City Museum outdoor playground
|Location||St. Louis, Missouri|
|Operated by||Bob Cassilly|
|Opened||October 25, 1997|
City Museum is a museum, consisting largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, housed in the former International Shoe building in the Washington Avenue Loft District of St. Louis, Missouri.
Popular among residents and tourists, the museum bills itself as an "eclectic mixture of children's playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel." Visitors are encouraged to feel, touch, climb on, and play in the various exhibits.
Opened in 1997, the museum attracted more than 700,000 visitors in 2010.
The City Museum has been named one of the "great public spaces" by the Project for Public Spaces, and has won other local and international awards as a must-see destination. It has been described as "a wild, singular vision of an oddball artistic mind" and compared to the similarly individualistic Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles.
City Museum was founded by artist Bob Cassilly, who remained the museum's artistic director until his death, and his then-wife Gail Cassilly. The museum's building was once an International Shoe Company factory and warehouse but was mostly vacant when the Cassillys bought it in 1983. Construction began in January 1995.
The City Museum opened to the public on October 25, 1997. Within two years, it was drawing 300,000 visitors a year.
The museum has since expanded, adding new exhibits such as MonstroCity in 2002, Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shaft in 2003, and World Aquarium in 2004. A circus ring on the third floor offers daily live acts. The City Museum also houses The Shoelace Factory, whose antique braiding machines makes colorful shoelaces for sale. The Museum has hosted concerts.
The building's fifth floor houses apartments, dubbed the Lofts at City Museum, which range in size from 1,300 to more than 2,800 square feet (260 m2).
The 10th floor is an extension of Windows On Washington called Windows Off Washington.
The original part of the museum, the first floor is home to a life-size Bowhead Whale that guests can walk through and view a large fish tank from the mezzanine or the always popular "Puking Pig." Also on the first floor, are a number of tunnels that run across the ceiling, hiding above a sea of fiberglass insulation cut to give the impression of icicles. To get into these one can climb up a Slinky, which is an old refrigerating coil (donated by Anhueser-Busch), or through a tree house which leads into a giant hollowed out tree that leads to a cabin on the other side of the floor. The floor itself is covered with the largest continuous mosaic piece in the US, which then morph their way up columns, consuming every section of this floor. In one area is a tunnel known as the "Underground Whaleway" which runs beneath the floor and into the "Original Caves." New areas are currently being built.[when?]
Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shaft
One of the museum's most popular attractions, the Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shafts run through the center of the Museum, and go all the way to the 10th floor. Opened in 2003, the Caves are an elaborate cave system hand-sculpted by Bob Cassilly and his crew. From every direction, a different creature is staring back. Since 2007, the Caves have also held a 1924 Wurlitzer Pipe Organ from the Rivoli Theater in New York City.
The Shoe Shafts were developed from structures built for the International Shoe distribution operation. To get the shoes from various floors to the loading dock, staff would place the shoes on spiral shafts. The Shafts opened in 2003 with one three-story spiral slide, and five years later added a ten-story slide that starts at the roof and goes down to the Caves' entrance.
The Mezzanine contains the Museum's food court and a number of sections that are also tied into the first floor.
The Vault Room contains two 3,000-pound vault doors built in mid-19th-century St. Louis and installed in a bank in Chicago, Illinois. The room also has a marble bar and about 1,000 safety deposit boxes.
The middle of the room highlights the "hamster wheel", a piece of machinery donated by McDonnell Douglas, which used it to make fuselages for small airplanes.
Off to the side of the Vault Room and leading to the Enchanted Caves is St. George's Chamber, which holds vintage opera posters and a statue of St. George from Saint George's Catholic Church in Chicago.
The Shoelace Factory has shoelace machines from the 1890s. Visitors can order custom-made laces.
The World Aquarium is an animal exhibition and rehabilitation center. It houses a variety of animals such as sharks, rays, sea turtles, parrots, tortoises, terrapins, otters, snakes, alligators and sloths as well as the expected freshwater and saltwater fish. The World Aquarium includes a shark tank with a glass tunnel running through it, big enough to crawl through, but too small to walk. This aquarium has stingray petting. They also allow stingray feeding for a fee at certain times.
The 3rd Floor is home to a number of attractions. In one area is Skateless Park, which is a collection of skateboard ramps, without the skateboards, in place having rope swings tied in front of the ramps and mats to land on. There is also the Everyday Circus, a circus school with students from 6 to 80+. The Everyday Circus performs daily at the museum and does private parties. Just around the corner from the Circus, is Art City where guests can try their hand at a number of different art techniques, as well as Toddler Town; A section dedicated only to those 6 and under. Beatnik Bob's is directly across from the Circus, which features the "World's Largest Underwear", a collection of vintage video/pinball games, and a concessions stand. Right outside Beatnik's is a 1/8 scale model of an Alco Train that children who are 48 inches high under can ride around the tracks. Past Architectural Hall, the Museum's largest rental space, is the Architectural Museum. Located here is the cross from the "Exorcist," a collection of antique door knobs, and the Museum's current exhibit of Elmslie and Sullivan. Off Architectural Hall, the Museum recently started to add a Natural History Section. On display are a number of insects and taxidermy items. Finally, on the 3rd Floor, the entrance to the three story slide that leads back to the first floor.
The 3rd Floor is also home to a small number of hauntings. There have been reports of a piano playing on its own and small children being seen near the Alco Train and various other people talking or crying.
In 2012, City Museum took over the space on the 4th floor that once was the Bale Out. As of 2013, fresh donuts are served here while long-term plans are contemplated.
The roof has a small old-fashioned Ferris wheel. It also has a slide that goes under a small pond. The pond has stepping stones that go from one side to the other. The roof also has a school bus that had actually worked once, extending past the edge of the building. Visitors can walk in the school bus and open the door from the driver's seat. Also found on the roof are a giant rope swing contained in a free-standing aluminum dome underneath the roof's centerpiece; a giant metal praying mantis. It is possible to climb a series of enclosed metal ladders inside the dome to an exit at the top.
Located in front of the building, MonstroCity features two Sabreliner 40 aircraft fuselages suspended high in the air, a fire engine, a castle turret, a 25-foot (7.6 m) cupola, four-foot-wide Slinkies that can be crawled through, and two ball pits, one for young children and one for older ones, each pit being filled with large, rubber dodge balls.
The Cabin Inn is an early-19th-century log cabin located beneath MonstroCity. Originally the home of the son of Daniel Boone, it was owned by the Hezel family for more than a century and is now a bar and entertainment venue.
Cassily used the City Museum as a neighborhood anchor to help develop several nearby commercial and residential buildings, including:
- Laclede Gas Building: An old building down by the entrance to the St. Louis Riverfront Trail which has been under development for a while.
- Windows On Washington
- Windows Off Washington
- Dougherty, Connor (May 1, 2010). "This Museum Exposes Kids to Thrills, Chills and Trial Lawyers". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
- The City Museum - Great Public Spaces | Project for Public Spaces (PPS)
- Whet Moser, "St. Louis’s Wondrous City Museum", Chicago, October 2, 2012.
- Louis, St. (January 30, 2000). "Bob Cassilly and Gail Cassilly".
- Lofts at City Museum. Citymuseum.org. Retrieved on 2010-11-03.
- Attractions. City Museum. Retrieved on 2010-11-03.
- Cabin Inn Rental. City Museum. Retrieved on 2010-11-03.
- City Museum website
- World Aquarium at the City Museum website
- Very high resolution panoramic images of the museum