VISITATION PARK – After years of forming fun and somewhat odd creations at the City Museum, Bill Christman set his eyes on doing the same thing on a 1½ acre vacant lot at Union Boulevard and Cabanne Avenue in north St. Louis.
In something called the “Land of Giants,” a short walk from where he spent his first seven years, Christman planned to build a sculpture garden filled with such works of art as a false concession stand emblazoned with likenesses of a root beer bottle and a box of Dots candy, and a “Bridge Over the Delmar Divide.”
But on Thursday, the city’s Board of Building Appeals upheld the city’s condemnation of the property. The board decided the structures posed too much of a safety hazard.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Christman, clearly upset, said after the hearing, noting that he had spent about $100,000 of his retirement money on the project.
“I think the people against me want to take the land from me,” Christman said. “Obviously, they think that I’m a bad person.”
Christman said he was willing to do anything with the project that was reasonable.
“When it’s done, you will never see anything like it,” he asserted.
William Zorn, a lawyer from St. Louis who is representing Christman in the case, said he couldn’t comment because he hadn’t received notice of the decision.
During Thursday’s videoconference by the Board of Building Appeals, city building inspector Dan Coplin told of numerous violations that made the various sculptures on the property unsafe to those who would walk onto the property.
“The place was just in a shambles,” Coplin said.
Also, there have been concerts on the property, Coplin said.
Neighbors oppose the project, as does 26th Ward Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard, who represents the area.
A dead body was found in a bus on the property that is part of the overall display. Many of the structures were put up without an occupation permit. There is open storage.
The Bridge Over the Delmar Divide has no steps to its elevated middle section and was not designed to be walked on. Although entrance to the bridge is blocked, some said that people climbed up and walked on it anyway.
“What’s going to keep people from climbing on structures?” Coplin said, calling the welding on some structures inadequate. “How’s this thing going to keep from being collapsed?”
In response, Zorn said the various structures weren’t buildings but sculptures and might not require any occupancy permit.
Zorn said Christman spent his first years on Cabanne near his garden and wanted to involve the area residents. One example was the Bridge Over the Delmar Divide, made by students at Better Family Life, a nonprofit community development group that works to stabilize inner city neighborhoods.
Christman said that the person who had died on the bus had gotten drugs elsewhere and then come to Christman’s property.
But Jermell Williams, who lives next door, said the person who overdosed on the bus had been a personal friend of his and had been given permission to be on the lot.
“Everything on this property is a safety hazard,” Williams said. “It’s not safe for the community.”
Christman brought to his project a long association with the City Museum and its founder, Bob Cassilly. Christman was responsible for Beatnik Bob’s Museum of Mirth, Mystery and Mayhem at that museum. His works of artistic genius at City Museum include a bust of a boy’s head with a pair of men’s underwear on it.
At the northwest corner of Jefferson Avenue and Cherokee Street stands an oversized statue of a Native American chief that Christman sculpted.
Around his home are dozens of his creations, including a giant chicken and two legs with nothing above the belt level. On the first floor of the two-story building where he and his wife live is Joe’s Cafe, a kitschy small concert venue.