There He Goes Again

If you liked the City Museum, just look at what Bob Cassilly is doing now

Part of his plan for the cement plant is to oil the machines and put them to use, placing the large, outmoded machines all over the place, amid the greenery and restored wetlands, to illustrate the similarity between the passing of the Industrial Revolution and the end of the Precambrian Era, the earliest geological period, a time when numerous life forms became extinct. It's a topic that Cassilly expands on without any encouragement, even if the listener is not well versed about geologic times before the Paleozoic Era.

Already he's had hundreds of dump trucks drop dirt at the plant, filling up holes and leveling the terrain. He's personally using a bulldozer to build up a wall-like berm around the perimeter. He wants to transform the plant into a "fantasy world" that includes a water slide, underground tunnels, a spiral staircase to the top of the smokestack where visitors can heave stones back down to earth and ... well, he's just getting warmed up with ideas.

With a smirk on his face that would make George W. Bush look like an altar boy, Cassilly compares his ambition for the plant to what he might have done as a kid: "You'll be able to do all the things that were normally illegal, I suppose, do all the things kids used to sneak into a plant to do, looking for adventure."

If Bob Cassilly's plans for this riverfront property just south of the old Chain of Rocks Bridge pan out, he'll be putting an observation deck and an enclosed restaurant on the trestle and pylons over the Mississippi River.
Jennifer Silverberg
If Bob Cassilly's plans for this riverfront property just south of the old Chain of Rocks Bridge pan out, he'll be putting an observation deck and an enclosed restaurant on the trestle and pylons over the Mississippi River.

Climbing up to the tops of towers, sliding down, throwing things from on high, walking across catwalks, getting inside a smokestack, crawling underground, swimming, that sort of thing. He's reluctant to put a label on what the place will be. "Everyone keeps saying 'Bob's World,'" Cassilly admits, but he's not thinking theme park. "If you say Six Flags, it'd make me vomit." How about calling it an art park? "I wouldn't want to call it that. Nobody would come."

It's more of a museum featuring landscape and outdoor sculpture than an amusement park. "It's a giant art installation you can play in. It's anti-elitist. Arts have alienated everyone in the world. This is a place to bring together different disciplines. Other people may want to start helping -- they'll want to do something here, maybe have a little piece of it."

Cassilly is anxious to show off his new playground as he drives across Riverview Drive and into the cement plant, past the dirt walls built along the boundary. As he pulls up in front of the largest building in the complex, he starts to play tour guide as he enters a gigantic barnlike structure that looks to be more than eight stories tall, with metal siding that's partially torn away.

"There's three great horned owls in this building. They're pretty cool. They're huge," Cassilly says. He gestures to a low, flat area in front of the building partially encircled by high dirt walls, explaining that the area, and the inside of the building, would be the "water park."

The top of the building can be reached by a series of metal steps and catwalks, and that's where the slides would start. There's a huge drop inside the building where the trains used to unload materials. He wants to keep the roof on but peel off much of the siding to reveal the metal frame of the building, letting in more sunlight. Around the building he describes the dirt walls being built up as "parapet walls all along the property, like walled cities had a first line of defense, a second line of defense."

"Then there's going to be all these sculpted kind of caterpillarlike forms that will come up from the pool below. Then the pool will go all the way into the building here. This will all be dug deeper." He points up, to a series of huge metal bins that start at the top of the building. "You go in here, and there's all these giant bins in here, so there'll be giant waterfalls from bin to bin, with water slides that will slide down from pool to pool to pool, and then it will come out here," he says, pointing to the large, flat area in front of the building that will serve as the giant pool. "Then this wet water area will meander down through the property."

As Cassilly walks to the next idea, dump trucks continue to enter the property to deposit fill from the A.G. Edwards expansion near Jefferson Avenue and Olive Street, or as Cassilly describes it, "from behind Beffa's," referring to incognito lunch spot for local celebs. With an unnaturally straight face, Cassilly says close to 10,000 loads of free dirt have been dumped from that project. He says accepting the dirt when it was available was a "random act of opportunism," something that Cassilly the Player knows how to handle.

From the future home of the world's only water slide in a cement plant, Cassilly starts to explain how a wetlands will mix in with huge concrete buildings and large obsolete machines. By juxtaposing 19th- and early-20th-century machines with wetlands, he intends to compare and contrast the phasing out of machines during the waning of the Industrial Revolution to the biological mutations that occurred in the Precambrian explosion 2 billion years ago.

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