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Detail of the Cathedral of Junk. Photo by Eric Kotara.
The "Cathedral of Junk" is, by nearly every measure, irregular. It's equal parts art work and urban jungle gym; improvised wedding chapel and theater venue; an Austin, Tex., landmark and the life's work of a man named Vincent Hannemann.
But what Hannemann calls his fort, the city of Austin is calling a building, thus subject to the standard building rules and restrictions.
In March, Austin's Code Compliance Department told Hannemann that he either had to obtain a building permit and a certificate of occupancy, or tear down his 20-year-old, 33-foot-tall, 60-ton sculpture of wire and reclaimed trash.
Safety and zoning are the two main concerns, according to Ron Potts, Assistant Division Manager for Code Compliance. Although no one's been injured because of the "Cathedral," Potts says it's important for the city to take precautions. "To say no one's died or no one's been hurt, yet -- well, 'yet' is the main word there," Potts said.
Even if Hannemann were to bring the building up to code, he would have to address the zoning issue. The "Cathedral" is located in Hannemann's backyard, a zoned residential area. As his site has grown in popularity, he has played host to concerts, plays, tour groups, field trips and wedding parties. Potts says this is too much activity for a residential area.
Many Austinites are rallying behind Hannemann to "Save the Junk" ahead of an April 9 inspection by the city. Volunteers have spent hours cleaning up the Cathedral to help it meet the restrictions. They removed nearly 1,800 pounds of scrap metal to create a five-foot clearance between the property line and the sculpture.
Elizabeth Lay is leading the effort. She had been directing a play that was scheduled to open at the Cathedral on April 15. When Lay, along with the cast and company of the production, heard the Austin landmark was in jeopardy, they quickly redirected their efforts. "We were already there and already in place," Lay said. "So, overnight, we just turned our group away from being the group to produce a play, to [being] the group to save the Cathedral."
They even held a concert to raise awareness, and were surprised to also raise $1,200 on the side, which Lay says will help pay for surveyors and engineers.
Regardless of the Cathedral's fate, Hannemann will continue his practice of turning trash into art. He hopes to direct the support he's received over the past month toward a new project.
"I think we can get something done out in the country with a bunch of volunteers," said Hannemann, "and it wouldn't just be a one-man project, it would be something bigger and better."
Art Beat talked to Hannemann about how his backyard sculpture turned into a landmark:
Other photos contributed by Caroline Poe
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