Best Of 2012

Best Kept Secret: Cementland

Way up north, beyond the northern border of St. Louis, past Interstate 70 and Bellefontaine Cemetery, where most St. Louisans rarely go (except when their cars get towed), across the street from the banks of the mighty Mississippi, lies an old cement factory surrounded by a rusty chainlink fence bearing a sign that reads "Positively Positively No Admittance." All you can see from the road, looming over the fence, is a row of cement mixers, painted with bright red candy-cane stripes. This is Cementland, the final creation of Bob Cassilly, the sculptor and visionary (some say mad genius) who died there in a bulldozer accident last fall. Beyond the gates Cassilly and his crew had labored for a decade to transform the old plant into an industrial wonderland. They built pyramids from brown Mississippi dirt, dug a lake and a stream visitors could traverse via canoe, converted old cement hoppers into gazebos, doodled on the concrete walls with cans of spray paint and constructed (from cobblestones salvaged from old city streets) a castle, where Cassilly intended to live with his family once the project was complete. When that would have been, no one, least of all Cassilly, could ever say. Perhaps it would have been an eternal work in progress like Cassilly's other great project, the City Museum. Now its fate remains uncertain. Cassilly left rudimentary plans, crew members have said, as well as piles of salvaged materials (including a pair of Metro buses), but it was still a long way from being open to the public. But who could possibly replicate Cassilly's gift for finding beauty in his city's industrial past?

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