After retiring from his upholstering job at the Southern Pacific Railroad, John Milkovisch spent his free time building structures around his house and drinking beers with his wife Mary. But when he ran out of space for building, he decided to use up his extra beer cans to create a shiny siding for his structures and his house. He began in 1968, and within 20 years he had completely covered his property with an estimated 50,000 aluminum and glass cans. The result was both fashionable and functional, with swaying garlands tinkling in the breeze, strings of cans adding a luster to all surfaces of the house, and the protective weight of the cans even helping cut the house’s energy costs. But you can’t have a house this striking and not get noticed. So pretty soon people began making trips to see this can-covered house, and in 2007, it was moved into the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. Now guests can peer inside the house and examine the structures without getting chased by the owner's beer can-covered dog. The house’s guided tours also feature a documentary that covers the history of the project since its inception forty years ago.
When Houston Maritime Museum founder James L. Manzolillo moved to Houston in 1979, he found the city to be an ideal location for establishing a living, breathing monument to maritime history. As a host to the second-largest port in the United States, Houston provides a fitting backdrop for an institution that preserves the legacy of the intrepid individuals who explored the waters about which Manzolillo has always been passionate. Housed inside the former home of retired Navy lieutenant commander John Luykx, the Houston Maritime Museum's collection contains 150 model battleships, paddleboats, and submersibles as well as 100 maritime artifacts such as astrolabes, nautical quadrants, and sextants. An exhibit dedicated to the Port of Houston displays the port's history through artifacts and photos, and illustrates the port's significance to the local and national economy. Guided tours are conducted with advanced registration to allow visitors to learn little-known facts without having to forge the naval-officer secret handshake.
The Houston Fire Museum celebrates the blaze-battling bravery of Houston's early firefighters as well as the tools they used in their line of work. Historical exhibits such as the 1937 Chevrolet pumper truck and the 1895 Ahrens Fox horse-drawn steamer give guests a look at the earliest fire trucks. During guided tours, visitors can follow the steps of a 1950s firefighter as he responds to a call.
But the museum is more than just a history of firefighting. Guests can soak up practical fire-prevention tips and learn how to draft an escape plan for their own home. In the Junior Firehouse, kids can host birthdays, where they dress in miniature bunker coats and slide down an authentic fire station pole padded at the bottom with gym mats and a pile of friendly, furry dalmatians.
The Heritage Society was created in 1954 as part of an effort to rescue the 19th-century Kellum-Noble House from destruction. Since its founding, the organization has taken over the operation of nine additional historic buildings, all of which have become part of a 10-acre museum complex in Sam Houston Park. At each of its buildings, the Heritage Society strives to connect guests to the past, exhibiting and celebrating the region’s diverse history in the process.
While many children learn by performing hands-on tasks, school systems have yet to figure out how to incorporate gardens, imagination workshops, and towering aqueduct mazes into their budgets. With 90,000 square feet of hands-on exhibits, the Children's Museum of Houston sparks creativity by allowing kids to explore 14 learning stations. Named one of the 12 best children's museums in the country according to Forbes.com, ranked No. 1 among the 10 best children's museums in the nation by Parents magazine, and voted Best Museum 2012 and 2013 by the Houston A-List Poll; Children's Museum of Houston encourages children to explore their curious nature with a variety of interactive exhibits. Exhibits include the interactive EcoStation, a solar-powered outdoor utopia with activities such as stream creation and leaf rubbing that inspire kids to think about environmental responsibility. At the Invention Convention workshop, kids can explore engineering possibilities with building blocks, propellers, and even basic robotics. The sprawling cityscape of Kidtropolis invites children to participate in a simulated economy. The experience requires them to earn paychecks, budget money on pretend debit cards, vote for political candidates, and learn how to obsessively check milk expiration dates at the onsite grocery store.
Designed by award-winning architect Gunnar Birkerts, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston's stainless steel building safeguards a multitude of work designed to intellectual engage viewers and invoke complex reactions. The museum's two galleries, the Brown Foundation Gallery and the Zilkha Gallery, collectively host 8–10 free exhibitions every year.
The Brown Foundation spotlights work by internationally renowned artists and pieces organized around themes; past exhibits include a Kiki Smith survey and a showcase of performance art by black artists. The Zilkha, meanwhile, hosts the museum's Perspective Series, which gathers the work of emerging artists. The museum's Teen Council curates a biyearly edition of Perspectives, unveiling work by young, Houston-area artists that mine for deeper feelings than the normal teenage angst toward parents, teachers, and singing animatronic bears. The Teen Council also contributes to the museum's numerous programs, which include lectures and discussions for each show, as well as Musiqa concerts based on each Brown Foundation Gallery exhibition.