I found this during a year-end cleaning of my “Drafts” folder – an unfinished post inspired by a newspaper article in July which details the life’s work of unsung folk artist, Arthur Harold Beal, garbage collector for the town of Cambria, CA.
Just down the road from the Hearst Castle, that world-famous monument to excess, lies Nitt Witt Ridge, the house on the hill that Beal lovingly crafted of driftwood, river stones, beer bottles, abalone shells, toilet seats, and other assorted junk. Beal started work in the 30’s was still going in 1992, when he died at the age of 96.
Michael O’Malley, a plumber in town, bought the Ridge for $42,000 in 1999. Unfortunately, the sale price did not include water rights, so he and his wife cannot live there, and because it is zoned residential, they can’t open the house for public tours. Several times a week in the summer, O’Malley gives private tours, in return for donations, to people who contact him directly. He is something of an expert on stories surrounding the Ridge’s creator.
Beal used to say he salvaged his wood from the ocean, but O’Malley points out the quality of the material, and suggests that Beal might have “salvaged” it from local construction sites late at night. Beal seems to have been a curmudgeon. Some people asked to visit the house while he was still living. If he liked their looks, he’d let them in, if not, he would shake his fist and yell, “Move along, small change.” O’Malley found a video of Beal on a 1981 TV episode of “Real People.” At age 81, with a long beard and a walking staff, “he looked like a mix of John Muir and Dennis Hopper.”
Here’s a brief but informative clip of O’Malley giving a tour of the house:
Last summer, when I started this post, I added descriptions of other architectural oddities, like the Watt Towers and the Bottle House of Rhyolite, NV. The story grew too long and languished until now.
The end of the year is a good time to contemplate things like Nitt Witt Ridge. While others compile their lists of “The Best of 2013,” here is my contribution to a list of things wacky and weird.
Love that list and love this post. Thanks!
Thanks. I have a similar story I plan to post tomorrow or the next day, also concerning a little known folk artist. Thanks for visiting.
Ah, something else to add to my bucket list. I have a feeling my family is somehow related to the good Mr. Beal. Thanks for a fun post.
What a beautiful place. Thank you for sharing this. And thank you for mentioning the Bottle House! That brings back some good memories of a fun trip.
Glad you enjoyed the post. There’s one similar in the works. I visited Rhyolite as a kid with my family and again as an adult, so I expect there’s a post on that in the future.
It looks like such a stunning place. The watts towers kookiness and story reminds me a little of la sagrada familia by gaudi. There is an odd old rug store in scarsdale, ny that has been closed and never reopened for like 20 years. We all have our guesses as to what happened there. Its one of our local odd building “stories” . Cant wait to eead your follow up post
There is something encouraging about people whose creativity blooms “under the radar” of all official opinion and taste.