Nit Wit Ridge – A Mansion Built Entirely from Junk

Nit Wit Ridge is such a whimsical name for a house. And I must say, the place completely lives up to its name. The 90-year-old two-and-a-half acre ramshackle home on the outskirts of Cambria, California is a Historic Landmark in the area and a fine example of folk art. It is located just a few miles down the road from another famous landmark, the Hearst Castle. Nit Wit Ridge is one-of-a-kind because it was built using millions of bits and pieces of recycled trash, and took over 50 years to complete. Arthur Harold Beal, a.k.a. Captain Nit Wit or Der Tinkerpaw, was a local trash hauler and loved all things rubbish. He basically suffered from the inability to throw anything away, collecting everything that the Cambrians threw away. So he used all his collections over the years, along with natural materials on the property to build the house, an effort that took him nearly a lifetime to complete, given his self-taught construction skills.

Photo: Eric Fitzpatrick

Beal started working on his project in 1928, with just a pickaxe  a shovel, and of course, a strong back. He began by laying the most unusual of foundations – he dug a 2.5 acre hollow on a hillside in Cambria and filled it with all kinds of trash. Over this, he used more trash to make an intricate network of terrace gardens, ornamental stone arches, buildings, fountains and walkways. Nit Wit Ridge stands three stories tall and is made from materials like abalone shells, used rocks, beer cans, car parts, old stoves, washer drums and tiles. Basically, anything that he could get his hands on. Well, from the outside the house looks exactly as it should, as derelict as ever. But admirers of this type of architecture see a unique beauty in it that is unmatched by any modern home.

Photo: Eric Fitzpatrick

Beal died in 1992 after prolonged illness, at the age of 96. In accordance with his wishes, his ashes were spread around his favorite redwood on Nit Wit Ridge. Since 1999, the house has belonged to Michael and Stacey O’Malley. Thankfully, they are equally enthusiastic about the place and do conduct in-depth tours of the house and gardens by appointment, so its wonders aren’t lost to those who admire  Nit Wit Ridge. The house now lives on as a memorial to Beal’s cosmic humor and zest for life.

Photo: Linda Tanner