Nov 27, 2013 3:06 PM by Jeanette Trompeter
Most everyone knows about the big castle on the hill in San Simeon. Hearst Castle is famous world-wide. But just down the road is another castle of sorts, built by an eccentric man who spent years planning and building it. A lot of foreign tourists take tours of it as well. It's a bit different than the "Enchanted Hill" in San Simeon, but Nit Wit Ridge in Cambria is still more proof There's No Place Like Home. About halfway up Hillcrest Drive in Cambria there is a sprawling home with a view. It's just not the kind of spread you'd expect in this affluent seaside community. It was Art Beals place. Better known as Nit Wit Ridge. "He did say he came here in 1928 from San Francisco." says current owner Mike O'Malley, about Beal. "He said this was a bare piece of land that he paid 500 dollars for." Beal died in 1989. He was 92 years old. But most of his life he spent on this hillside, building and living in this home, much to the annoyance of many of his neighbors and local building inspectors. "He liked the abalone shells, those are throughout the property." O'Malley points out. Many of Beal's neighbors and local zoning and building inspectors weren't too thrilled with his unplanned and seemingly unending building process. Beal collected garbage for a living and for his living quarters. "He'd collect the rocks from the beach and the creek area." says O'Malley. "But he'd also collect pipe. He collected all the wood. But what's really kind of scary as you go through here, he also said he collected all the electrical parts and wiring." Beal may have been ahead of his time, building every inch of his abode out of recycled materials. Golf balls, rocks and tones, bottles of all sorts and beer cans. As O'Malley points out, when you look around, there may be more beer cans than abalone shells. Kitchen and bathroom appliances also got second lives at Beal's place. "He had a special use for his toilet seats. He would actually use them for picture frames." says O'Malley as he lift the lid on one hanging on the wall to reveal the picture inside. Beal also constructed an outhouse with his and her matching thrones. According to O'Malley, Beal said he put his and her toilets in here so he could sit and have conversations with people. O'Malley can show you the crude plumbing system that worked until 1997. O'Malley seems to know Beal was maybe a bit crazy, but the new owner of the Ridge has a deep respect, and affection for the guy who used to live here, and wants to preserve the place just as it is as a tribute to Beal. "If he didn't like your looks he'd go out there and start shaking his fist at people and say 'Move along small change!'" chuckles O'Malley as he stands on one of Beals favorite balconies. It has a spectacular view, and you can see how a guy could feel more than comfortable here. There is a stairway that Beal called "The California cooler." Beal used it as a refrigerator. Many of Beal's canned and pickled products still line the shelves in this part of the home. Beal claimed it stayed at 50-degrees year-round. It was plenty cool on the day we paid a visit. Because it's a California historical landmark, O'Malley can't tear the place down, even if he'd like to. He paid $40,000 for the property and wants to fix up the gardens to how they were when Beal meticulously took care of them. He gives tours teaching people about the guy some called Der Tinkerpaw, Old Art, or the Nit Wit on the ridge. "And you know I talked to old-timers around here and half of them they tell me he was dropped on his head as a kid too hard so they started calling him that (captain nitwit) in the 40's." There were plenty who called Beal crazy, but he was clever enough in his design of this place to make it work, and rather efficiently. Though the community was divided on whether this place was an attraction or an eyesore, Beal hung tough, getting international attention from celebrities, writers and TV shows. It brought enough support from enough people, he managed to live here legally until he was into his 90's. This cantankerous Cambria character was as much of a tourist attraction on the north-coast as the home he lived in. But O'Malley says he still gets people from Russia, China, Canada, the UK, Japan and all over the United States wanting to see the place. And it's location just up the road from another famous castle makes it an interesting pairing for tourists and locals to marvel over. If you'd like to take a tour, click here or call Micheal at: (805) 927-2690.
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