THE “FUN HOUSE” OF ST. LOUIS
City Museum is a key center in St. Louis, Missouri, housed in the former International Shoe building in the Washington Avenue Loft District. Its displays are mostly reused architectural and industrial relics, capturing the blend of cities and construction. From the start, it has been deemed one of the most popular attractions of the city. The museum, which first opened its doors in 1997, received over 700,000 visitors in 2010.
The Project for Public Spaces named the City Museum one of the “greatest public spaces”, and this innovative architecture has been granted other local and international awards as a must-see destination. Of all the museums in St Louis, The City Museum is the best place for little kids, older kids, and adults!
Bob Cassilly, an entrepreneur and classically trained sculptor, founded City Museum alongside his former wife, Gail. When the couple bought the facility in 1993, it was an abandoned International Shoe Company factory and warehouse. Construction began almost immediately after the building was purchased, and was kept under wraps from the public until New Year’s Eve 1996 when visitors were first permitted into the museum to observe the work in progress. The museum opened to the public on October 25, 1997, after the iconic foyer was completed. It drew 300,000 tourists per year within two years. Cassilly served as artistic director of the museum until his death in 2011. A mix between a fun house and a historical venue, this sight is highly recommended by St. Louis natives and tourists alike.
ARCHITECTURAL MUSEUM COMPONENTS
The St. Louis museum has regularly adapted its spaces, consistently adding new features, and donning decorations such as shoe shafts and old chimneys. Some of the notorious additions include MonstroCity, a giant playscape and climbing ground (2002); Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shaft (2003); and World Aquarium (2004). There is something fun for everyone at the City Museum. People-watching at the museum would include witnessing kids running around, friends hunting down the salvaged bridges collection, and perhaps two adults attending the museum as a great place for a date night.
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The four floors consist of extensive tunnels, interactive art spaces and viewing expositions, circus acts, a full cave system, indoor climbing playgrounds and obstacle courses, over 30 slides, a massive outdoor space for children to climb on, two abandoned planes, the Architecture Museum, a Cabin especially for adults, a Museum of Mayhem, a working pinball hall, Mirth and Mystery, and a ton more. It even hosts a functioning Ferris Wheel and a bus hanging off the edge of the roof, which is sure to catch the eye of a passerby. The first floor has a grand entrance featuring a to-scale whale sculpture, and every floor is filled with both open spaces and hidden passageways. Take a ride down a slide to the second-floor vault, or check the museum’s events website to see if there will be a concert or one of the everyday circus acts during your visit.
If you are hungry or looking for some stand-out snacks, the City Museum hosts many cafes, restaurants, and bar spots for every foodie. Each of the building’s stories has its own dining entity, offering family-friendly spots or rooftop lookouts with adult beverages, all hosting distinct themed spaces, reflecting the artistry of the rest of the building.
Its quirky reputation can be largely attributed to one of its most famous features: “The World’s Largest Underwear”. This exhibit is so esteemed that there is a Canadian fan club purely dedicated to these boxers, and it has become one of the most photographed pieces of St. Louis.
One of the unique emphases of the museum is its recycled and repurposed materials. The founders’ mission was to stay within the St. Louis borders in their search for building materials. This led to the mass incorporation of odds and ends such as recovered bridges, household structures, construction cranes, tile, and other eccentric mediums. The exhibits consist largely of these reused products and industrial objects. The heart of the building still maintains the essence of a shoe factory with the spiral structures of the warehouse and towering building. The spiral chutes have been converted into slides and every inch of the space has been turned into a collection of exhibits while honoring the building’s beginning. True to its roots, the museum sells unique shoelaces straight from its original antique braiding machines at The Shoelace Factory. The building’s fifth floor consists of apartments, dubbed the Lofts at City Museum, which range in size from 1,300 to more than 2,800 square feet (260 m2).
With so many awesome places to see in this town, the City Museum is sure to top this list for parents and children alike. Their website provides a virtual map of the layout, and it will help you game plan your visit to make sure you see the slide, caves, and services. Get lost in your imagination, as you see the attractions with your brand-new vision from Brinton Vision of St. Louis. Hungry for more adventure? Take the six-mile train to Forest Park, or visit the Barrett Tunnels, constructed in 1853 by the Pacific Railroad. If you can’t get enough of Cassilly’s creations, consider joining the museum’s membership program or taking the Cassilly City tour, which features many of the architectural designs and impressive sculptures created by their team. These pieces are scattered around the city, ensuring you will get to explore through an expansive majority of St. Louis and all of its coolest places!
Visiting the St. Louis City Museum
You can visit the City Museum Thursday through Sunday, 10am-6pm.
General Admission tickets include access to the museum’s interior, MonstroCity Outdoor Playground, Skateless Park, Circus Shows, Slides, Climbers, & Other Art You Can Play On, and many other features. These tickets can be purchased for $20, though children 2 and under are free.
An additional Rooftop Access pass can be purchased for $8, Pinball Hall All Day Free Play can be added for $6, and Guided Tours are available for $7. You can purchase tickets both at the gate and online.
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