Cathedral of Junk

Art meets recycling at quirky Austin attraction

In 1989, when Austin artist Vince Hannemann began transforming discarded items into freestanding sculptures, he hadn’t an inkling that his unusual art would become a fixture in the city that celebrates the weird. Now, thousands of people—more than 14,000 in 2013, Vince estimates—flock to his South Austin backyard yearly to view the impressive collection of trash art.

Dubbed the Cathedral of Junk, the attraction features hundreds of tons of donated garbage that Vince has “puzzled and welded together” into a stable, three-story structure.

Passageways of used tires, broken headphones, antique irons, and discarded CDs are ripe for exploration. A cursory perusal reveals walls of chain-linked gates and mismatched bricks and ceilings of street signs. Further scrutiny uncovers more intricately decorated nooks and crannies that Vince bejeweled—or be-junked, if I may—in beads, glass bottles, and abandoned toys.

This trove of trash is what one might call “raw art,” but don’t let that dissuade you from visiting. As the backdrop to countless proposals, weddings, and plays, the Cathedral of Junk has something for everyone.

“The little teeny kids are looking at this glass on the ground,” says Vince, gesturing toward a walkway that glistens in the sun. “The older kids are running around playing hide-and-go-seek and whatnot; the bored teenagers are suddenly not bored; the mom who’s looking for something to occupy her kids for more than five minutes is happy; the grandparents who remember the Depression are down memory lane in a second . . . everybody seems to get something out of it.”

“So what’s in it for Vince?” you might wonder. Well, in addition to representing Austin’s quirky creativity, the former construction worker has made the Cathedral of Junk a fulltime gig since 2008, allowing visitors to explore his property for a suggested donation of ten dollars per group.

He’s happy to chat with folks and answer any questions they may have about the exhibit—a habit that occasionally allows him to pick up new trivia from the Cathedral’s patrons. Since opening the Cathedral to the public, he’s become educated in the likes of Polly Pocket and My Little Pony—toys from both lines can be found among his artistically interwoven treasures.

The Cathedral is a work in progress, says Vince, who’s currently creating another staircase and is on the lookout for a two- or three-story spiral slide. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it.”

Visiting the Cathedral of Junk

The Cathedral of Junk is located at 4422 Lareina Drive in Austin, TX, 78745. Hours vary, but visitors can make appointments by calling Vince at 512-299-7413. Admission is a suggested $10 donation per group.

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