HISTORY IN
    
SAN LUIS OBISPO
        COUNTY
 
  Site  by Lynne Landwehr 2001
     www.historyinslocounty
.org

 

 

 

 


Features and Information:

Nitt Witt Ridge: 
The North Coast's "Other Castle"

     Every year, roughly one million visitors are drawn to San Simeon, the hilltop dream of William Randolph Hearst. What they find at "Hearst Castle" is the unique vision of one man, created over decades, every wish and whim made real, and set in the natural beauty of the northern coast of San Luis Obispo County. These same elements are present in the North Coast's "other castle," but far fewer people are aware of its existence. That "other castle," just six miles south of Hearst's showplace, is California State Historical Landmark # 939, known to locals as "Nitt Witt Ridge."

 

Photo courtesy of Michael O'Malley

     Built by artist/recluse Art Beal, known to his neighbors as Capt. Nit Wit, his Nitt Witt Ridge sits on a hill at 881 Hillcrest Drive at the northwest end of Cambria. You can't miss it--when you round the curve in the road and come upon it, you know you're in the presence of inspired eccentricity. The three-level house, its foundations carved into a steep hillside, was constructed almost entirely of salvaged materials, beachcombed treasures, and artfully arranged junk. Beal, who was garbage collector for the town of Cambria in the 1940s and '50s, made good use of what other Cambrians were throwing away, as well as of the natural materials on the property, in the nearby pine forests, and on the area's beaches.

 

     Beal bought his hillside lot in 1928, and spent most of the next 50 years carving out the terraces with only a pick and shovel, and creating his very own "castle on a hill." Beal, also known as "Dr. Tinkerpaw," used whatever he could find--beer cans, discarded tiles, old tires and hubcaps, rusted engine parts, tv antennas, driftwood, local rock, and, in the days when the Pacific red abalone (Haliotis refuscens) was still plentiful along this coast--abalone shells to line the stairways connecting the many levels of the house and gardens. 

 

     After Beal's death in 1992 at the age of 96, the property was maintained for a while by a group of interested Cambrians, but slowly it began to deteriorate, and there were doubts that this unique piece of Americana would survive into the 21st century. 

     Enter: Michael and Stacey O'Malley, up for a visit from Los Angeles in 1999. They saw a "For Sale" sign on the property and resolved to save the two-and-a-half-acre labor of love. They have shored up staircases, re-done walls and parts of the foundation, and cleaned up the gardens, all while holding down other jobs and raising their two daughters. They know their labors there will never end, just as Art Beal never considered his castle "finished." 

 

Present owner Michael O'Malley stands beside one of 
Art Beal's carefully crafted stone walls at Nitt Witt Ridge.

     The O'Malleys' work means that "Nit Wit Ridge" is once again open to interested visitors--the O'Malleys share their enthusiasm about Art Beal and his creation by providing guided tours of the property. The tours are $10 for adults, $5 for children, and reservations are required. Do call ahead of time; the O'Malleys are at 805/927-2690. 

 

MaptoNittWittRidge.jpg (16554 bytes)
Click on the blue-bordered map above
to see a larger version.

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Click here to read a profile of Art Beal by 
writer/journalist/photographer Steve Westlund, who knew him.

Click here to return to
Features and Information page..

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Copyright 2001 Lynne Landwehr.  All rights reserved.
www.historyinslocounty
.org