When you think of Austin must-do’s it’s probably the same few things that come to mind. Everyone talks about the bats on Congress Bridge, Zilker Park and Barton Springs but if you’re looking for something a little less obvious, check-out this list of some off the beaten-path places in Austin.
The Cathedral of Junk
Decades worth of pop culture, old toys and evolving electronics and technology come together with miscellaneous odds and ends in the backyard of a small residential home in South Austin. Owner Vince Hannemann began building the piece in 1988 when he was in his mid-twenties and it has since grown into a homey hovel for all things weird. There are corridors and windows, ceiling fixtures lined with troll dolls and old action figures, and staircases made of tires, and everything has been put to use in such a way that you would never think you were looking at trash; more like an above ground time capsule.
It is truly a piece of Austin’s weird that adds to the richness of the culture and the locals have made their support well-known. In 2010 when the city demanded that certain efforts be made to bring the structure up to code or it would be bulldozed, locals pitched in and worked to save it from destruction. So obviously it’s worth a look! To visit the CoJ all you have to do is show up. Vince only asks for a donation in return for his hospitality.
Located on the 1100 block of Baylor Street, Graffiti Park is a grassy hill with tiered concrete walls scattered about. You can’t miss it because not only is each wall brightly decorated, but also because a castle sits randomly at the very top of the hill. Every angle gives you a new view of the all the art and you could go back over and over again and find something new each time. As expected you will come across scattered bits of gibberish that read more like vandalism than art, but luckily that is few and far between. These walls are more like street tapestries adorned in huge, bright and vivid works of street art mastery. If you visit you’ll find it hard not to spend the entire time framing photos.
Local art is never in short supply in Austin and nothing, not even a home is unable to be turned into a canvas. Local homeowners James Talbot and Kay Pils have been transforming the house into the marvel that it is today since 1979. The three story home is a piece of art both in and out. The outside is covered with bright decorative tiles from top to bottom and huge window panels open up the front of the house giving it an even more unique allure. On the inside, wonder hides in every nook and cranny. From the giant multi-colored vine-like ceramics that crawl across the walls to the stair case that looks like a modernized ode to the Swiss Family Robinson, everything about the home is a playful and imaginative work of art.
The home has been featured in magazines and newspapers across the nation and was the subject of an episode of HGTV’s Home Strange Home and TLC’s Four Houses. To arrange a tour of the house you can contact the owners by phone or email or check out the Facebook page for information about open tour dates you can just show up to. Tours generally cost about $15 and the proceeds go towards offsetting property taxes on the house.
Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata
To over-simplify the description would be to call it a house filled with small oddities…and that’s probably the best way to put it. To truly know what you’re getting for your modest $4 entry fee you should check out the website, but you will probably find that you have no idea what to make of themes like “Urban Phantasmagoria” and “Naturalia and Artificialia” but that’s ok. For four bucks you’ve really got nothing to lose by going to see for yourself.
Their most popular pieces are found in the “impermanent collection” which they describe as, “an allegory of loss [that] demonstrates the most advanced methods for the reproduction of absence, easily the most profound treatment to date concerning that ineffable silhouette of modernity which measures out, in negative, the penetration and patrol of rationalization.” If you still have no idea what any of that means then you’re on the right track. The randomness and ambiguity in Austin inhabitants is what keeps it weird, but here is a general idea of what you might see here: years worth of snow globe collecting, Jackalopes, a bunch of taxidermy, some stuff about Elvis, glass pieces you don’t understand but that have very interesting stories behind them, a bunch of figurines and a pretty strange time.
Ricardo Casas is the CEO and founder of Fahrenheit Marketing, an Austin web design firm. Fahrenheit Marketing provides its clients with a full range of online marketing capabilities including website development, search engine optimization, and mobile app design.
Photo Credit: StuSeeger (CC BY 2.0)
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