Rootwad Park – A Hidden Gem Among Industrial Ruins Of St. Louis

Rootwad Park – St. Louis

At the edge of the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri lies a hidden gem known as Rootwad Park. The park is an unfinished work by sculptor, entrepreneur, and creative director Bob Cassilly. The park showcases remnants of St. Louis’ industrial history, including the old Laclede Power Station (built 1901) and Cotton Belt Freight Depot (built 1913.)

Cotton Belt Freight Depot – St. Louis
Cotton Belt Freight Depot – St. Louis
Cotton Belt Freight Depot – St. Louis
Laclede Power Co. in Background

Cassilly was known for his public installations depicting animals such as turtles and hippos. With the help of his wife, Cecelia Davidson, they were able to restore over 36 dilapidated Victorian era buildings around St. Louis. He truly saw the beauty in old and forgotten or neglected structures. Together, the couple also ran a restaurant in Lafayette Square, but would later sell the business and move to Hawaii, where Cassilly carved wooden figures.

Rootwad Park St. Louis
Rootwad Park – St. Louis

Having grown tired of Hawaii, Cassilly and his wife decided to move back to St. Louis, and Bob would later earn his master’s degree in art at his alma mater, Fontbonne. While there, he had met sculptor Gail Soliwoda. Some of Soliwoda’s notable works include the limestone monument at the Myron and Sonya Glassberg Family Conservation Area. Not long after meeting, Cassilly decided to divorce Davidson and marries Soliwoda.

Rootwad Park – St. Louis
View from the former Cotton Belt Freight Depot – St. Louis
View of St. Louis From Rootwad Park
Rootwad Park – St. Louis
Rootwad Park – St. Louis

City Museum:

The couple later became business partners, and in 1993 bought a 250,000-square-foot complex, which included the International Shoe Building. Falling right into line with Cassilly’s love for repurposing and salvaging historic structures, they had turned the former industrial area into the City Museum, which opened in 1997. The opening of the City Museum helped spark a renovation boom in downtown St. Louis.

St. Louis City Museum (building outside) City Museum outdoor structures

Much of Cassilly’s work can be viewed as sculptures or full open areas to be enjoyed by both children and adults. His projects involving repurposing structures brought light and fun to rundown, gloomy areas once viewed as no more than trash by many.


Cementland in 2015

In 2000, Cassilly began work on Cementland, where he was repurposing a former cement factory in north St. Louis. His idea was to turn this now dilapidated structure, once an important part of St. Louis’ industry, into an art piece and amusement park. The structure eventually began to resemble a castle filled with sculptures made from cement, rock, metal and antique machinery. He had built bridges and walkways, and even combined a bulldozer in with the mix of beautiful, odd and interesting pieces. Unfortunately, he would never complete work on this project, and was found dead at the site in 2011. His death was initially believed to be an accident, stating that his bulldozer had tipped off of an unstable ledge and rolled over. In 2016, it was discovered that Cassilly was actually beaten to death, and the bulldozer was staged to cover up the murder as an accident. The park remains unfinished and closed to this day.

Bob Cassilly’s commissioned sculptures include:

  • 1987-1989 dinosaur for Planet Hollywood West-end in Dallas. “Big-Tex Rex” now resides in Amarillo, Texas, at the Big Texan Steak Ranch
  • 1987: Marlin Perkins bust at the St. Louis Zoo[3]
  • 1991: Six lighted entry markers at the St. Louis Galleria[3]
  • 1993: Hippo playground sculptures in Manhattan’s Riverside Park[3]
  • 1996: Turtle Park sculptures in St. Louis’ Forest Park[3]
  • 1997: Hippopotamus Park statues at Central Park‘s Safari Playground in Manhattan[3]
  • 1997: Giraffe statue at the Dallas Zoo
  • 1998: Mysterious Monarch [1] and Lopatapillar [2] at Faust Park in Chesterfield, Missouri[3]
  • 1999: Sea Lion Fountains at the St. Louis Zoo[3]
  • Dinosaur at Dallas Planet Hollywood
  • Ruins at Bush Gardens Virginia, Roman Rapids ride
  • Apple chairs, Webster Groves, Missouri

Thank you for checking out Architectural Afterlife! If you enjoyed this story, or any others on this blog, be sure to check out “Forgotten Dreams”

“Forgotten Dreams” is a 4-part book series about abandoned places set to release in 2020. The series will share stories and photos of abandoned places, in a similar way that I share them with you on this blog. Of course, having a great quality physical book is better than staring at a screen and sifting through a blog all day. “Forgotten Dreams” is a book containing my best and personal favorite photos that I’ve taken of some of the most incredible or interesting abandoned or historic locations I have ever visited, shot and documented.

Plus, each purchase of a book helps me to keep this blog up and running, and helps me to make it ad-free.

I’m also currently working on a series of state-specific books of all US states. So far the series includes “Ohio’s Forgotten History” and “Pennsylvania’s Forgotten History”

Thank you so much for your support!

Leave a Comment

Discover more from Architectural Afterlife

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading