April 27, 2011 at 6:00 am
I want to tell you about this place we visited in St. Louis, because it is amazing and so unique and because it has taken the green concept of repurposing and recycling to an insane level.
But I’m not even sure where to begin, because words don’t really seem to capture the place. It is surreal, and beautiful, and a little creepy.
I’m talking about City Museum, if you have heard of it or been there. It wasn’t somewhere we were planning to stop, but it rained on Saturday, and a friendly hotel employee sold me with these words: “It’s all recycled materials and the kids will love it.”
Because we had promised the zoo, but Mother Nature didn’t cooperate, this sounded like a very good way to spend our morning. And hearing “recycled” intrigued me, although that word doesn’t even begin to tell the story … not that there’s much I can tell.
City Museum is a former shoe factory — I got that from the lady who works at the aquarium (yes, there’s an aquarium). As a nod to the place’s origin they make shoelaces now on the second floor out of giant spools of floss.
The museum opened in 1997, and is the work of a man named Bob Cassilly, as well as several artisans who apparently worked under his direction.
Before I knew any of this, I had commented that the aquarium brought to mind a really, really wealthy person’s basement. There are the fish — of course — and what appears to be an inground pool full of stingrays. And then there’s the tunnel, through a separate shark-filled pool, and as you climb out of the tunnel you find yourself in a glass-bottomed boat, because, you know, why not?
You can see where this is going — the aquarium only takes up perhaps half a floor of the 600,000 square foot, four-story factory. And a lot of people might say it isn’t even the main attraction.
So what is?
Probably depends on your mood. Feel like playing in a room filled with sponges? What about riding a tiny train? Getting lost in a cave that probably isn’t big enough for people in the first place? Or how about just staring at the world’s largest pencil, jutting out of the side of the building, and knowing the whole time that it isn’t even close to the weirdest thing you’ve seen that day.
And where is a good spot in this post to mention that the upstairs is a vintage clothing store/espresso bar?
Yes, City Museum is weird. And wonderful, in a horror-movie-meets-kids’ playground-meets-they-have-a-gift-shop-and-snack-bar-so-how-freaky-can-it-be kind of a way.
Apparently, it is always changing too, which is why they don’t like to talk about it much. There’s no written information available, and during our three hours there I’m sure we didn’t even began to scratch the surface.
What is clear about the museum is that it has come together by way of found and salvaged materials. It is recycling and repurposing in a way that makes you slightly afraid of what a few thing used to be, and also a little irked that someone threw it away in the first place.
There is just no way to begin to describe it, and yet, if you find yourself in St. Louis, I would encourage you to visit and see for yourself what can happen when an artist mixes lost items with a lot of paint and even more imagination.