Remarks of Mayor Francis G. Slay, October 1, 2011
It is my proud duty to bring the heartfelt condolences of the people of St. Louis to the family and friends of Bob Cassilly – including his wife Giovanna; his children Max, Daisy, Dylan, and Robby; his mother Judy; and his siblings Cindy, John and Steve - and to join them – and you – today in this celebration of his life and work.
Bob Cassilly was the best sort of St. Louisan.
He sprang from the stock of entrepreneurs who experienced a hot, humid St. Louis August … and then decided to go into the fur business anyway.
He is the direct heir of the artisans who looked at the challenges of constructing a bridge at the most dangerous point of the Mississippi River … and then chose the most difficult and most elegant way to build the Eads Bridge.
He is the spiritual descendent of the promoters who seized the opportunity of a plane built in San Diego, flown by a pilot from Detroit between Long Island and Paris … and audaciously called it The Spirit of St. Louis.
And Bob Cassilly can certainly claim kinship with the brash St Louisans who bucked doubters, civic penny pinchers, naysayers, the closed -minded, and critics … to choose a very unlikely 630-foot, stainless steel catenary arch, instead of a statue, as a monument to honor our past.
City Museum, Bob’s best known art installation and one of the world’s Great Public Spaces, was just as unlikely.
The word “City” in the name City Museum often confuses people, who understand it to mean that it is an official facility, the City’s museum. I get their letters.
Some of those people who write want me to pay for the pants they tore on a slide; other want to complain about a museum staff that clearly favors children’s fun over adults’ fears.
But, most people – the vast, vast majority of people - want to compliment the City for having a municipal institution that so courageously – and outrageously – celebrates its values.
It is always somewhat disappointing to have to explain that “City” in the name refers to the fact that City Museum is a private installation made of – and inspired by – actual parts of a city. It is a metal and glass Frankenstein’s Monster made up of the innards of former factories, the faces of long-shuttered department stores, and the ribs of old highways.
And it fascinates people.
A big part of making our City successful is enticing people to experience it. I told the Wall Street Journal this week that Bob Cassilly made coming to St. Louis an experience that no one would ever forget.
Bob - never mind his habit of shyness - had a knack for getting noticed. A crew of immensely talented artists and artisans noticed him. Art critics noticed him. Building inspectors noticed him. Most of all, children noticed him.
Children and their people from all over the region—all over the country and all over the world—came to see what Bob created at City Museum. And once they got here, they found a lot more to like all around them. Having seen what Bob made from what the city had discarded, people were much more curious to see what we had kept. That made Bob Cassilly the best ambassador of St. Louis to the universe.
Like other great people who have put their stamp on our City over the centuries, Bob was a classic entrepreneur—a risk taker of the highest order. First, he bought a million square feet of buildings in a place where no one wanted to be, using his own savings and the worst bank loan ever made. Then, he proceeded to put his unique stamp on both the buildings and the area.
With his years of work on City Museum, Bob gave people a reason to experience St. Louis—again and again and again—in a way that no one else would ever have conceived. Sometimes, he tore things out (often, but not always, with a permit); sometimes, he added on to what was already there. But every day something new emerged in his constant campaign to give people new experiences and ways to think.
Every day, he set out to improve on what he had already done once or done ten times. Sometimes it worked—sometimes it didn’t.
City Museum could easily have failed a thousand times in less creative and more timid hands. But under Bob’s quirky leadership and with his refusal to give up, many dedicated artists, known collectively as The Crew, came together to create something that worked—in a wonderful and inimitable way.
City Museum is – and (I am informed by his survivors) will continue to be in the future – the most important public space in the City.
Bob Cassilly, taken far too soon, leaves behind a City disconsolate. We shall not look upon his like again – to our great loss. But, Bob Cassilly will not be forgotten as long as somewhere just off the Washington Avenue streetscape he helped make possible there is a worried parent looking for a delighted child climbing along the ceiling through a sculpture fashioned from pieces of our City’s heart.