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Gus Brethauer, Somewhere Over the Rainbow (Salvage yard)

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  • Location:

    Phoenix, Arizona, USA (Map)

  • Status:

    Threatened

  • Artist:
  • Materials:

    plaster, stone, plastic, wood, cast iron, and rubber

About the Artist/Site

“A Study in Stone in Color and Theme Without Equal or Parallel On The Face Of The Earth”  is how landscaper Gus Brethauer described his fantasy garden and salvage yard at the entrance to Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The three-acre property sits at the base of Lookout Mountain, an area of Phoenix that was once a colony for those suffering from tuberculosis. Brethauer’s father had moved to Phoenix early on for the warm weather and healing properties of the desert, but in the many decades since the family’s arrival, the surrounding area was suburbanized and filled in with a series of ticky-tacky houses on the hillside that all look just the same. 

At the time of this writing, Brethauer’s property has been sold and will soon be bulldozed and assimilated into the neighborhood’s conformity, but for nearly 40 years Somewhere Over the Rainbow was a place where the dreams Brethauer dreamed really did come true. Brethauer began his installation after he retired in 1976 and continued building until his death in 2013 at the age of 89. In earlier days, Brethauer would often offer tours of the property to visitors, who were bound to be regaled by his many personal anecdotes and recollections of Phoenix history. 

Brethauer didn’t seem to have enough time to utilize his countless collections. On the weekends he scavenged yard sales, flea markets, and thrift shops looking for materials of interest. Heaps of bird cages, porcelain fountains, wooden doors, and dozens of other materials sit in huge piles, waiting for his transformational touch. 

Some collections were fashioned into specific themes along the property. For example, a Native American-style fort contains traditional artifacts from local artisans, Halloween decorations and funhouse remnants make a haunted house out of a dilapidated shack, and tunnels of rocks form a kid’s playground with stone dinosaurs and other creatures peeking out from the walls.

Some collections form an unofficial botanical garden. Potted plants occupy every container imaginable and petrified wood lines the property’s many paths. A large variety of cacti, huge saguaros, and tree trunks in all shapes and sizes add to the garden’s magical flair. Historic artifacts from the beginning of Phoenix’s founding are also an integral part of Brethauer’s installation: a bust from the old Fox Theatre recalls the movie palaces of yore, a rail cart reminds visitors of the nearby Bisbee Mines, and pieces of an underground sidewalk educate viewers about how Phoenicians kept cool before electric air conditioning.

After his passing, no one was able to take on the legacy of Brethauer’s property with quite the same zest. His collections were assessed with dedication, care, and respect for his life’s work by a local realtor, and some materials were able to be incorporated into various gardens, while other items were sold to collectors.  Soon this site will no longer be able to be considered extant.

~Irene Rible



Map and site information

14401 North 17th Place
Phoenix, Arizona, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 33.617394 / -112.043763

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