Just south of the city of Austin, tucked away on a side street is something that you don’t see every day. As you walk from the street into the back yard of Vince Hannemann’s property a strange structure comes into view. A structure which wouldn’t look out of place in a sic-fi movie or alien planet.
Vince started building the Cathedral of Junk in 1988 and has been adding to it and developing it ever since. It is made from anything he could lay his hands on. Pieces of bicycle, old TVs car tyres, bottles. It extends upwards to 3 levels and covers pretty much the entirety of the yard. I was lucky enough to visit on a morning when there were few other people around and I had the place to myself for over an hour before any other guest showed up.
The Cathedral has no website and is not officially listed anywhere by Vince. All the visitors that come to see his creation do so through word of mouth or after finding it on other people’s websites and blogs. He told me that he has never paid to advertise anywhere and never needs to. The thing is so unique and interesting it does it all for him. I wouldn’t recommend just showing up and asking to come in, not unless you are sharp witted enough to convince Vince that you should be allowed to enter. It may be an interesting structure but it is also part of his home so I would call ahead and make an appointment. Of course, people do just turn up from time to time and he let’s them in but not before treating them to a grilling with some of his entertaining but dry humour.
To come in there is a suggested donation of $10 per group, not per person so if you go with some friends it won’t cost you more than a couple of bucks. Vince doesn’t run the site for a profit but he does have to pay for the upkeep of the structure and make sure it is safe. Not so long ago he had to completely rebuild one of the stair cases to comply with city code.
When you first walk up to the Cathedral it appears a lot smaller than it actually is. It is only when you step inside it and see how it is laid out all around you and above you that you get a sense of just how large it is. It took me a while to find the second of two stair cases which takes you up to the very top of the structure to a bench where you can sit and look out over the whole thing.
It was so peaceful to be there on my own. The are wind chimes and bells which sway in the wind and punctuate the sound of the breeze with a kind of relaxing, new age, underscore. It is worth taking your time to look around as the closer you look the more it reveals itself. There are subtle inscriptions on the backs of walls and as you look through the first layer of articles and junk which make up the weird exoskeleton, you can see into the guts of the framework and the smaller objects which are hidden therein. It is interesting to think that all this ‘junk’ once had a completely different life. Families would have sat around the TV’s which form part of the walls. The tyres which make up the yellow staircase that takes you to the second level once were on the cars which took people to work everyday. Every item in the Cathedral has a back story or a history and Vince has taken each of them and given them another life.
I cannot recommend checking this out highly enough. Be sure to call first. All details are below. Take time to look around and take pictures and if you are lucky you will be able to chat to Vince and get him to tell you some stories about the people that have been through to see the place. This place certainly proves that ‘one man’s junk is another man’s treasure’
The Cathedral of Junk
4422 Lareina Dr
Austin, TX 78745