Poor Man’s Hearst Castle

Not far from Main Street in Cambria is the Nit Wit Ridge Castle, an actual historic home tour of “hoarder proportions “. The walk up tour price today was donations only. This place was on my list of ten things to see and do in Cambria before I ride back to San Simeon to check in for the night, into a $58 Days Inn room.

Nitt Witt Ridge

I thoroughly enjoyed the tour and hearing O’Malley, the enthusiastic proprietor, dressed as a hermit himself in coveralls describe the life and times of Captain Nit Wit, aka Artist/recluse Arthur “Art” Harold Beal (1896–1992); who purchased the hillside lot in 1928 for $500.

Beal must’ve seen the possibilities of that hillside lot back then as there’s actually an ocean view that would be very popular with builders today. Imagine today using metal car rims to build the support foundation to your home. The guy was the complete opposite of a teetotaler to actually get the building parts right. If you don’t know, a teatotaler is a person who abstains totally from intoxicating drinks.

Beal spent 50 years building his “castle on a hill” with a backyard hillside dump site that included nearby Hearst Castle and local community discards. Arthur Harold Beal was probably a first class hoarder before there was a term for it. Five minutes inside the house tour and you can easily draw your own conclusions. This place is roughly built and just as roughly maintained today.

He actually did work as a paid garbage collector for the town of Cambria from the 1940s and 1950s but, most of the discards only got as far as his back yard. He was born in Oakland in 1896, where he grew up as an orphan and this may have affected his desire to one day build a castle.

We can easily see lots of what Cambrians were throwing away back then, especially abalone shells and aluminum cans. Try and imagine the abundance of seafood at the time in this area, it’s no wonder that the abalone was targeted and subsequently fished out. There’s no better food even today, to be eaten and enjoyed than a well cooked abalone.

The house tour unfortunately is of assorted dusty covered knick-knacks, almost like Beal left it. There’s some architectural uniqueness that may bring a smile to your face like the rooftop toilet. Apparently his neighbors tried though unsuccessfully, to get him to clean up or move out. He chose to let it all hang out while sitting and waving from his man threshold.

Thankfully, no graffiti artist were yet born or ventured this far up Highway 1. He died in 1992 at the ripe old age of 96, and his ashes were spread around the one redwood tree on Nitt Witt Ridge.

Watts Towers and Coral Castle come close to the man with a dream who dedicated his life to a memorial that apparently will continue to live on according to that plaque in the picture above.

Toilet seat picture frames, abalone shell arches and tire rim pillars are just a few components making up what Cambria residents call Nitt Witt Ridge – or better yet the anti-Hearst Castle.

“It was almost like he had the imagination of a 15-year-old kid his entire life,” O’Malley said. “He was like a real life Peter Pan.”

“Although he worked on his home for five decades, Beal did not stay confined within its walls. According to Cambria Historical Society Curator and College of Math and Science alumna Melody Coe, he hosted poetry readings for children and built fireplaces for families in early residential homes.

When I was a kid, everyone loved him,” Coe said. “He was very involved with the community.” She eventually moved Beal from the house he spent half his life building to a Morro Bay nursing home in 1989.”

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