Dunes Center seeks funds to unearth sphinx used in Cecil B. DeMille film

bswanston@thetribunenews.comApril 12, 2014 

A plaster-of-paris head of a sphinx is displayed in a case at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center. The sphinx was used in the filming of the 1923 movie, "The Ten Commandments."

COURTESY GUADALUPE-NIPOMO DUNES CENTER

Somewhere under the Guadalupe sand dunes are several 5-ton sphinxes, buried after movie director Cecil B. DeMille finished filming “The Ten Commandments” there more than 90 years ago.

The Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center hopes to raise $15,000 by the end of the year to excavate one of the sphinxes from the set location of the 1923 silent film.

The funds will supplement a recent $80,000 grant from the County of Santa Barbara. The center will rely on fundraising events and community support to meet its financial goal, volunteer coordinator Kyleigh Rogers said.

The Dunes Center plans to uncover and restore the body of one sphinx before reuniting it with its face, which currently resides in a Dunes Center exhibit. The process is set to unfold over a course of 20 months, Rogers said.

A speedy excavation is necessary to maintain the set piece’s integrity before it falls victim to the elements, said Lindsey Whitaker, the center's education and administrative coordinator.

“This is the last chance to get any of the set out of the ground,” Whitaker said.

DeMille initially buried his movie set, which included 21 sphinxes, far below the sand’s surface. Over the past 91 years, however, wind has shifted the dunes’ sand, exposing some set pieces although most are believed to still be buried.

After spending so much time underground, any exposed plaster-of-Paris sphinxes are sensitive to Guadalupe’s salty air. The sphinxes turn to mush upon air exposure, Whitaker said.

As for the remaining 20 sphinxes, Whitaker said their whereabouts are largely unknown. Until the 1990s, they were up for grabs to the public.

“There’s documentation of people who have picked them up and put them in their backyards,” Whitaker said.

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