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Traveling Texas with Ann Harder: Cathedral of Junk

Posted at 11:29 AM, Apr 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-12 12:29:34-04

AUSTIN, TX — Texas attracts people from all walks of life.

But it's no secret, you'll find some of the more off-beat folks down around the state capitol.

That's where one man's passion for art turned into an almost religious pursuit.

In the middle of a quiet south Austin neighborhood, you'll find one of the attractions that definitely helps keep Austin "weird."

Vincent Hannemann, the archbishop of the Cathedral of Junk, started the project at his home in 1989.

”I've been building sculptures in my backyard ever since I was a kid so it's just kind of what I like to do," Hanneman explains.

As it started growing, people asked what he called it.

Yardspace 11 never really caught on.

”My mom started calling it the Cathedral of Junk and then that stuck like glue and it kind of got a life of its own,” he said.

Just like the sculpture itself, this ever-changing almost living work of art, includes pieces of the past embedded in its walls, floors and even ceilings.

"Anybody with any kind of age whatever immediately starts to go down memory lane right you know, 'oh there's the first Xbox.'"

Hannemann's cathedral has several levels and several rooms.

"You're stepping down into it, and yet, the first thing that you do is you look up, and you feel you know your shoulders go back and you feel like I want it you know you're floating almost, which is different than when you go up the stairs," he said.

Some visitors describe the experience as magical, almost a spiritual experience.

For others it's just a fun walk down memory lane.

But perhaps for the cynical among us, it's a memorial to American consumerism and our throwaway culture.

”My favorite things are the way the light does stuff so you know the other day when it snowed and then there was ice all over things those sorts of things that I like the different effects.”

Visitors may come by appointment only and must call in advance.

Thousands of people a year make their way to pay their respects at the cathedral, marveling at its makeup.

”Pictures just don't do it justice. My daughter-in-law is an artist. She said it looks like a 3D sculpture. Vince said it's 4D. You add the element of time because it changes every day," one visitor said.

”This is put together, it's MacGyvered. It's like a giant bird's nest," Hanneman said. "I call it 99% finished."

Hanneman is choosy about what he adds to his project.

"I'm not a hoarder. I do put stuff out on the curb. You know, not everything makes the cut.”

In 2010, Austin put pressure on Hanneman to remove his creation.

”I crossed the line from yard art to building...I had an unpermitted auxiliary structure.”

With the help of volunteers, both legal and labor, Hanneman got to keep the cathedral.

He downsized, getting rid of 40 tons of metal.

What do people make of it?

This self-described "junk king" lets visitors decide, but with a word of caution.

”Don't read too much into it. I'm just playing, you know, it's just fun. It's 31 years worth of fun.”

A full three stories of fun, he says, will keep changing. The weirdest little attraction in the weirdest little town in Texas.