A Guide To Nitt Witt Ridge, The ‘Poor Man’s Hearst Castle’

03.06.19 3 months ago

Josh McNair

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About a hundred years ago, two very different men shared a similar dream — to build a castle in central California. They’d both devote their lives and resources to do so, and they’d both succeed. Which is why, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, you’ll find one of the most luxurious homes you could ever hope to set foot in. And also one of the trashiest.

The former is Hearst Castle, built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, with an army of artisans, architects, engineers, designers, and laborers. The latter is Nitt Witt Ridge, built from found items and garbage by Arthur Harold Beal, a man with literally zero building experience. And while the Hearst Castle has long been a quintessential road tripping destination since opening to the public, Nitt Witt Ridge just might be the more memorable adventure.

Josh McNair — a photographer and expert on lesser-known excursions throughout California — has made it his mission to find quirky locales like Beal’s temple of decrepitude. His website, California Through My Lens, offers a guide to the state’s endlessly eclectic experiences. He calls Nitt Witt Ridge, “The Hearst Castle of Trash Art.”

“Everybody knows about Hearst Castle,” he explains, “but Nitt Witt Ridge took over 50 years and was made with only trash. There’s this awesome juxtaposition of those two places being so close to each other.”

This month, Uproxx is focused on the offbeat destinations you can swap out for crowded tourist haunts. Making McNair the perfect pick to coax us out of LA or San Fran to visit the strange, off-kilter, slightly mad world of Nitt Witt Ridge.

THE HISTORY:

Josh McNair

FROM MCNAIR: They call it “The Poor Man’s Hearst Castle.” Arthur “Art” Beal was living in the area of Cambria, up on the central coast, in the 1920s. In the late 1920s, he bought this property, and then he just started building it over the course of 50 years — adding on all sorts of crazy stuff.

DETAILS: Located in Cambria, CA, you’ll find Nitt Witt Ridge at 881 Hillcrest Dr, Cambria, CA 93428. The house is as extraordinary as it is odd. In 1928, Beal was working as a garbage collector for the town when he bought a piece of property. The strange artist began carving out the side of the hill by hand, with just a pick and shovel, and then methodically building his own structure using junk, trash, and found materials.

Built around the same time as Hearst Castle, it’s the ultimate expression of Outsider art. With Beal rejecting the opulence up the road and simultaneously making commentary on it. Where Hearst had a marble swimming pool, and expensive art at every turn — like a 14th century imported ceiling — Beal had a toilet on the roof that he’d sit on to chat with the neighbors and also, used toilet seats to frame his art, pictures of cowboys that he’d hang on the wall.

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