Dispatches: Colorful Explorations in Austin

Daniel Johnston's mural

A long weekend in Austin paired with a rental bike was a fortunate break from DC’s streak of cloudy, rainy spring days. My explorations took me all over the city on little journeys to photograph a bit of Austin’s creative colorfulness.

Vince Hannemann and his Cathedral of Junk
Vince Hannemann and his Cathedral of Junk

With a “major fun” recommendation from my trusty Roadside America app, Vince Hannemann’s Cathedral of Junk in South Austin does not disappoint. Hidden in his suburban backyard is Vince’s wonderful towering creation that he started building in 1988. You could wander through for days and continue to make new discoveries.

The wide expanse of the Cathedral of Junk is best captured with a fisheye lens. Photo by Howard Dvorsky.
The wide expanse of the Cathedral of Junk is best captured with a fisheye lens. Photo by Howard Dvorsky.

When faced with the inevitable question of why, Vince’s basic explanation is the answer of a true artist with a calling to create, “because I wanted to.” And, when you have a towering sculpture of stuff in your backyard, people will want to know what to call it. Vince didn’t have a name but his mother’s title, The Cathedral of Junk stuck so that’s what it’s been ever since.

Some photos of Vince and his early creations
Some photos on display of Vince and his early creations

 

A tire window with a view
A tire window with a view

 

Home and Castle and Godzilla and Santa
Home and Castle and Godzilla and Santa

For DCers in the know, the Q Street Barbies appear to be the long lost relatives of the Barbies residing at The Cathedral of Junk. 

Q Street Barbies, meet your pink Texas cousins
Q Street Barbies, meet your pink Texas cousins

 

A prosthetic leg and sneaker
Yes, this is a prosthetic leg and sneaker

 

Exploring the Cathedral of Junk
Exploring the Cathedral of Junk

To get to The Cathedral of Junk, I road my bike up Congress Avenue making more than a couple stops for a quick photo. 

Why wouldn't there be a zebra in a colorful Josephine Baker costume standing above the Lucy in Disguise costume shop on Congress Avenue?
Why wouldn’t there be a zebra in a colorful Josephine Baker costume standing above the Lucy in Disguise costume shop?

 

We could do a lot worse.
We could do a lot worse. A Wille For President mural on Congress Avenue.

My favorite stop and conversation from my Austin trip was at the Bel Air Motel. As I was riding up Congress Avenue, the retro sign caught my eye and that started a conversation with a couple getting out of their truck in front of the motel.

Mike and Beth Garcia have been married for 28 years and help keep up the motel; they kindly agreed to let me take a photo of them in front of the sign and also shared a bit of the history of the motel.

Mike & Beth Garcia at the Bel Air Motel
Mike & Beth Garcia at the Bel Air Motel

“It might be haunted,” Beth told me, there were stories of a number of deaths at the Bel Air including a little girl who got stuck in a freezer and is suspected of wandering the hall there.  And before Congress Avenue was cleaned up, it was more brothel than motel.

Most recently, they told me, it was featured as The Babylon Motel in HBO’s The Leftovers.

A screen capture of Babylon Motel from HBO's The Leftovers
A screen capture of the Babylon Motel from HBO’s The Leftovers, season 2 episode 4, Orange Sticker

On another day and in another part of town I visited the Hope Outdoor Gallery which, according to it’s website, is the only paint park of its kind in the USA and was developed to provide muralists, street artists, arts education classes and community groups the opportunity to display large scale art pieces driven by inspirational, positive & educational messaging.

An outdoor paint park started in 2011 with help from Shepard Fairey
An outdoor paint park started in 2011 with help from Shepard Fairey

 

Love at The Hope Outdoor Gallery
Love at The Hope Outdoor Gallery

And a photo trip to Austin would not be complete without including a bike ride up to the old Sound Exchange Music store location to see Daniel Johnstons’ Hi How Are You mural, still preserved through the years, now residing on the side of a Thai restaurant (Thai How Are You?).

Daniel Johnston's mural
Daniel Johnston’s Hi, How Are You mural

Unless noted, all photos © Lorie Shaull