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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Atalaya, an Interesting But Under-Appreciated Architectural Landmark

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In front of the Atalaya watchtower
This summer, I had the honor of spending a week with my family in Myrtle Beach, where I had the chance to make many memories and have some great experiences.  In all of my experiences, one stood out: the Atalaya Castle in Huntingdon State Park.  This national landmark stood out for two reasons.

          1. It was an architectural beauty with much history.
          2. Many parts of it were in poor condition, due to lack of funding.

Built in 1931, Atalaya was the winter home of Archer and Anna Huntingdon.  In addition to housing this industrialist and sculptor couple, it was used by the Army and Air Corps during World War II. However, the thing that truly stands out about this structure is its design and the deep thought that went into it.

The brick allows visitors to see the inside but not enter
When his wife became diagnosed with tuberculosis, Mr. Huntingdon decided to design and build a home and move with his wife to Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.  It was believed at the time that heat was good for curing tuberculosis, so this new structure would serve as their winter home in hopes of curing Mrs. Huntingdon.

After visiting Spain, Mr. Huntingdon became obsessed with Spanish architecture and design.  This obsession was what led him to create one of the most interesting architecture landmarks that I have visited: the Atalaya Castle.

The Atalaya courtyard
Atalaya, Spanish for "watchtower," was built through the imagination of Mr. Huntingdon.  Suggested by the name, the centerpiece of this home is the forty-foot tower that emerges from the center of the courtyard.  It served the purpose of housing a 3,000 gallon water tank and bats that come out at night to ensure that no flies make home in the courtyard.  The courtyard is then bordered by the home, which contains thirty buildings.

The walls of Atalaya
The most impressive thing about this structure is the amount of detail Mr. Huntingdon placed into emulating Spanish beauty. Cement protrudes from the sides of bricks to resemble the moss hanging from much of Spain's buildings.  A carefully crafted cement crevice allows drainage to flow through the courtyard.  Bricks are laid in a way that outsiders can view the inside of the home but not enter it.

The drains
The amount of detail inside of the home is equally as impressive.  The brick floor was created to signal to guests whether an area was private or public.  Bricks laid in parallel meant rooms were private; bricks laid perpendicular told guests they were welcome.  In addition, a fireplace lays at the end of a hallway visible from the faraway road.  If lit, guests were welcome inside.

The floor of a public room
I can only imagine how amazing this structure was at the height of its time.  When created, the ocean was right outside the window (though the sea has now fallen from its original location).  However, the painful thing about this beautiful structure is its condition.  Despite the fact that it is labeled as a national landmark, the nation and state have left it to rot and let nature do its course.


Many of the rooms have a huge crack protruding through them, serious damage from a past hurricane and neglect on the community's part.  Almost all of the rooms are empty; most of the furniture has been removed besides a few cabinets here and there.  White paint remains on the walls from the Army and Air Corps.  

This place is truly a landmark but will probably not even be standing in a few decades if action is not taken to restore it.  The thing that I do not truly understand is the fact that federal and state governments will waste tens of millions of dollars on new historical learning centers but often do little to preserve the sites that the centers are teaching about.  Because of this site's architectural beauty and wonder, it is my hope that someone will help in the future to ensure that future generations can visit this site.

Outside Atalaya
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