Friday, March 23 , 2018, 11:59 am | Fair 59º


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Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center to Debut Excavated Artifacts from ‘Ten Commandments’

A sphinx segment joins other set pieces from Cecil DeMille's 1923 movie salvaged from the sands of a nearby beach, part of a decades-long project

Time and target practice took a toll on “The Ten Commandments” film set buried in the dunes west of Guadalupe as Doug Jenzen, executive director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, shows an old bullet hole in one rescue segment.
Time and target practice took a toll on “The Ten Commandments” film set buried in the dunes west of Guadalupe as Doug Jenzen, executive director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, shows an old bullet hole in one rescue segment. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Another rescued piece of film history is set to debut at the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, a small step in a decades-long project to save “The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille.”

The new piece of The Ten Commandments — filmed on the dunes in 1923 — officially will premiere during the Guadalupe-based center’s “Roaring ‘20s Unveiling Gala” on Friday night. Tickets, which cost $25, are still available by clicking here.

On Saturday morning, the Dunes Center is offering “Brunch with the Sphinx” with admission $10. Tickets also are available by clicking here.

The sphinx segment joins other artifacts, including a face and paw recovered a few years ago, and now part of the exhibit dubbed “Starring the Dunes.”

“It’s really rewarding to see this project come to fruition,” said Doug Jenzen, Dunes Center executive director. 

Workers were busy Wednesday adding the finishing touches to the interior and exterior of the Dunes Center, which sits in a 1902 house along the northern section of Guadalupe’’s main street, Highway 1.

“It’s a fantastic local story that also has global implications,” he said.

Since the 1980s, documentary filmmaker Peter Brosnan and archaeologist John Parker have spearheaded efforts to log and ultimately save the movie set, called the "Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille," from the sands.

One grid of the underground treasures had to be remapped — Guadalupe’s beach is home to what have been called living dunes since blowing winds constantly change the sandy landscape. 

“The only constant in our dunes is change. Everything moves,” Jenzen said.

Guad dunes
Work occurs on the exterior of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, where a new segment of a 1923 film set will go on display after being salvaged from the sands west of Guadalupe. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The pieces made from plaster and horsehair or hemp are vulnerable to the harsh outdoor conditions, as the excavators discovered when one item broke into multiple parts in what they called a sad and frustrating experience.

An intact piece reburied in 2012 for later excavation apparently disintegrated when they returned two years later. 

“Time wasn’t kind,” said Amy Higgins, an art restorer from Burbank. 

That’s not a surprise since set was designed to last for months, not years or decades.

But they found another segment — believe to be a leg — in what Jenzen called marvelous shape after being in the dunes for nine decades where some pieces apparently have been used for target practice.

While most archeological digs last years so workers can go painstakingly slow to avoid harming artifacts, the Guadalupe excavation was completed in days due to permit and funding limits. 

To be displayed, they had to craft support structure for the large piece since this likely was the first time in years that it had been in a standing position. 

The exhibit includes large graphics with pictures from the movie’s filming and trivia in both English and Spanish.

Jenzen believes the Dunes Center is the only museum on the Central Coast to offer information in both languages. 

“The Dunes Center’s small but we’re cutting-edge,” he said.

Even before the public gets to see the exhibit, the Dunes Center is already looking ahead to rescuing more of the movie set, a project that would cost another $85,000. Specifically, they hopes to find the other segment of sphinx leg and soon — knowing that time and nature are not on their side.

“Once this is done, we’d like to look for the other half of it. And that’s important because the last time we waited two years and it was too long,” he said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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