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.
John and Dominique de Menil began collecting art in the 1940s, shortly after they had relocated from France to the United States. It didn't take long for the couple to amass nearly 16,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, and rare books. Tired of tripping over Byzantine statues on the way to the kitchen, the de Menils decided to share their collection with the world.
The result is The Menil Collection, which opened in 1987 and has since become a fixture of Houston's Museum District. Here, visitors can browse priceless artworks and artifacts with origins that span the globe. With its minimalistic exterior and sweeping stretches of glass, the building itself is also something of a masterpiece. This is no accident—Dominque de Menil made sure that its design allowed for plenty of natural light to enhance visitors' experience and help the artworks grow big and strong.
Nestled within the original art-deco terminal at the William P. Hobby Airport, The 1940 Air Terminal Museum traces the heritage of civil and business aviation throughout the 20th century. Memorabilia such as photographs and silver service items chart aviation’s progress, and outside the terminal building, guests can monitor airport activity or marvel at the museum’s daily air shows and plane versus bald-eagle drag races. Elsewhere onsite, the newly restored 1928 Carter Field Airmail Hangar—closed on most weekends—shelters historic aircrafts including a Lockheed Lodestar and a volunteer-restored St. Louis Helicopter. Throughout the year, the museum also hosts frequent annual events, including a monthly Wings and Wheels open house with static airplane and automobile displays.
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.
The John C. Freeman Weather Museum, which was founded by a meteorologist whose lengthy resumé includes forecasting and research for the U.S. Army Air Force and the U.S. Weather Bureau, hosts a variety of exhibits and experiences. Groups of up to 50 people explore nine exhibits devoted to various aspects of Dr. Freeman's field, either on self-guided or meteorologist-guided tours. The attractions include the WRC-TV weather studio, where guests are encouraged to create weather forecasts using interactive weather maps and green screen technology, the cyclone room which displays images of past hurricanes and computer models of possible future storms, and a tornado chamber where guests can witness and touch a tornado created in water vapor while learning how a vortex forms.