Art Beal- Nitt Witt Ridge

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 Beal - Cambria character

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 at its zenith

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,

The Captain's Kitchen

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.

Fireplace inside Nitt Witt Ridge

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.

16 Responses to “Art Beal- Nitt Witt Ridge”

  1. B&J says:

    Russ and Irene:

    Thanks for sharing that wonderful story about Art Beal. We never met him but your story sounds exactly what we would have expected from him based on what others have told us.

    B&J

  2. Russ & Irene Manzatt says:

    In the early 1970s we visited Cambria on a trip up the coast from our home near Los Angeles. We were there to meet a friend who’d moved to Cambria, but we arrived before she got off work, so we decided to take a drive around the area. When we saw Nitwit Ridge, we were fascinated, so we parked across from the gate and walked over to see if we could get in and meet whoever lived there. As we stood there, this grizzled old guy came shambling up the road and came right up to the gate. We told him we were visiting and wondered if he knew who lived in the amazing looking house. He said he did. He was Der Tinkerpaw, he’d built the place himself over decades. He opened the gate and invited us in, and we spent the next three hours getting a personal tour, listening to all the great stories, including how he’d moved to Cambria (he insisted it was pronounced Cahm-bria, so the first syllable rhymed with Mom) right after the “first German fracas,” by which he meant the World War I. Cambria and West Cambria Pines is what he said the place had been called back then. He entertained us all through the midday as he told stories and showed us the amazing features of his house. We didn’t realize it, but he was evidently already famous around there, because when we caught up with our friend and told her about who we’d met, she said, “You met Art Beal? He doesn’t have a reputation as being very outgoing!” or words to that effect. Anyway, we’d taken a lot of photos and heard a lot of stories and met one of the most fascinating characters we ever met, before or since!

  3. B&J says:

    Frances:

    We would love to hear from someone else who actually knew Art Beal since we never had the privilege of meeting him.

    B&J

  4. Frances Moss says:

    Sorry…that is, Dick’s mother was Anita.

  5. Frances Moss says:

    Oh…by the way…when his Dad and Art were buddies, it was probably in the late ’40s early 50’s. I think the family arrived in Cambria around 1946?? His mother was Anita of Anita’s Cafe and was quite well known for her abalone chowder. When I met him, it must have been around 1960-61.

  6. Frances Moss says:

    My ex-husband’s Dad was a drinking buddy with Art along with a couple of other fellows in town…Roco Rava and Gus (can’t remember his last name) He had a definite affection for my ex. He took me there to meet him once or twice and was always greeted with “Ah if it isn’t little Dicky Weiss, Bill’s boy…where the hell have you been?” As was their tradition, my husband would give him a cigar and we went inside to sit and talk after a tour of the terraced vegetable gardens. I believe he knows the story of why Art kind of got the way he was. I believe he was originally building there for a love of his, after she got there, things went wrong and he destroyed the building…and eventually started building the “castle” with junk he found in his work as a garbage man…he maintained, I believe that he had a toilet from Hearst Castle..or it was being used as a round window..or something like that. I will check with the ex and find out if he would like to write a little something for you.

  7. B&J says:

    Elizabeth:

    Thanks for that insight. We love the “rebel without a pause” description. That’s exactly what we have heard about Art.

    B&J

  8. Elizabeth Appel says:

    I spent the waning years of Art’s life helping him and making it possible to stay at Nit Wit Ridge as long as possible. Conditions were not favorable and his health suffered ~ his spirit was indomitable, his humor still evident as he lived out his last years in a Morro Bay nursing facility. He was always kind to the other residents there and made me laugh often. He was the “rebel without a pause”, stubborn and strong, full of the spark of life on his terms, his way, and made us all a little better for having known him.

  9. B&J says:

    Dave:

    Although we never had the privilege of meeting Art Beal, your description of him matches what we have heard. He must have been a real character.

    B&J

  10. Dave Thomas says:

    I had the privilege of meeting and coming to be friends with Art in the early ’80s. I was a young man, sent to trim trees around the power lines that crossed his property. He was a real HOOT!! If I brought a case of beer we would talk for hours (until the beer ran out) about his life and times. I don’t know how much was true and how much was the imaginings of an old man.
    Never the less he was one of the most interesting characters I have had the privilege of knowing, we were true friends, a rare thing now days.

  11. B&J says:

    Jeff:

    Thanks for adding those insights about “Der Tinkerpaw”. Though he was still living at Nitwit Ridge when we first moved to Cambria in 1987, we never had the opportunity to meet him.

    B&J

  12. Jeff Wikle says:

    While hitchhiking up the coast in 1976, a friend brought me over to Art’s place several times. He was a great host, showing us his place, telling endless fascinating, whimsical stories. He accompanied us up and down the streets of Cambria, where we would drink beer in all the bars. In one of them, a special shelf on the wall held a glass, with a sign over it saying, “Art’s Glass”. He of course drank for free.

    He called San Simeon, Pauper’s Peak, and claimed he was originally from Santa Rosa. He had an endless number of similar one liners, resembling Mark Twain or Josh Billings. I wish I could remember more of them. He maintained that the pipes that were somehow embedded in the Nitt Witt Ridge building held it up by air pressure, enabling it to be earthquake resistant.

  13. B&J says:

    Mike:

    Thanks for your comments. Unfortunately for us we never had the opportunity to meet the man.

    B&J

  14. Mike Dub says:

    One of my earliest menories

  15. Mike Dub says:

    I remember this place when I was 7. My stepfather a local business man held his 90th birthday for him too. Very good impression Tinker Paw inspires me

  16. Laurie Hughes says:

    I remember visiting my Sister who lived in Cambria in 1975 -1979 and meeting Captain Nitt Witt at his home.. I have pictures of the place.. very interesting place and interesting man. Very memorable for me!!

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