a dominating feature. A covered walkway bisected the inner court.  The living quarters consisted of 30 rooms around three sides of the perimeter, including a kitchen, dining room and numerous servants’ quarters. The building featured hand-wrought iron grillwork and shutters to protect against hurricane winds. The few friends invited there thought it looked like a prison on approach. The inner walls of the main courtyard were covered with creeping fig vines; Sabal palmettos, the South Carolina state tree; and other palms.

Anna's studio, with a 25-foot skylight, opened  into a small, enclosed courtyard where she worked on her sculpture.  Because of Anna's love of animals and her custom of sculpting them from life, there were horse stables, a dog kennel and a bear pen.  By the mid 1930s Anna's health was almost fully recovered. This, along with the completion of the major construction of Atalaya gave her more time to devote to her own work as well as to work together with Archer on the development of the sculpture garden, Brookgreen Gardens. 

By the end of the winter of 1936 Anna and her foundry man were able to complete the casting of 21 new pieces for a large exhibit sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Anna Huntington's first traveling exhibit was organized and began touring in 1937.  It contained pieces representative of her forty years as a sculptor.

Diana by Anna Hyatt

During World War II the United States Army Air Corps from the Myrtle Beach Air Field occupied Atalaya.  The grounds were fortified with machine guns, and the building housed a radar unit and its personnel.

After the war the Huntingtons went to Atalaya in 1946 and 1947.  These were their last trips there.  They were growing older and showing some signs of infirmity.  Archer died at their home Stanerigg near Bethel, Connecticut on December 11, 1955 at 85 years of age.  After this, Anna had the furnishings of Atalaya shipped to her home in Connecticut or incorporated into the office at Brookgreen Gardens.  She continued to be active as a sculptor and to receive international recognition for her work.  When she died on October 4, in 1973 at 97 she left behind a legacy in stone and bronze that is alive today. 

In 1960, Anna leased the home and the gardens to South Carolina, bringing the property under state protection according to the terms of the 50-year agreement. Today, Huntington Beach State Park is a wide unspoiled beach, maritime forest, salt marsh with alligators and some of the best birding on the east coast.  The park attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year to enjoy the beach, appreciate the natural environment, and marvel at Atalaya.

To be continued…

Dorothy Fansler, Subrosa Greensboro Reporter
Jim Fansler, Photographer

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