The Architecture of the City Museum in St. Louis was Taken from the City Itself

Max Ramirez

The City Museum in St. Louis may be a parent’s worst nightmare. The tiny holes only children can fit into, numerous distractions and four expansive floors to wander. But these same factors make it a child’s dream land. Creator of the City Museum Bob Cassilly had exactly those intentions in mind when he was constructing the museum. 

Stairs leading up to a higher floor are made of parts found in St. Louis (Credit to Amber Winkler)

“The whole point of the city museum, in [Cassilly’s] eyes, was to make a place where parents kind of have to let their children go off and be comfortable getting separated from them,” City Museum Employee Daniel Walker said. “He put all these holes in that were way too small for the parents to get in, he wants [the children] to go off and explore.”

The eclectic architecture is on display for everyone who visits, but where the components of the museum were all taken from remains a mystery to most. The answer is hidden in the details of the building itself. The shoe chutes used to create the slide, conveyor belt rollers used to create the railings and chopped up sails to create ceiling decorations.

“[My favorite part is] the effort that went into all of this,” City Museum employee Carson Phillips said. “It came about from multiple years of effort, like all the mosaics across the floor, everything you see on the wall. Cassilly said ‘as long as you have enough of it, it’s like a break.’ So, probably the effort that went into all the architecture.”

The St. Louis City Museum is a multi-story funhouse for children and adults built from the city’s history.

Before the building was reformed in 1997, it was a shoe factory in the Washington Avenue district. The factory, along with many other buildings in the area, were said to be wasting away with no use or purpose. Cassilly saw these areas in a new light and reimagined them into the adventurous land they have now been incorporated into; taking bits and pieces of the city and bringing their materials into his design.

Some stressful times for parents may be part of the adventure, but the museum has more to offer than fun times for the children. Between the rooftop, live aquatic animals and detailed mosaics, there is something for everyone in the St. Louis City Museum.

“It really depends on what your favorite thing is because if you like a lot of things outside, it will be the concrete,” Tashir Witner-Scott “But if you’re into more artistic expression, it would go down to the tiles for the mosaic. It’s like that’s a very subjective question. Because it comes down to each individual.”

Visiting multiple times in his youth and enjoying the building and caves, Justin Blanton thought the City Museum would be a great place to bring his two children to let some energy out and run around on a cold day in St. Louis. But this trip wouldn’t just be for his children, it would be for himself too.

“I think everything about the city museum is unique, everything,” Blanton said. “I mean, there’s no place in the world like it. I don’t even know how to expand on that. Everything about this place is unique.”