(Phil and Sherry Roberts photos)
It’s quirky. It’s quaint. It’s fun. The City Museum in St. Louis, according to its website (citymuseum.org), is “where the imagination runs wild.” And after a visit to the 600,000-square-foot building at 701 N. 15th St., you’ll likely agree with that claim.
This one-of-a-kind museum occupies several floors of a 10-story former International Shoe Co. factory. It’s the brainchild of artist Bob Cassilly and friends, who built the place out of – get this – reclaimed building materials and other assorted junk they’ve found. Inside you’ll also find hundreds of authentic relics from the past – from a chest-type Coca-Cola machine to a former bumper car at a carnival – that’ll have you waxing nostalgic.
There’s truly something for every age.
The first thing you need to do is park your car, which costs $5. Parking and the museum’s main entrance are on 16th Street.
When you leave your car, you’ll immediately see MonstroCity, an outdoor interactive sculpture and multi-story playground with tunnels, skywalks and a slide. Highlights include a fire truck and airplane to explore.
Now glance up at the rooftop playground, which includes multi-story monkey bars and Big Eli, a restored, working, four-story Ferris wheel. Wait! Is that a full-size yellow school bus hanging over the edge of the roof? Sure is, and the daring can even climb in and slide behind the steering wheel if they wish.
Next you’ll want to hurry to the entrance for your ticket to fun. General admission tickets for people ages 3 years and up are $12 plus tax or $10 plus tax after 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
The roof is an additional $5 plus tax, and an interactive aquarium costs an extra $6 plus tax. But fear not, there’s plenty to see and do at the museum even if you pass up those places.
Once inside, kids will be instantly be drawn to the first floor’s tree house, 5,000-gallon tank of fish that are native to Missouri waters and labyrinth of tunnels, filled with larger-than-life creatures.
“Working down there was like being seven years old, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling texture and seeing faces and dragons,” Cassilly says on the museum website. “If I was walking through the caves and I imagined a creature in the wall, we’d put one there.”
Before moving on, take a stroll through a life-sized whale and be sure to find the Puking Pig, an old boiler atop an 1880s fire pump. It periodically fills with water, then swivels and dumps its load into the wave cave below.
Now start making your way upstairs, where you’ll be amazed at the working vintage shoelace machines that once used to make bootstraps for U.S. soldiers during World War II. Now, they crank out brightly colored shoelaces, bookmarks, bracelets and necklaces that you can buy.
Kids can ride on a miniature train while adults ponder the creatively decorated shops nearby that sell sandwiches and drinks. Dine amidst colorful neon signs, vintage posters, movie lights, pinball machines and the world’s largest pair of underpants.
When it’s time to move on, check out the insect and pencil collections and the intricate gargoyles and other architectural gems saved from the wrecking ball.
Belly up to the long wooden bar and imagine a cowboy standing beside you. Or walk inside the ornate elevator cage or bank vault you’ll find on display. Study a primitive toilet and bathtub, then touch that iconic American statue – a smiling Big Boy holding a thick burger on a plate over his head.
Like vintage clothes? Do you need an authentic red or blue band member’s jacket? City Museum has them. There’s a whole floor of old-time sweaters, ties, jeans and dresses for sale.
And there’s more for the kids to do, too. They can build something big using hundreds of building blocks or learn how to swing on a trapeze. They can make some crafts to take home or use some ramps for running and ropes for swinging.
What am I missing? Lots! City Museum has nearly 100 displays.
Copyright 2012 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.