Cathedral of Junk

Austin, Texas

The Cathedral of Junk: keeping Austin weird.

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Cathedral of Junk
- Jaron Loggins

The Cathedral of Junk: A Weird and Wonderful Masterpiece

The Cathedral of Junk, located in a suburban backyard in South Central Austin, Texas, is a shiny example of art without agenda. It does not attempt to conform to a certain ideal, rather it’s artistic nature comes from its abstract weirdness. And it’s this weirdness that falls in line with many of Austin’s other treasured cultural landmarks — and the city's willingness to accept them.

So is it actually a place of trash, I hear you ask? And the answer is yes, more than 60 tonnes of the stuff — one man’s junk is another man’s treasure and all that. But, composed mostly of metallic items, from car parts to household appliances, it’s also not trash in the sense that it sparkles in the sunshine and has been arranged by the artist in a cool and colourful manner! Towering up 33 ft in the air, with a deeply spiritual quality, it truly is a Cathedral in its own right. Today, it forms a collection of both modern trinkets and technological relics, helping visitors experience a bygone era.

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- Larissa Cain

Creating the Cathedral of Junk

The Cathedral was created by artist Vince Hannemann, or ‘Junk King’ as he’s known in Austin; a tattoo inscription, which also spreads across his knuckles. In 1989 Hannemann (with no grand design in mind) began fashioning a fort from his discarded items, calling to mind Houston’s Beer Can House. And as was the same with John Milkovisch, the Cathedral of Junk is Hannemann’s way of having fun and expressing his artistic fantasies, whimsically.

“I just did it because I thought it was cool.”

Vince Hannemann, speaking to Roadside America.

At first the items consisted of Hannemann’s own unwanted items but soon he was using an assortment of salvaged materials. These include scrap metal, toys, street signs, surfboards, bicycle parts, tools, toilets, tyres, and so on. It is, quite simply, junk and as such it was dubbed the ‘Cathedral of Junk’ (a name that clearly stuck), by Vince’s mother.

Cathedral of Junk 2
- 𝕵𝖔𝖗𝖉𝖎 𝕿𝖔𝖐𝖐𝖎 𝕿𝖔𝖈𝖆𝖛𝖊𝖓𝖙𝖘

As time passed, word of the Cathedral spread, and more and more visitors began to flock to Vince's backyard. What started as a personal artistic endeavour soon became a beloved public attraction, drawing people from all walks of life to marvel at the sheer ingenuity and creativity. It also attracted those wanting to contribute to the display in their own way — by offering to bring their own junk! As a result, the Cathedral is now primarily made up of donated pieces. It is also constantly evolving as Vince adds new details here and there, whilst removing others.

Cathedral of Junk 5
- 𝕵𝖔𝖗𝖉𝖎 𝕿𝖔𝖐𝖐𝖎 𝕿𝖔𝖈𝖆𝖛𝖊𝖓𝖙𝖘

Visiting the Cathedral of Junk

Today, between 11,000 and 14,000 people visit the Cathedral of Junk each year. Stepping onto the site is like entering an otherworldly realm. The creation, concealed from the front of the house, opens up into an elaborate labyrinth of pathways, concrete staircases with intricate indents, tinkling wind chimes, observation platforms, vaulted ceilings, and an assortment of rooms. (The popular ‘throne room’ is positioned at the heart of the structure.) Every nook and cranny is adorned with an eclectic assortment of items, meticulously arranged to form fascinating patterns and designs.

Cathedral of Junk 12
- Larissa Cain

At night the eccentric structures light up with multicoloured lights, neon beer signs, and clocks. But it is the sunlight which catches the mirrors, TVs, and just generally bounces off the varied metallic surfaces that makes this place truly magically. And people find themselves deeply moved by the Cathedral, attesting to a spiritual quality that it possesses.

“Some people recognize junk that they used to have… A few people get overwhelmed and have to leave. Sometimes people get weird. Some people cry… They just get overcome or something, I dunno.”

Hannemann, in Roadside America.

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- Larissa Cain

The Cathedral of Junk and Demolition Threats

External Factors

In 2010, following a complaint from a disgruntled neighbour, Austin “found the Cathedral in violation of code, requiring an engineer’s letter”. For seven months the structure faced an uncertain future and was closed to the public. During this time, “hundreds of volunteers, three lawyers, an architect and engineer,” rallied in support of Hannemann and his art.

Cathedral of Junk 8
- 𝕵𝖔𝖗𝖉𝖎 𝕿𝖔𝖐𝖐𝖎 𝕿𝖔𝖈𝖆𝖛𝖊𝖓𝖙𝖘

Together they found ways to ensure it complied with necessary codes. Almost 50 tonnes of junk were removed in the process, and Hannemann had to demolish his ‘Pyramid of TVs’. But that has been replaced by a smaller ‘Zen Garden of TVs’ — take that angry neighbours! Furthermore, Hannemann chooses any additions wisely, making sure nothing is hollow and likely to gather rainwater, so as not to interfere with the otherwise solid and dependable design. After all their efforts, the Cathedral of Junk was declared structurally sound and “the permit was granted.”

Going forward, as expressed in the permits, the structure cannot exceed its current height and must refrain from expanding within five feet of the perimeter fencing. As an indication of its unwavering resilience, the Cathedral has since withstood Texas’ harsh weather conditions, from severe rainstorms to lightning strikes.

Cathedral of Junk 3
- 𝕵𝖔𝖗𝖉𝖎 𝕿𝖔𝖐𝖐𝖎 𝕿𝖔𝖈𝖆𝖛𝖊𝖓𝖙𝖘

Internal Factors

There have been times since its creation when Hannemann himself has contemplated demolishing the Cathedral. In 2000 the artist described a moment of clarity when he “wanted to gain control over it.”

"You know, 'I have a life! I have a life! I'm sick of this. I just wanna get out of here… But, no. I have no control. I couldn't tear it [all] down."

Hannemann, in Roadside America.

It was at this moment when he “tore down the three-story tower in the back.” But the moment was brief and he ceased tearing down and began rebuilding, shaping the junk he had demolished into new rooms. A historical placard at the site states that by 2019, Vince was convinced the Cathedral was 99% finished. I wonder what he thinks now.

Cathedral of Junk 11
- Larissa Cain

Ultimately, the Cathedral represents different things to different people and has fostered a great sense of community. Not only for those that fought to preserve it, but also those who come to view it and offer their own junk to the artist, hoping that it will feature there one day. Despite this, at the end of the day, the Cathedral of Junk is but one thing — Hannemann’s. And it is his to do with as he pleases.

“I just did it because I liked it. And when I stop liking it I’ll take it down.”

Vince Hannemann, speaking to Roadside America.

Our Thoughts…

Austin’s Cathedral of Junk is a far cry from a junkyard. It represents the limitless possibilities of human creativity and one artist’s ability to recognise beauty in discarded items, breathe new life into them, and then communicate this beauty to others. As such, it is more than just an art installation; it is an ever changing depiction of one city's unyielding commitment to celebrating individuality. Whilst serving as a reminder that art can emerge in unexpected places. So, if you find yourself in Austin, don't miss the chance to explore this whimsical wonderland!

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our CityDays Exploration Games - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of Austin and beyond.

Cathedral of Junk 7
- 𝕵𝖔𝖗𝖉𝖎 𝕿𝖔𝖐𝖐𝖎 𝕿𝖔𝖈𝖆𝖛𝖊𝖓𝖙𝖘

Cathedral of Junk Questions


What you need to know

Cathedral of Junk
4422 Lareina Dr, Austin, TX 78745-1936
30.218590, -97.771347
Tips before you visit

The best time to visit the Cathedral of Junk is when it’s Sunny as it heightens the artistic experience.

Despite being a haven of junk, littering is forbidden — you may enjoy a picnic on the premises but make sure to take everything with you when you leave. Alcohol is also prohibited.

Due to health and safety reasons it is wise not to wear open-toe shoes — some objects have quite sharp edges. Similarly, keep an eye on all children as some areas are a little uneven.

Lastly, don’t forget to sign your name alongside the hundreds of others who have visited the Cathedral since it opened to the public.