Sunday, April 22, 2007

Family vacation: sandcastles

Sand pyramid built on Huntington Beach.For the last week I have been on vacation near Myrtle Beach with much of my family: my parents, two sisters and their families. Unfortunately, neither of my brothers were able to be on this vacation.

One of the days last week we all went to the beach nearby, and my nephews and nieces deliberately built the largest sand castle they could make in the time they would be there, very close to the water's edge. With buckets and shovels they built a sand pyramid, surrounded by a moat. Within hours of when we left the beach, the rising tide would sweep it all away.

Tower at Atalaya CastleI did not stay on the beach long enough to see the finished project. I wanted to go explore the nearby Atalaya Castle, just a short walk away.

This castle was built in the style of Moorish architecture along the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Archer Huntington had it built during the Great Depression, between 1931 and 1933, using only local labor. There were no blueprints, only verbal instructions Huntington would give to his contractor. The construction was thus quite inefficient, with many sections being removed and rebuilt before the whole castle was complete. Some see the prolongations of the project as Huntington's plan to provide continued employment to people who needed it.

Covered walkway exiting Atalaya CastleThere is not much left inside the castle to show how it had been when the Huntington's inhabited it. Some white paint remains on the brick walls, but what is left of the castle is a restoration project now.

Some people build sandcastles on the beach to remind themselves of the impermanence of human accomplishments. Others build brick castles on the inland side of the dunes where later generations will struggle to restore what once was. The Huntingtons wanted to leave monuments behind, and they certainly succeeded in that. But I wonder whether the real legacy they left behind is in the form of families that survived hard times, and may not even know the role the Huntingtons played in their survival.

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