Finally: “ready when you are Mr DeMille”

Posted on Jun 4, 2013 | 1 comment




GUADALUPE, CA—“Egyptian” artifacts from Cecil B. DeMille’s elaborate set for his 1923 silent epic “The Ten Commandments” were recently unearthed from towering coastal sand dunes and will now be displayed at the Dunes Center, an educational visitor center related to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes preserve located in Santa Maria Valley (Northern Santa Barbara County).

Having undergone months of restoration and preservation, the artifacts will be unveiled at a 1920s-themed party happening at the Dunes Center in Guadalupe on June 14 at 6 p.m. (public admission $5), where documentary filmmaker Peter Brosnan will be on hand to discuss years of research that led to this find. An ongoing exhibit will also be open to the public at the Dunes Center, which is open Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. (

“This is the only set of its type from early Hollywood that still exists,” said Doug Jenzen, executive director for the Dunes Center, which is located near where the set was recovered. “We’re keeping details about the artifacts a secret until the unveiling.”  He added that one of the set pieces is so large, that it will require removing a railing from the Dunes Center porch in order to bring it inside.

The artifacts will become part of the Dunes Center’s permanent exhibit called, “The Lost City of DeMille,” which currently features some small pieces of the film set that were found years ago, including a bas-relief of a pharaoh’s face, a lion’s paw and wooden hieroglyphs that decorated the city walls. Bits of 1920s-era “litter” left by the actors and film crew also make up a curious part of the exhibit.

Last October the Dunes Center, together with Brosnan, embarked on an archeological excavation to unearth pieces of the movie set from the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. These findings are the centerpiece of the June 14 event.

The Story of the Lost Hollywood Set

DeMille built a massive Egyptian “City of the Pharaoh” set including 21 five-ton Sphinxes that, over time, was fabled to have been left buried beneath the sand.

DeMille’s original set for his blockbuster included a 720-foot-wide, 120-foot-tall backdrop that required 1,500 workers, 500 tons of statuary, a half million feet of lumber and 75 miles of reinforcing cable. In May and June of 1923, DeMille employed 2,500 actors and 3,000 animals in the film, which was one of Hollywood’s last silent works yet one of its first to be made in “Technicolor.”

Over time, DeMille’s Egyptian masterpiece became known as the “Lost City,” buried by the shifting sands and forgotten by nearly everyone—except for the residents of Guadalupe who worked as extras on the film and knew all along that it had not been dismantled. To locals, it was simply “the dune that never moved.”

However, interest in the set was rekindled when DeMille, via his posthumously published 1983 autobiography, uttered the following cryptic clue: “If a thousand years from now, archeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe, I hope they won’t rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian civilization … extended all the way to the Pacific Coast.”

Unearthing History and More Films Set in the Guadalupe Dunes

This inspired documentary producer Peter Brosnan and Central Coast archaeologist John Parker to initiate plans for excavation and preservation of the film set, most of which still remains buried beneath the lone dune. Throughout his 30 years of researching the set, which included establishing a location grid via ground penetrating radar back in the 1990s, Brosnan has collected oral histories from longtime Guadalupe residents who worked on the movie.

“These interviews are vital in preserving our community’s history for future generations,” Jenzen said. He added that Brosnan has also written a book on the many movies that have been filmed in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes, including the third installment of Disney’s “Pirates of The Caribbean.” Other films that have used the dunes as a dramatic backdrop include “The Son of the Sheik,” starring Rudolph Valentino; “Morocco,” starring Gary Cooper and Marlene Dietrich; and “The Last Outpost,” starring Cary Grant. More recent films that have shot at the dunes include 2004’s “Hidalgo” and 1997’s “G.I. Jane.”

What Visitors Can Enjoy at this Nature Preserve

The Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve, which is open to the public, lies west of Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County, approximately 150 miles north of Los Angeles and 250 miles south of San Francisco. The preserve belongs to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Complex, which spans 18 miles of shoreline with 1,400 individual species of flora and fauna, as well as numerous lagoons and lakes. Here, the awe-inspiring mountains of shifting sand comprise the larger of only two coastal dunes complexes in California. They also represent the highest beach dunes in the western United States.

Visitors to the dunes are encouraged to begin their journey at the Dunes Center in the small town of Guadalupe along scenic Highway 1. Exhibits at the Dunes Center include a displays on the extraordinary biodiversity of the dunes; recovered artifacts from DeMille’s City of the Pharaoh; and a short film on the history of the “Dunites”—an “eclectic group of freethinkers, artists, poets and mystics” who inhabited the dunes from the early 1900s to 1973.

The three most popular dunes destinations are all easily accessible from the Dunes Center. Visitors wishing to drive straight to the oceanfront can take Main Street west into the heart of the Guadalupe Dunes Preserve. Nearby Oso Flaco Lake Road leads to a convenient parking area, from where visitors can take a 30-minute stroll along a boardwalk through the dunes and to the beach. And those feeling even more adventurous can hike across the dunes into the heart of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. Guided hikes focused on varying themes are planned quarterly.

Visitors can find a range of lodging in nearby Santa Maria, which offers a host of additional exciting experiences, from wine tasting to world-renowned barbecue to championship golf courses.

One Comment

  1. ‘one of Hollywood’s last silent works’? No. 1923. Sound didn’t arrive until 1927.

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