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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

At Rootwad Park, An Outcry Over Graffiti, Art and Bob Cassilly's Legacy

Posted By on Tue, Oct 27, 2015 at 9:57 AM

click to enlarge Left: The Rootwad Park caterpillar in April 2014. Right: October 25, 2015 - GOOGLE/DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Google/Danny Wicentowski
  • Left: The Rootwad Park caterpillar in April 2014. Right: October 25, 2015

In spite of the criticism, Tanner Clark insists that spray-painting Rootwad Park's sculptures was simply his way of helping.

"What I don't understand is how I have been doing something positive for so long and no one has noticed," he wrote in a rambling Facebook message to Riverfront Times, which he later posted to his profile. "But when I try to make the place not so dark and scary I am the bad guy."

That's exactly what people are saying about Clark — that he is bad guy, a defacer of art, the sort of entitled asshole who would deface the sculptures of no less a beloved figure than the late City Museum creator Bob Cassilly.

And there is no doubt that it was Clark who arrived at the park on Sunday afternoon with spray-paint cans. That very evening, he posted photos to Facebook showing off his work. In one caption he wrote, "Did I mention I am also cleaning the park. Making it more friendly. Cops loved it. People have loved it hmm mph haterz." 

click to enlarge FACEBOOK
  • Facebook

Max Cassilly did not love it. Rootwad Park features the last commissioned works his father Bob produced before his tragic death in 2011. So it's no surprise that when Max Cassilly saw Clark's posts and photos, he lost his shit.

"SOMEONE HELP!!! WE'VE BEEN SLIMED," Cassilly wrote in a Facebook status. He begged Clark to stop and called him "the worst person in the fight to save this park that my dad built." The status was shared more than 100 times, yielding a dizzying string of back-and-forth comments between Cassilly's and Clark's supporters: Those on Clark's side argued that the local DJ had brought new life to the park by removing trash and hosting dance parties and breakdancing showcases; Cassilly and many others took umbrage at Clark's possessive posturing, and they accused him of vandalizing the precious heritage of someone else's art.

Constructed in 2008, the park occupies a bleak corner of the Near North Riverfront between the floodwall and the old Laclede Power Station, just north of Laclede's Landing. The sculptures show the weird and inventive mind of Bob Cassilly: Concrete snakes slither along the ground, a caterpillar made with discarded of cement mixers and steel cross ties greets bicyclists and pedestrians, and a massive turtle (with paving bricks for a shell) appears to be moments away from devouring a snake. 

click to enlarge DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Danny Wicentowski

Max Cassilly concedes that he was initially moved when, last month, Clark invited him to attend one of his dance parties at the park. 

"It's not my scene, but it got me choked up. People are enjoying it, even though nobody has been taking care of the park except for those people," he says. "It’s a conundrum. They think because they beatified the park they can spray-paint all over the art." 

Rootwad Park clearly has major problems. Last month, renderings of the proposed riverfront stadium released by HOK showed an empty plaza where the park now sits. Cassilly now says that HOK has since reached out and reassured him that park will not be destroyed — in fact, Cassilly says the park will be incorporated into the stadium's overall design, though the details remain unclear. (Messages left for HOK seeking to confirm the park's place in the stadium plan were not immediately returned.) Dave Peacock, the former Anheuser-Busch chief executive who heads the NFL stadium effort, confirms that the stadium plans do not threaten Rootwad Park. Not only that, he says that funding will be available to improve and maintain the park's conditions

In a strange twist of irony (considering his father's failed bid to save the old St. Louis Arena), Cassilly now thinks a new NFL stadium may be the park's best chance of survival. 

"If the stadium doesn’t happen, I’m worried it will get torn down anyways," he says. "The one thing we want is my dad’s work to be preserved, and this is the last thing that he did for anybody else, the last public work. That’s a big thing." 

Cassilly says that Clark contacted him last night, but reconciliation proved elusive. 

"I have compassion for his situation, but I don't actually think he understands how he did anything wrong," Cassilly says. 

click to enlarge Clark did not respond to questions regarding the two "STL Cypher Sunday" tags found spray-painted inside the caterpillar sculpture. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Danny Wicentowski
  • Clark did not respond to questions regarding the two "STL Cypher Sunday" tags found spray-painted inside the caterpillar sculpture.

As for Clark, he has since removed the photos and initial Facebook posts, as well as his profile picture. He says that he's been the park's caretaker for the past four years, cleaning up syringes, condoms and offensive graffiti. He says doesn't make any money off his "STL Cypher SundayZ" dance parties, either. 

"I care so much about that place," Clark wrote in an earlier Facebook message. "Sorry I messed up. I honestly thought I was doing something positive and making the park look more invite-able." 

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at

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