Robert James Cassilly Jr. (November 9, 1949 – September 26, 2011) was an American sculptor, entrepreneur, and creative director. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Cassilly was the founder of the idiosyncratic City Museum, which draws over 700,000 visitors a year and is one of the city's leading tourist attractions.
Cassilly was born in Webster Groves, Missouri, to a homemaker and a building contractor. He began skipping school by age 14 to work as an apprentice for a local sculptor, Rudolph Torinni. Cassilly graduated from Vianney High School, then earned a bachelor's degree in art from Fontbonne University in St. Louis.
Career and sculptures
Cassilly built and ran a restaurant after college. He sold the restaurant, which allowed him to move to Hawaii, where he carved wooden figures. Cassilly reportedly grew tired of Hawaii and returned to his native St. Louis. While earning a master's degree in art at his alma mater, Fontbonne, he met his second wife, sculptor Gail Soliwoda. They remained business partners until their divorce in 2002.
During the mid-1970s, Cassilly renovated a townhouse in a dilapidated St. Louis neighborhood, a project that led to the construction of six new townhouses, for which he designed the architectural flourishes. The project led Cassilly to start making sculptures professionally. He soon became known for his public pieces that depict animals, ranging from turtles to hippos.
The City Museum was launched after he and Gail bought a 250,000-square-foot (23,000 m2) complex, which included the International Shoe Building, offices and a 10-story warehouse, for 69 cents per square foot in 1983. They renovated the site and opened it in 1997 as the City Museum, helping to spark a renovation boom in downtown St. Louis. The museum includes an aquarium, shoelace factory, a fire truck, two airplanes, and a Ferris wheel on the roof. The Project for Public Spaces listed the museum among the "Great Public Spaces in the World" in 2005. In 2002, financial obligations forced Cassilly to begin charging visitors a fee to park at the museum. Cassilly hung a sign in the museum's parking lot reading, "Greedy Bob’s Parking Lot."
Cassilly's other works include hippopotamus statues installed at Hippo Playground in Manhattan's Riverside Park in 1993. In 1997, Cassilly also contributed hippo sculptures to Central Park's Safari Playground near W. 91 Street. He designed two turtles for Turtle Park in St. Louis. A giant concrete butterfly, called the Mysterious Monarch, was unveiled in Faust Park outside the Butterfly House, Missouri Botanical Garden in 1997 in Chesterfield, Missouri. Cassilly's giraffe statue, which stands at the entrance to the Dallas Zoo, is the tallest sculpture in Texas at 67½ feet tall. His works for the St. Louis Zoo include the Sea Lion Fountains and a 45-foot squid statue.
On September 26, 2011, Cassilly died at Cementland after the bulldozer he was driving flipped down a hill. He was survived by his third wife, Melissa Giovanna Zompa, and their two children, Dylan and Robert III; and two children from his second marriage, Daisy and Max. Cassilly's first wife was the former Cecilia Davidson and his second wife was Gail Soliwoda.
- 1987: Marlin Perkins bust at the St. Louis Zoo
- 1991: Six lighted entry markers at the St. Louis Galleria
- 1993: Hippo playground sculptures in Manhattan's Riverside Park
- 1996: Turtle Park sculptures in St. Louis' Forest Park
- 1997: Hippopotamus Park statues at Central Park's Safari Playground in Manhattan
- 1997: Giraffe statue at the Dallas Zoo
- 1998: Mysterious Monarch and Lopatapillar at Faust Park in Chesterfield, Missouri
- 1999: Sea Lion Fountains at the St. Louis Zoo
- Dinosaur at Dallas Planet Hollywood
- Ruins at Bush Gardens VA, Roman Rapids ride
- Apple chairs, Webster Groves, Mo
- Dougherty, Connor (May 1, 2010). "This Museum Exposes Kids to Thrills, Chills and Trial Lawyers". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
- Martin, Douglas (2011-09-29). "Bob Cassilly, Playscape Creator Fueled by Whimsy, Dies at 61". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-10-23.
- Toroian Keaggy, Diane (2011-09-27). "Cassilly's inner child was never far from the surface". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2011-10-23.
- Schlafly, Tom (2011-09-29). "Remembering Bob Cassilly". St. Louis Public Radio. Retrieved 2011-10-23.
- Summers-Sparks, Matthew (August 25, 2007). "One Part Cement, Two Parts Whimsy, One Odd Park". New York Times: Art & Design.
- PPS's The City Museum
- "Safari Playground". Central Park Conservancy. Retrieved 2011-10-23.
- "Bob Cassilly’s sculptures included Dallas Zoo giraffe". Dallas Morning News. 2011-10-10. Retrieved 2011-10-23.
- "City Museum founder killed in bulldozer accident". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. STLToday.com. September 26, 2011. Retrieved September 26, 2011.
- Currier, Joe (2011-09-27). "Cassilly found dead at site he worked on for years". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 2011-10-23.