Friday, February 28, 2014

Atalaya - a love story

In the coming weeks I plan to share some fresh ideas for Spring Break options in South Carolina that kids will love.  Spring Break adventure #1 - Atalaya at Huntington Beach State Park...

If you've never been to Atalaya, this is one destination that's perfect for roaming with kids - wide open spaces and nothing to break! Just over an hour (80 miles) from Charleston in Murrells Inlet, SC, Atalaya is a huge value add in gaining a new perspective and deeper appreciation for our home by the sea.

Atalaya is located within the grounds of Huntington Beach State Park on land that was gifted to us by the late Mr. and Mrs. Archer Huntington along with the enormous property we know and love called Brookgreen Gardens. Archer Huntington, jilted by his first wife, met and married Anna Hyatt late in life when he was fifty-four. Huntington was the heir of a railroad magnate and used his vast fortune in part to create museum spaces so the mass public could enjoy the art and culture he and his wife thrived on. Huntington sought to create a winter home in the south where he and Anna (a renowned sculptor most known for El Cid in New York and the fighting stallions sculpture at Brookgreen Gardens in SC to name a few of her incredible works) could create art and poetry far from the buzz of the city. The couple made many trips from New York to SC in a glorified Greyhound bus to speck out these parcels of land and slowly carve out the grounds we enjoy today. A home by the sea and an "escape from New York" were exactly what the Huntingtons envisioned when they designed and built their South Carolina getaway they called Atalaya ( a Spanish term for "watch tower" ).

Archer Huntington probably didn't care much about what you or I would think of the dwelling as it was built with a purpose beyond the aesthetic appeal. To Huntington, Atalaya represented a fortress. When Huntington was young, his family lost a home in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire that resulted in Huntington's life long fear of fire and so he aimed to design a structure that was both fire and hurricane protected. Atalaya was also designed for lighting the right areas for sculpting. The home also housed a menagerie of animals so that Anna could further study their form and anatomy to create more realistic sculpture. To you and I, Atalaya is certainly austere and bland on the outside, but walk through to the inner courtyard and you will be enchanted by Huntington's nod to his love of Spanish culture and his vision for creating a very unique space from basic brick and mortar.  

The Huntington's were happy here which perhaps contributes to the fact that Archer lived into his eighties and Anna was nearly one hundred. They were doing something right. I love the fact that their generosity touched everything they did...

(source: a plaque from the wall of Atalaya)

The following poem written by Archer Huntington for Anna Huntington can be seen on the wall in the garden at his beloved Brookgreen Gardens...

The man had a way with words, didn't he? His poetic expression of his undying love for his wife is not the only thing that won my heart. He loved and wrote poetry with devotion and a brave certainly in his writing. He so loved his wife that he gave her numerous homes and plantation grounds to inspire her sculpture and art (Atalaya is but one). He gave away land and money to enhance the communities he dwelled in and lastly, he shunned self-promotion and valued his privacy above all else (he never gave an interview in his lifetime). There was also the added bonus that he wasn't exactly hard on the eyes, kept his financial affairs in apple pie order, and had a keen intellect. With Archer Huntington there was much to admire.

Allow yourself at least an hour here to wander the rooms of Atalaya and get a sense of what the Huntington's were all about. I wish I had discovered Atalaya before I got to know Brookgreen Gardens as it really reflects the hearts and minds of the people who gave us these beautiful spaces.

*You could spend the night at Atalaya March 29th-30th, 2014 at the Atalaya Sleepover!

Huntington Beach State Park
16148 Ocean HWY
Murrells Inlet, SC 29576
click here for a great map and description of the site
*no pets allowed
There is a $2 admission fee to Atalaya (children 5 and under free) in addition to the park entry fee: $5 adult, $3.25 senior, $3 age 6-15, free 5 and younger. 

sources:, Archer Huntington and the Hispanic Society: A Centennial Celebration by James F. Cooper, The Remarkable Huntingtons: Chronicle of a Marriage by Mary Mitchell and Albert Goodrich, The Torch Bearers by A.M. Huntington, A Flight of Birds by A.M. Huntington, and thanks to Brookgreen Gardens and Atalaya  


  1. Hey Leigh,
    How cool to learn of this place. I had never heard about it and can't wait to check it out.

  2. Hi Jessica- thank you! This is such a unique place and Brookgreen Gardens is just up the road. The beachfront is beautiful here too