21 Year Old "Cathedral of Junk" Dismantled After Neighbours Complain


Image credit: royalconstantinesociety on Flickr

Austin used to be funky; as the Wall Street Journal notes, "For decades a college town with abundant cheap housing, Austin was a magnet for hippies, slackers and musicians looking for a care-free existence. They livened up the city with their music, art and festivals." It also attracted artists like Vince Hannemann who 21 years ago started building a sixty-ton structure out of hundreds of bikes, mattresses, compact disks and other junk. It became a tourist attraction.
Image credit: kokkofish on Flickr

But as his cathedral of junk grew, so did the neighbourhood; the farm behind his semi-rural lot became a subdivision and the real estate types moved in; according to the Journal,

Paul Gaither, who lives around the corner from Mr. Hannemann in a newly remodeled house, says he can see the tourist vans unloading visitors. The 48-year-old, who is in real estate, says he has been awakened by screaming children on their way to the cathedral. People have urinated in his yard after late-night events, he says.


Image credit: van.sutherland on Flickr

And in the battle between art and real estate values, we know who always wins. And we know who always does their dirty work: The building inspectors. After a "safety complaint" they moved in.According to the Austin Statesman,

In March the city's code compliance department told Hannemann he'd need to get a building permit if he wanted to keep his 33-foot-tall tower of bicycles, urinals, typewriters, sewing machines, crutches, lawn mower wheels, computer guts, at least one New York Ranger hockey souvenir and some stuff that can't even be identified in his South Austin back yard.


Hanneman at the Cathedral of Junk

Hanneman was doing his best to comply; dozens of volunteers worked to clean it up, make it stronger and safer. An architect volunteered to draw up the plans for permit applications. He told the Statesman:

"This has been like Groundhog Day, and worse," said Hannemann, who said he has been working "every step of the way" to comply with city regulations. "I get beat up and mugged every day. I've got the bruises and the wallet to prove it."

But all the changes eroded its value and Hanneman was no longer happy with it. "It already isn't the Cathedral. It might best be described as Junkhenge," he told the WSJ."I'm not willing to get a permit for the little that is left." So he is tearing it down.


This couple was married at the Cathedral of Junk in 2009. Image credit: bellatrixamici on Flickr

Thanking his supporters, Hanneman wrote:

"To all the people who have helped try and save the Cathedral of Junk; to the people who laid on hands, brought cases of water, sandwiches, tacos, power bars and other food; to the people who wrote the mayor and turned up to the Spider House benefit; to the unknown people who left art in the front yard or shoved money under my door; to the lawyers, and to both architect and engineer; to the core volunteer team; to the people who have showered me with love and help: I thank you.

Your efforts have helped soothe my bruised heart. Nevertheless, I feel obligated to tell you that our efforts have been in vain. The City has made me alter the Cathedral so much that little of its original charm is left. They are still wanting a building permit for what is left. Therefore, I will be continuing to dismantle what remains. Also, visitors will be turned away. Thank you everyone. It's a sad day for me, but much more so for Austin and, by proxy, the world.

As one supporter said: "The loss of the cathedral is a tremendous blow to the arts in Austin." But it is great for real estate values; let's get our priorities straight.


Image credit: jzbassguitar on Flickr

Tags: Artists | Austin | Texas | Urban Life