Vacation Part four: A Man’s Castle is his Home.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for William Randolph Hearst. Yeah, I know he was a manipulative power broker who occasionally used his media empire for evil purposes, but he was also a big supporter of comic art. He gobbled up the cream of the cartoonist crop in the early 1900′s and ran their strips in his newspapers. WRH was especially fond of a quirky comic strip called Krazy Kat by George Herriman, even though his editors hated it and his readers didn’t understand it. Today, “Krazy” and “Ignatz” are considered the finest example of the medium and treasured by collectors and cartoonists alike.

Hearst’s country retreat, La Cuesta Encantada, is his other crowning achievement. Julia Morgan must have felt like a crack addict who stumbled on to a mountain of pure rock cocaine when WRH hired her as his architect. No expense was spared in the building of his lavish estate, and it still draws thousands of visitors from around the world.

And why not? Many come to look upon the treasures that once resided in their own countries. We toured the main house on our last visit, so this time we checked out the guest houses and kitchen. These rooms are no less extravagant, filled with tapestries, paintings, oriental rugs, and everything is covered with gold leaf. The wooden beds are immense, with posts as big as telephone poles and covered with intricate engravings done by long-dead craftsmen. We finished the tour at the Roman pool. Someday, I want one just like it in my backyard.

Just down the road in Cambria stands another castle, not as oppulent but just as eccentric. This one belonged to a local garbage man named Arthur Harold Beal, who used the discarded items he collected on his daily rounds as well as driftwood, seashells and materials found on his property to constuct his hillside palace. He was known by the locals as “Der Tinkerpaw” or “Captain Nitt Witt”, hence the name Nitt Witt Ridge.

Beal died in 1992, after working on his castle for more than six decades. New owners offered tours for awhile, but when we arrived the property was surrounded by a cyclone fence and the building was in a state of disrepair and decay. The gardens were overgrown and dead weeds covered some old toilets that Beal no doubt intended to incorporate into his work of art. A damn shame.

If any enterprising individual tried to create such castles today, he or she would find a much different environment. The rich man would buy his way through the planning process, but the garbage man would be out of luck. Even if he could navigate through the gauntlet of concerned neighbors, the permits and regulations would strangle his dream. He’d be forced to install sprinklers and aim his castle at the sun to comply with the state’s solar mandates. They’d tell him what colors he could adorn his dwelling with and what materials are acceptable to the state.

A few rugged individuals still flaunt the rules, but their castles are hidden deep in the forest, away from the all-seeing eye of Big Brother. Most will get caught eventually, and either fined into insolvency or forced to destroy their dreams. A damn shame.

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8 Responses to Vacation Part four: A Man’s Castle is his Home.

  1. Michael Anderson says:

    I’ve seen lots of kooky stuff in the west, but this one is new to me. Thanks Bob, I’ll be trying to angle my next trip south via this detour.

  2. gregoryzaller says:

    I have mixed emotions about the spiraling growth of government strangling our right to create the house of our dreams. So do the regular people working in government.

    I’ve proposed at several levels of county government a very simple micro-home design that can easily be converted into a garage later when a preferred home is finally built. This “foothold house” would receive a deferment of onerous mitigation fees and be an easily approved county stock plan. So far government response has been very positive but a test case is needed. This would be the easiest to build and the lowest cost house possible. It might even be affordable to a minimum wage worker with the ability to follow guidance and assistance. Any takers?

    • Todd juvinall says:

      Greg, more power to you man. Back in the 70′s my uncle was on the committee to deal with K-Housing as it was called then. The county population was 1/2 of what is now and even then they could not proceed. Back then a rectangle of 1000 SF could be built, septic included, for under 40 bucks a foot. No one could resolve the issue of the regulations then and the neighbors impacts as imagined (fear of diminution of the property values).

      Then we tried again in the General Plan update of the 90′s and came up with a way to build a stock plan in the county building department. No takers. Distrust of the folks against regulations and costs imposed on the construction was too onerous for them. No takers. Oh and as an aside, when the 49er fire did its thing, I got to inspect via helicopter and lo and behold, hundreds of structures were uncovered by the flames and none had permits! People just are fed up with the government telling them what light fixtures, what plumbing fixtures etc. They also don’t want to do a “comprehensive site plan” that cost a whole lot of money, for what I don’t now. Land prices are not affordable either here. Heck I tried to build a affordable subdivision in the 90′s and the neighbors and limousine liberals defeated me. You need density to make a home affordable and this county will have none of it. So go for it GregZ. I wish you luck.

      • gregoryzaller says:

        $20,000 building cost ($40/ft for 500 sqft) would be tight and depend on the land. Fire access, septic design, well constraints, and PG&E are all variables associated with a particular property. Still, the sub $100,000 homestead is possible. USDA has a zero down program and payments might be around $500 per month. Keep in mind that this simple and quick Foothold House would later become a garage when the time consuming Nitwit Dream Home finally gets completed down the road.

    • judith lowry says:

      Gregory,

      I too am very interested in micro housing.
      Some of the designs are beautiful, cozy, genius.
      It’s a concept that merits more attention.

      • gregoryzaller says:

        This isn’t particularly a dream house because it carries the gene to be a dream garage. It makes it possible, though, for the dream house to be, micro or otherwise (preferably micro), because it allows a means to own and live on the property affordably while taking the next step.

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