Ron Fischer: The Engineer Behind City Museum

By on February 1, 2018

From NextSTL:  In some quarters of City Hall, Ron Fischer’s been known as “the Pretzel Man,” thanks to his fondness for delivering Gus’s Pretzels on his frequent visits to the building. As a structural engineer with close to four decades of experience in his field and with countless visits paid to City Hall over the years, there’s been no shortage of pretzels delivered downtown.

But it’s not as if he’s only a character with a fun, professional quirk. Instead, he’s a respected pro in his field, one who’s worked with clients great and small. His most-unusual gig (true for many people who’ve worked there) comes through the City Museum, where, for years, his fingerprints were found all over St. Louis most-talked-about cultural/tourism institution. Though not involved much these days, a lengthy chat with Fischer on the grounds yields all sorts of insights about the space, its builder Bob Cassilly, and the work required on such an ever-evolving project.

“I can’t remember the year, but it was over 10 years ago,” Fischer says. “It started with the bus on the roof. The city was about to shut the Museum down because Bob had erected that bus without a permit. That was my beginning with him. From then on, we got permits for virtually everything we did, working with a couple of different architects.”

The coupling, he says, was a solid one with Cassilly’s reputation confirmed by Fischer, who says, “Bob was just a genius. He had his degree in fine arts and basically was a sculptor. He’s got sculptures all over the world, many in Europe. He had an engineering sense that was unbelievable. Many times, when he’d get some of this equipment and wanted to install it in some place or another, he’d make a sculpture of the equipment and his ability to do structural design was every bit as good as mine. Except his was not academic, it was an inborn knowledge. What Bob had was an innate ability to do design, for the logistics of this place.”

Fischer spoke with some detail over the bits-and-bobs of the construction that’s taken place there, frequently pointing out specific examples of craftsmanship and design, executed not only by Cassilly and his famed Cassilly Crew; He’s quick to praise Rick Erwin, who in recent years has been the Museum’s go-to guy for acquisitions, as well as longtime crew member Mary Levi, whom, he says colorfully, “could weld a beam to a baboon.”

“There are 10 or 12 people working here in construction,” he says, “and they’ve all been here ever since I started. They’re equipped in every avenue. They’re stonemasons, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, heating-and-air-conditioning people. They used to do Bob’s beckoning and now they do Rick’s beckoning. Rick finds a piece of equipment and they’ll find a place to put it. They get inquiries, from time-to-time about equipment that’s available, like this tower right here. That was from Omaha, Nebraska.”

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