By most accounts, Beal was born twenty miles up the coast from Cambria on June 26th, 1896. He was orphaned at age ten when his mother, a Klamath Indian, lost her life in the San Francisco earthquake. He never knew his father. After a series of orphanages and odd-jobs, he landed in vaudeville, performing with a one-legged bicyclist and a fearless stunt dog at the World’s Fair in Toronto during the 1920s. The climax of the act, as Beal explains it, occurred when he would feign heat prostration and fall spread-eagled on the ground, at which time the one-legged bicyclist, pedaling furiously, would aim his front tire directly between Beal’s twitching legs. Just a split-second before certain disaster, the bicyclist would execute an amazing tumble maneuver, flip the bicycle completely over Beal, and land safely on the other side. Beal says the trick never failed, although at the same time he admits he hasn’t fathered any children in his lifetime.
“If I could remember everything, I’d be a walking encyclopedia,” Beal says, whenever you broach a subject he doesn’t feel particularly interested in. Then he’ll wink one of his periwinkle blue eyes at you and say, “If only this old boar’s nest could talk….”, waving a gnarled hand about the dark and musty bedroom, “There’s so much history here.”
“Seeing is knowing,” is another phrase you’ll hear over and over again if you spend any time at all with Beal. “People see things the way they want to see them,” he bellows, shaking his crooked cane like Ahab going down with his whale, “They don’t see things in re-Al-ity.”
Beal has fought for the rights of the deer, raccoon, mountain lion, and the Monterey pine while the “Madame Rich Bitches” and “Doctors Stoopntakit” blithely go about building four-car garages and superfluous little stores upon which they insist on bestowing cutesy names like Sewtique or The Quiche Wagon.
A sign in his kitchen reads, “Every man deserves at least one good woman and one good dog in his life,” but Beal never married (“I’m a member of the Detergent Club: work fast and never leave a ring.”)
“I’m a big rebel,” Art Beal has said. “I’m the biggest revolutionist that ever put on a pair of shoes. I revolt against anything, everything, and even that. Whatever it is, I revolt against it….”
As our interview was ending, I spoke to him about the problems of bureaucracy and the generalized idiocy that has caused architect Warren Leopold to give up building houses. I noted that it would be impossible today to get away with building a structure like Nitt-Witt Ridge, even though professors of architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have studied it with awe. Art agreed, saying, “You can’t do this anymore. You got to get a license, a permit, and be a damned engineer. A licensed engineer. It’s getting so you got to have a license to fart….”