Austin prides itself on the slogan Keep Austin weird. In the left-wing city smack bang in the middle of right-wing Texas, Austin is a haven for artists, creatives and musicians.
We spent a few days in the city and loved it. While the rest of the state chows down on red meat, Austin is full of vegetarians and is even home to the first Wholefoods.
We went to a gig on a Tuesday night and experienced the music scene of the city. There seems to be a show on every day of the week and it’s not just local bands that are playing – the two we saw were from Australia(!) and Seattle.
But one of the stranger sights we saw during our three days in this eclectic town was the Cathedral of Junk.
The Junk King
Built by Vince Hennemann, aka the Junk King, the Cathedral of Junk is housed in his back garden and is what it describes – a cathedral made from junk.
Vince began his sculpture in the late ‘80s and has been adding to it ever since. He’s a popular artist and these days he doesn’t have to worry about collecting the junk – his fans send him pieces from all over the world.
Vince built his first sculpture when he was in his teens and has been into art all his life. As you walk around the cathedral it’s easy to admire just how much effort has gone into constructing it.
The Cathedral of Junk
Most of the sections are divided up into different colours – there’s a yellow section with rubber ducks, a green section with gumby and a blue section with license plates. He’s made walls out of glass bottles and steps out of old tyres. He even built a concrete slide decorated in old tiles. But one of my favourite pieces is probably the nose of an aeroplane he has near the top of the structure.
Although this isn’t the weirdest item he’s ever collected – Vince says he’s also been given prosthetic legs over the years!
Fame for junk art
Vince has many fans – he has more than 5,500 likes on Facebook, and this is on a page he didn’t even create himself. When we were there, at least 10 other people came through his doors, complimenting him on his work. And he’s been in TV commercials and in well-known publications like the Wall Street Journal.
Criticism of the Cathedral of Junk
But not everyone has loved him. In a city that wants to stay ‘weird’ the council very nearly made him tear the structure down, deeming it ‘unsafe’. After a long process getting his cathedral approved by engineers, The Junk King won the legal battle and to this day his sculpture is enjoyed by tourists from all over the world.
So what do you think of the Junk King’s Cathedral of Junk? Check out our video and let us know in the comments below!
What you need to know:
Cost: It costs $10 per group. I think it’s certainly worth it! Leave your money in the tin to the right after you enter the gate.
When to go: You have to make an appointment with Vince before you turn up. You can call him on (512) 299-7413 to do so. Go to the gate on the right side of the house to enter and either send Vince a text or give him a call to let him know you’re there. The sculpture is outdoors so best to visit when it’s not raining.
How to get there: The address is 4422 Lareina Dr, Austin, Texas, 78798. It’s in the suburbs so you park in the street.
Vince: These knuckles were on the cover of the Wall Street Journal in April of 2010. Oh yeah, President Obama’s face and my knuckles. Oh yeah.
Carmen: So why was Vince Hennemann, aka the Junk King, on the cover of the Wall Street Journal? It was because he built this – his Cathedral of Junk.
Vince has used anything and everything you can think of for his cathedral. There are car bumpers, bottles, circuit boards, bicycle, dolls and more.
Vince: I’ve been doing it full time for the last five years since 2008. Bank of America filmed a commercial here in 2008 and that paid residuals for a year and that gave me the money to go full time. So since then I’ve been full time – and it’s worked.
Carmen: Visitors pay $10 per group to enter and you can spend as much time as you want exploring the garden of junk. As a testament to just how popular the Junk King is, many have signed these walls on departure.
Vince: I haven’t really needed to collect stuff since ’93, people just give me stuff. They send me stuff in the mail. I just got a chainsaw blade from Alaska in the mail last week. A chainsaw blade, a $20 bill and no note – it’s fan mail! It’s good to be king.
Carmen: But it hasn’t always been good to be King. In 2010 Vince’s cathedral was threatened with demolition after numerous complaints from his neighbours to the council. Facing a legal battle, Vince began removing the parts of the junk located close to his fence.
Vince: It was 40 tonnes of metal that I took out of here. That went over the scales to be recycled – that’s how I know it was 40 tonnes. That’s 80,000 pounds. It was 700 trips on the back of my truck over seven months. What I had to do was I had to clear out the setback and get it surveyed. I had an architect do the drawings and then have an engineer sign off on it. It didn’t really fit into any of the rule books but I needed an engineer’s letter. And that wasn’t easy. The first one quit on me twice. And the whole time I was non-compliant. I had no property rights. I wasn’t allowed to lease or give away this house. They put a red sign out on the curb saying ‘Dangerous conditions exist.’ I called it my scarlett letter because they didn’t have to prove it was dangerous but I had to prove it was safe.
Carmen: But prove it was safe he did, and after seven long months, Vince got his building’s permit and was allowed to welcome visitors through his cathedral doors once more.
And it’s just as well, because in a city that’s as weird as Austin, the Cathedral of Junk is certainly one of the stranger sites to visit. And if a man’s home is his castle, this man’s junk is his cathedral.