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Vandals strike Atalaya

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Two days after the state park service unveiled a program to promote its significance, vandals broke into Atalaya, the landmark building at Huntington Beach State Park, and broke windows, benches and light bulbs.

Damage was estimated at $2,000, in part because one of the windows was original to the building when it was the winter home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, founders of Brookgreen Gardens.

“It’s frustrating,” said Brenda Magers, the park manager. “As a manager of a historic resource, it’s frustrating.”

Inspired by watchtowers along the Spanish coast, Atalaya was completed in 1931. The Huntingtons lived there during the winters while Brookgreen was built. Atalaya and 3-1/2 miles of beach were leased to the state by Brookgreen in 1960.

“We don’t want people to leave here without a sense of the significance of this facility and what went on here,” said Chad Prosser, director of the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism last week when he unveiled an audio tour of the castle-like building. Sometime after the doors at Atalaya were locked last Thursday night, vandals apparently climbed the building’s outer walls to reach the courtyard, park staff told the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office. They smashed a window to get into the building.

The outer windows at Atalaya are protected by wrought iron grills designed by Anna Hyatt Huntington.

The vandals also carried wooden benches onto the roof and threw them off. Park staff found several beer cans littering the building.

The benches aren’t historic, but they are heavy. “It took a lot of effort to carry those things upstairs and heave them over,” Magers said.

Staff told deputies that they believe the vandals were staying at the park’s campground, but no suspects were identified, she said.

The park will make temporary repairs while it assesses the damage to the window and frame. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“You want to maintain the integrity of the structure,” Magers said. “You can essentially rebuild the wood. You can’t replace the original glass.”

Atalaya has been the target of minor vandalism in the past, “things that are troublesome, but don’t inherently damage the building,” Magers said.

At one time, the building was left open. But that changed as the park directed more attention to renovation and promoting Atalaya. The Friends of Huntington Beach State Park was formed several years ago, and an interpretive ranger was hired to work at Atalaya two years ago.

With staff in the building during the day, and the doors locked at night, damage has been rare, Magers said.

The park staff has talked about a security system for Atalaya, but much of the building is open to the outdoors. “I don’t know how practical that would be,” Magers said.

The park has increased patrols and asked the sheriff’s office to do the same since the vandalism.

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