When driving through Cambria, CA, I came across a sign pointing to a California State historical site called "Nitt Witt Ridge". What?
I had to find out what that was. I drove up a steep hill and there it was: Nitt Witt** Ridge in all its bizarre glory.
Since I can't find the appropriate words to describe this place, I will quote from a brochure I picked up by the front gate:
"Art Beal, [also known as Captain Nit Wit or der Tinkerpaw], born in Oakland of Irish and Native American parentage, spent much of his childhood in orphanages.
He built a three-level fantasy environment from collected materials in Cambria, which locals call the Poor Man's Hearst Castle. This has a literal basis, as some construction material was scavenged from the Hearst estate. It helped that Beal was a local trash hauler, and had trouble discarding things...With a pickax and shovel, he hollowed out a 2.5 acre hillside in Cambria, using collected trash as landfill, to create an intricate network of terraced gardens, buildings, ornamental stone arches, fountains and walkways."
Unfortunately, the house was fenced off and closed to the public, so I didn't get to see the interior. But the exterior alone is pretty cool. Beal used found materials, both natural and manmade, to both construct and decorate his "castle", using beer cans, car parts, abalone shells, old stoves, toilets, and other unusual elements. Beal began construction of his house in 1928, and built it up over the next 5o years. Beal died in 1992 at the age of 96, and the house is now listed as a California Historical Landmark, considered representative of "one of California's remarkable folk art environments".
I especially like the contrast between Nit Wit Ridge "- built from local scrap, over a 51-year-period, by a single trash hauler"- and the Hearst Castle, "only six miles north on the Pacific Coast Highway, made from expensive artifacts collected from around the world by a wealthy publisher, who hired architect Julia Morgan and a small army of construction workers, all of whom labored for 28 years to build an estate on 127 acres with 41 fireplaces, 56 bedrooms and 61 bathrooms", in addition to two pools, and a zoo filled with exotic animals shipped in from all over the world.
The brochure would have it that "history makes all things equal: today, both Nit Wit Ridge and the Hearst Castle are state historical landmarks".
However, the Hearst Castle clearly still benefits from the advantages that money brings: compare its fancy new visitors center, gift shop, and online tour reservation system to the dilapidated, fenced-off and clearly less frequently visited Nit Wit Ridge. You can still take tours, however, if you arrange it in advance.
**"Nitt Witt" and "Nit Wit" both seem to be acceptable spellings.