Arthur Harold Beal, also known as Captain Nitt Witt or Der Tinkerpaw, built what is perhaps the oddest structure in Cambria which has no shortage of odd structures. In 1928, Art was working as a garbage collector in Cambria and he began collecting what others would call junk – pieces of driftwood, discarded car parts, wood pieces, pots, beer cans, abalone shells, hub caps, toilet seats and other treasures. His property, now located at 881 Hillcrest Drive, was, at that time, located in a remote section of forest. So, using pick and shovel and (it is rumored) occasionally dynamite, he began to level portions of the site and to build a series of one-room shacks from the materials he collected. Eventually, his “castle” on Nitt Witt Ridge included many rooms and covered 250 vertical feet of cliffs.
Art was born around 1896 in the bay area and he lived in Oakland with his mother, a Klamath Indian. He never knew his father. When he was 10, his mother was killed in the great San Francisco earthquake. He was raised in a church orphanage and joined the merchant marine at the age of 17. Later, he made a living in vaudeville during its waning days and was a long-distance swimmer of some note.
Captain Nitt Witt continued to live in and expand his home for over fifty years as the village of Cambria grew. He was well known as one of the “village characters”, working in partial dress and generally unkempt. Although a died-in-the-wool curmudgeon, Beal did grant several interviews with the media, including an appearance on The Today Show, although no one could tell whether he was being factual or making things up.
Nitt Witt Ridge was recognized as State Historical Landmark number 939 in 1986. By 1990 his home was “in town” and, worse, it was collapsing around him and was becoming overgrown with vegetation. He was forced to move to a nursing home while the “castle” continued to deteriorate. He died at a Morro Bay nursing home August 16, 1992 at the age of 96 with no known relatives,
After his death several efforts were made to restore the site. During the last few years he lived there, Beal’s declining health kept him from doing the necessary repairs and by March, 1997, the taxes on the property were delinquent as well. In that same year the Art Beal Foundation, a non-profit corporation, was formed to purchase the deed which Art had given up to satisfy a debt and to save this amazing example of folk art.
In 1999 Michael and Stacey O’Malley, purchased the 2.5-acre site, and now they give tours of Nitt Witt Ridge. Reservations, required for the tour, may be obtained by calling the O’Malleys at 805-927-2690. A donation of $10 for adults and $5 for children is requested but, if you can’t manage that, you can do the tour for free. The O’Malley’s are also attempting to document the history of the site and its creator and they welcome new information.