Aug 16

The Wonderful City Museum

The City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, describes itself as an “eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel.” It is a wonderful place to take children, but adults will also be astounded. It is open to midnight every night and even has a few cocktail bars inside!

City Museum

The slides and tunnels of the City Museum

After having visited this fantastic wonderland last year, I have to agree. This is a work in progress. The team of artists is continually adding new layers to the museum, which opened in 1997. There is something comforting about the fact that it is still evolving and changing. It seems fitting somehow.

The late sculptor, Bob Cassily, created this fantastic playground of the imagination. The building and much of the museum illustrates a common theme in modern art: recycled materials. Using recycled materials from the industries and antiques in the St. Louis area, Cassily and his team of artists created a hodge podge of steampunk aesthetics that somehow meshes together to form a cohesive and understandable whole. The old building that houses the museum was formerly the International Shoe Factory. Not surprisingly the museum has shoestring factory exhibit where you can actually have shoestrings made.

The museum has many recycled elements from old chimneys, walls of artistically placed old printing plates, salvaged bridges, construction cranes, floors and floors of intricate mosaic tile, a bus hanging off of the top of the building and even two abandoned airplanes. In fact there is just so much stuff packed into this 600,000 square foot building that’s impossible to see everything in one visit. A visit to this museum becomes like a treasure hunt in which one tries to identify the many reclaimed objects that have come together to form something brand new. A wall of what looked like aluminum bread pans turned out to be reclaimed chemistry pans from a former laboratory. The painted spindles on the all the railings are the cylinders from factory conveyer belts. Much like Tibetan prayer wheels, you can spin these as you walk by.


Reclaimed tiles made into a river of fish


There are old statues of eagles and gargoyles spouting water in a pool filled with pennies. There is an indoor, glass-enclosed aquarium filled with turtles. There is a room filled with old Victorian collections of insects, skeletons and animals in jars.

The entire museum is filled with long slides and child sized tunnels. I witnessed more than one parent having a panic attack because they had lost track of their child in the labyrinth of small tunnels. But this is great fun for the kids who can squirm through wire cages over the heads of visitors or wiggle through tree trunks into a secret underground tunnel. The large trees throughout the museum were reclaimed. As many opportunities as there are to crawl, there are equally as many to climb. There is even a skateless skate park where children can run up and down ramps and swing from ropes. The sides of the ramps are painted with artful, surrealistic characters and animals.

If this museum is anything, it is active! One floor sports a circus with regular shows. And there are interactive amusements as well. There is a puppet show where you can make your own puppets. There is a snowflake room where you can cut a repeating six-sided tessellation into a paper as the lady inside the room tells you stories about Eastern Europe.

If you are ever in St. Louis, Missouri, be sure to spend a few hours in the City Museum. You will not be disappointed!

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