Sunday, June 26, 2011

Nitt Witt Ridge

One of the highlights of our trip to Cambria was a tour of Nitt Witt Ridge. We'd heard about this place for years. It's a California Historic Landmark, right in town, just up a few side streets on the side of a hill. The tour is well worth it--Mike, the property's current owner, tells a good tale.

The story is this: Arthur Harold Beal came to Cambria ca. 1928 with the love of his life, Gloria, who left him. He stayed on and for years served as the town's garbage collector, often dumping the trash at his property. He built his house entirely from found materials. A local eccentric, he was known as "Der Tinkerpaw" and "Captain Nitt Witt." That's him on the TV screen--part of the tour is a short video clip of an appearance he made on the TV show "Real People" in the 1970s.

Some of the unique features of the property: the house is held up by columns made of tire rims filled with concrete. Beal ran the house's water pipes above ground and used them for handrails. He also loved toilets, using them for planters and picture frames--you lift up the seat to see the picture.

Other stories about Beal: he never knew his father, and his mother was a Klamath Indian who died in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; he was a long-distance swimmer in his youth; he was a good cook who worked at various restaurants in town; and he wrote love poetry all his life--supposedly the local library has his book.

In its heyday, the house was almost beautiful. Even now, in a state of ruin, it remains "one of California's remarkable 20th century folk art environments."