Nitt Witt RidgeArthur 'Art' Harold Beal (1896-1992)
881 Hillcrest Dr, Cambria, California, 93428, United States
The site is open to the public for tours every day from 10am to 4pm. Call (805) 927-2690 to make a reservation (required).
About the Artist/Site
Arthur Harold Beal (variously known as “Art,” “Dr. Tinkerpaw” and ”Captain Nittwitt”) was born in Oakland, California. He lived with his mother, a Klamath Indian, until she was killed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Beal spent his adolescence in an orphanage, and then worked in vaudeville, in the steel industry, and as a merchant seaman. He also became a highly accomplished long-distance swimmer.
In 1928, he purchased 2 ½ acres of pine-covered hillside in coastal Cambria Pines, California, and began to construct a series of buildings that would eventually ramble across the 250-foot-high ridge. Beal’s one rule was to not pay for anything except cement: he collected shells from the ocean, wood from the hillsides, broken plates from neighbors, and everything else from the city dump. He had previously worked as the City of Cambria’s garbage collector and had his own truck; according to local legend, he was fired because he spent too much time searching through refuse for usable materials. Beal had also been employed by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst to haul materials to Hearst Castle in San Simeon, six miles north of Cambria Pines; locals said Beal reused some of the Castle discards in his own home.
Using only hand tools, Beal worked on his project for over fifty years. He built stone and concrete foundations and topped them with wood-framed structures he adorned with abalone shells, scrap metal, glass, and industrial discards. He terraced the hilly property using a pick and shovel, built rock and mortar retaining walls, and designed handrails that also functioned as irrigation pipes and sprinklers. Eventually his site boasted nine levels, with layers of assemblages connected by serpentine walkways.
As he aged, Beal had trouble maintaining the site. To allow him to live on the property for as long as he wished, and to access public funding to protect the site from destruction or developers, volunteers founded the nonprofit Art Beal Foundation in 1975. Six years later the site was awarded California Historical Landmark status. Beal continued to live on the property until 1989, when he moved to a nursing home. He died three years later.
In 1999 a young couple purchased the property and began to restore it. They have shored up staircases, cut back overgrown landscaping, and repaired walls and portions of the foundation. The site is open to the public for tours every day from 10am to 4pm. Call (805) 927-2690 to make a reservation (required).
~Jo Farb Hernández, 2011
Update: As of November 2018, Nitt Witt Ridge is for sale.
SPACES Archives Holdings
Collection size: 11.5 linear feet (1976-present)
Art Beal Foundation records (9 linear feet)
6 Personal scrapbooks (photos, clippings, personal correspond)
2 music scrapbooks (incl. letters, contracts, copyrights, 1st songs, sheet music)
1 oversized box (photos, sheet music, personal papers, pamphlets, ephemera)
1 banker box (books, personal writings, artifacts)
Map & Site Information
881 Hillcrest Dr
Cambria, California, 93428 us
Latitude/Longitude: 35.5678714 / -121.097392
San Luis Obispo, California
San Luis Obispo, California