Rancho Shazam: A Beautiful “Junkyard”

Ian Leifer

Rancho Shazam is not exactly the Mona Lisa, the Burj Khalifa, or Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. However, it is art. Or at least that’s what its owner, Lee Greenberg, thinks of his creation.

Located at the dead-end of Lucky Dr. between a soggy marsh and highway 101, Greenberg thought it would be perfect for the utilization of loud heavy machinery. He bought the property in 1991 to pursue his marble-cutting passion and business. Soon after, he invited other artists to live with him and built new housing structures to accommodate them. 

While most artists choose to use new materials, those who work at Rancho Shazam do the opposite: They reuse and recycle objects most would consider trash. Those are eventually used to craft sculptures, construct new infrastructure and even served as materials in Greenberg’s homemade hot tub.

Over the years, these materials flooded Rancho Shazam’s property. Today, Marin County regulators call it a junkyard as defined by legal code: having more than 200 square feet of outside material. Greenberg admits that although there is junk in his property, it is unfair to classify the entire property as a junkyard. Housing “junk” is an essential step in his creative process, the essential commodity to build his art.

Regardless of whether or not Rancho Shazam is a junkyard, one thing is certain. According to CalTrans, 64 million people pass Rancho Shazam annually, more than the number of visitors of the top ten fine arts museums in the world. And each of those who get a glimpse of the property is presented Greenberg’s main message: objects can be repurposed in unusual ways.