Cambria Nit Wit Ridge
By Robert Bernstein
Last month I wrote about our adventure up to San Simeon to see the elephant seals. I mentioned that we had some other adventures along the way. After visiting the elephant seals we went over to Cambria for a late lunch. Here are my photos in Cambria.
Here Merlie posed in downtown Cambria before we ate at the West End Bar and Grill
After lunch we wandered up hill behind downtown to follow the sign to "Nitt Witt Ridge". We soon came to this scene of what looked like a house that was falling apart.
This was the famed Cambria Nit Wit Ridge (which seems to go by various spellings). We were soon greeted by a man named Mike whose full name is Michael O'Malley. He is the owner of the house and does guided tours every day. We were fortunate to arrive at the perfect time for a tour.
This sign in front of the house explains the history and current story of the house in some detail
Mike invited us in and just asked that we give a donation after the tour if we feel it was worth it. He suggests $10 per person.
The house was built over a period of decades by Cambria resident Art Beal. He was a trash man as his day job which helped supply him with scavenged materials to construct the house. Much of the hillside is filled with entire automobiles!
I was reminded of our visit to Watts Tower. That was also constructed out of salvaged materials and was considered by some to be an eyesore and by others to be an artistic and architectural gem. They have something else in common. In both cases they were considered a safety risk that might fall down and hurt someone.
In the case of Watts Towers they were saved by a stress test devised by aerospace engineer Norman "Bud" Goldstone in 1959. The test equipment buckled, but the towers survived. The City of Los Angeles was forced to admit that they were not a safety risk.
In the case of Nit Wit Ridge an actual powerful earthquake occurred in the area and the house survived. As with the Watts Towers, there is extensive reinforcement with steel rebar and similar strong materials.
In 1986 the State of California declared Nit Wit Ridge an official Historical Landmark. It is #939 and officially called Nitt Witt Ridge.
Art Beal was forced to leave the house in 1989 and it deteriorated for a decade. It was supposedly being maintained by the "Art Beal Foundation" but its water meter was sold in 1997. This put the house in an impossible limbo. With no water meter there was no way to make it habitable and as such it is supposed to be torn down. But as an Historical Landmark it cannot be torn down.
In 1999 Michael O'Malley and his wife Stacey O'Malley bought the property. They have been stuck in this limbo situation ever since.
OK! On with the tour!
Here Mike posed in an archway of the house. You can see some of the hundreds of abalone shells that Art Beal used to decorate the house and the property. Notably, the stairs.
Mike showed us how Art Beal's belongings were mostly still in place as if he had just stepped out for a moment and never made it back. Everything from kitchen supplies and spices to Liquid Wrench and parts and fasteners.
Here you can see Art's clothes hanging in the closet as if he might return any time for them.
Art seemed to have a special fascination with toilets. Here he used a toilet seat to frame a photo of himself.
Here he had an innovative bathroom with matching his and hers toilets where companions could sit and talk.
And this mirrored toilet offered a lofty view
He had a lady friend Gloria who lived with him for many years. But one day she cleaned out his bank account and disappeared, leaving him with no money and heartbroken. He always hoped that someday she would return.
This overgrown weedy area was the one part of the property that Art abandoned. It was the area that he and Gloria had shared while he built the rest of the house.
During construction Art would often take "coffee breaks" as Mike called them. When he was done with the "coffee" he would save the cans and used them as building materials for the house and for outside walls. Like this.
The property was scattered with art works. Some created by or salvaged by Art. Others have been created more recently by Mike.
Mike and Stacey share my dislike of smart phone culture and here is one of Mike's expressions of this:
Here Art created a cascading fountain with discarded sinks.
Some have called Nit Wit Ridge a "poor man's Hearst Castle" which is just up the road from Cambria. This fixture was actually salvaged from Hearst Castle.
This view of part of the house shows the delicate design that is actually reinforced to be very strong.
As we finished the tour we had smiles on our faces.
If you are heading up to Hearst Castle, Cambria or to San Simeon to see the elephant seals, I definitely recommend stopping off at Nit Wit Ridge! We can hope that someday the city of Cambria will allow Mike and Stacey to take the house out of limbo and allow it to be restored to habitable condition. But for now we can support them by coming over for a tour!
Tours are given every day 10AM-4PM and you can call ahead to (805) 927-2690 to make a reservation.
You can also visit their website at https://nitwitridge.com/.