Deep in the heart of Austin, Texas, down a quiet suburban street, there lies a folk art cathedral like no other. Now that I think about it though, I don’t know if folk art cathedrals are a thing. Let me get back to you on that…
Anyway, pull up to the house at 4422 Lareina Drive (the homeowner would prefer that you do so during normal business hours) and you’ll find the Cathedral of Junk. Created by “yardist” Vince Hannemann, this positively bizarre art project/church/commentary on the wastefulness of modern society might as well be a tree fort created by one of those semi-feral kids from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
There’s definitely an other-worldly vibe about the place. Surrounded by semi-tropical foliage, it’s not uncommon to see small lizards crawling up the walls, which are comprised of castoffs and, well, junk. The cathedral is an ingenious mishmash of everything from ancient Dr. Pepper bottles to camcorders to cheap movie tie-in toys from long forgotten Happy Meals. Hannemann began work on the project in 1988 and has been adding to it ever since.
I made a stop there in the summer of 2011 and found myself talking with Hannemann while my girlfriend was snapping photos. He seemed incredibly down-to-earth and wearily chatted with me as I struggled to come up with questions he hadn’t been hit with a thousand times over the years.
The conversation petered through his various hassles with his neighbors and state safety inspectors and his regrets over allowing director Robert Rodriguez to use the cathedral for a scene in one of the Spy Kids movies. “It’s safe to climb up to the walkways, right,” I asked.
“They’ve each been tested with gigantic barrels of water weighing a couple hundred pounds each,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Provided you don’t weigh over 400 pounds, you’ll be fine.”
I grabbed a rope and made my ascent. On the second level of one structure, I found an old drum set that someone had tossed out. I headed up another level to one of the catwalks and stepped out onto it. Despite Hannemann’s assurances that it was perfectly safe, I nervously eased my way across, expecting the walkway to give way at any second ala the rope bridge at the end of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
A few snapshots later, we praised Hannemann for his efforts and headed back to our rental car as a very normal-looking woman and her very normal-looking children walked up. Over the years, the cathedral has hosted bachelor parties, school groups, weddings, photo shoots and CD release parties. Because, at the end of the day, who doesn’t love this sort of thing?
More photos? M’kay. Just hit the jump….