Atalaya Castle was once the winter retreat for famous sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington and her industrialist and philanthropist husband, Archer Huntington. It is architecturally unique as Archer designed it in the Moorish and Mediterranean Revival styles; Anna helped as well, including designing the wrought iron bars that covered the windows on the exterior of the building. They decided to build a winter residence here so Anna would be more able to cope with her struggles with tuberculosis. The building is one story, square-shaped structure with rooms (some of which were large studios) along three walls surrounding a large courtyard. In the center is a 40 foot tall water tower, after which the house is named. Atalaya, along with the Brookgreen Gardens across the highway, which was established by the Huntingtons and where Anna displayed some of her work, comprise a National Historic Landmark district.
Backstory and Context
Archer Milton Huntington purchased Brookgreen and three adjoining plantations (that originally consisted of over 9,000 acres of mixed land) in January 1930 as a site for a winter home and as a setting for Anna Hyatt Huntington's sculpture work. They used part of that acreage to build the first public sculpture garden, known as Brookgreen Gardens, to showcase Anna’s work.
Archer insisted that the house be built by local laborers to help boost the economy of the region during the Great Depression. They employed many local people to work at the house and gardens. The maids and servants had their own living quarters inside the home.
Archer was a philanthropist from New York City and designed the house to be a winter residence for him and his wife after she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Archer was an Spanish historian and he designed the house after Mediterranean coastline Moorish architecture. Anna designed the wrought iron grills that serve as hurricane protection on all the windows.
The castle has 30 rooms laid out around three sides of a courtyard. In the center of the courtyard, surrounded by native plants, is a water tower that is 40-feet tall after which the house was named. "Atalaya" means "watchtower" in Spanish. It is functional in design, having once contained at 3,000-gallon cypress water tank located beneath the house. Water drawn from an artesian well was then pumped into a 10,000-gallon concrete cistern where the sand settled. Various other areas included a dining room, sunroom, library and bedrooms and indoor and outdoor studios for Anna to work on her art, and animal enclosures where they kept bears, horses, monkeys, and a leopard. Anna used live animals to model her sculptures after. During the colder months, heating was done entirely by using coal room heaters and wood-burning fireplaces.
During World War II, the Huntington’s left Atalaya and let the United States Air Corps use it as barracks.
The Huntington’s returned to Atalaya in 1946 and 1947. After that, Anna’s studio was moved to another portion of the property in Brookgreen Gardens, and the rest of the furnishings, that weren’t donated elsewhere, were sent to Connecticut after the death of Archer in 1955. Anna visited the house again only two more times in 1956 and 1958.
In 1960, 2,500 acres of the former estate, including the house and sculpture garden, was leased for free to the state of South Carolina. Huntington Beach State Park was formed and now maintains the house and grounds and offers guided tours during part of the year. Atalaya Castle was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 to preserve the history of Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband Archer Huntington.
Today the Castle is open to the public and is known to be a premier wedding venue. The Castle's once spectacular beach view is now hidden with trees and shrubs. It sits right beside a parking lot for public beach access inside the Huntington Beach State Park in Murrell's Inlet, SC. There is a small fee to tour Atalaya--$2 per person for self-guided tour and $5 per person for the audio-guided tour. There is also a fee to get inside the state park, but parking is free. In tribute to Mrs. Huntington, the annual Atalaya Arts and Crafts Festival is held in the Castle during the fourth weekend of September.
Sigmon, Daniel R. "Atalaya." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places. September 7, 1984. http://focus.nps.gov/GetAsset?assetID=ce0874eb-a9f6-4f23-8a88-1c1d4dc692fe.
History of Atalaya Castle in Murrell's Inlet, SC. Friends of Atalaya Castle. Accessed September 01, 2018. http://www.atalayacastle.com/history/.
Atalaya: The Huntington Winter Home. Huntington Beach State Park. Accessed September 01, 2018. http://www.huntingtonbeachstatepark.net/atalaya.html.