Here and there, Joplin's story remains in view
By ROBERT LOPEZ, The Enterprise
James Rougeau steps over the cracked sidewalk onto his vacant lot on
Procter Street in Port Arthur. He bends down, tears away some of the
grass and reveals pieces of what used to be a concrete foundation.
"When you cut the grass low enough, you can actually see the shape of
the house," he said.
If Janis Joplin, a star long extinguished, could come back to Port
Arthur, she would find most of her haunts shuttered. Downtown, where
kids used to cruise on Saturday nights, is mostly boarded up. And her
first childhood home, which stood on what is now Rougeau's property, is gone.
The Museum of the Gulf Coast offers the most prominent Port Arthur
homage to Joplin, a small exhibit featuring yearbooks, paintings and a Porsche.
But fans driving around can still find vestiges of the singer, though
her hometown is much changed.
Saturday, the Texas Historical Commission will honor Joplin by
unveiling a marker outside her second childhood home on 32nd Street;
the house is still occupied. Her baptismal church still stands but is
now owned by a different congregation. And the dual domes of her high
school still dominate the vista on Jefferson Drive, but signs in
Spanish and Vietnamese now adorn the hallways.
Fans can pick up a driving-tour brochure from the museum and see some
of the places where the Pearl first shone.
Saturday would have been her 65th birthday; she died in 1970 of a
drug overdose. And the historical marker ceremony kicks off a day of
festivities that will include an appearance by blues singer Edgar
Winter and a performance by 1960s rock band the Clique at the 21st
Annual Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame Show.
A concrete Porsche
The 43-year-old Rougeau has long been a rock fan, though he admits
that growing up he was much more of a Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix
fan than a Joplin enthusiast. But in 1989 the memorabilia collector
purchased a pile of bricks, remnants of the two-bedroom Joplin bungalow.
He became a fanatic, and 15 years later bought the Joplin property.
Today his home in Nederland is piled with Joplin memorabilia,
including what he says is the door to the Joplin home; sure enough,
the door has the four diamond shaped windows and rounded top that
appear in historic photos.
According to property records the house was built in 1928. Joplin's
father, Seth, purchased it for $4,750 in 1941.
Janis was born on Jan. 19, 1943, and she lived at the Procter Street
home until 1947 when her family moved to the Griffing Park
neighborhood where the historical marker will be dedicated Saturday.
(The current occupants of that home, a Hispanic family, said they
wanted to withhold comment until after the marker is unveiled.)
The house went through two more owners before it was torn down in
1980. The Museum of the Gulf Coast acquired a number of the bricks
(which sell for $25 each in its gift shop), but another (local)
woman, Dusty Roberts, also was able to buy a big pile right after the
structure was demolished.
Rougeau purchased the bricks, made by the Venetian Brick Co., from
Roberts, and they now sit piled up in a storage unit. He hopes to
break them into a million pieces and set up a Web site to give them
away to anyone willing to pay a $5.95 shipping and handling charge.
(Proceeds from handling charges would go to his Pentecostal church.)
He also hopes to make a living selling books containing copies of
documents like deeds to the Procter Street house, Joplin's autopsy
report and her last will and testament.
And he has special plans for the property.
"One of the things I want to do with the money I get from the books
is build a big concrete Porsche and put it on the property," he said.
"People can paint on it, draw on it. It'd be like her Porsche (Joplin
drove a Porsche in her heyday), and you really wouldn't have to worry
Fidelia Doroddy, who lives across from the Procter Street lot, said
it's not uncommon to see fans stopping by.
"Even though there's nothing there, they get out, take pictures in
the yard," she said. "They don't come like they used to, but they
definitely know where it is."
Faith, food and music
Tiffany Baugh describes herself as a child of the '60s. She can't
remember, but she said when she was 2 her mother took her to see the
Monterey Pop Festival, which proved to be Joplin's big break.
Today Baugh and her husband Phillip are hard at work renovating the
First Christian Church on Woodworth Boulevard.
The building was where Joplin was baptized by immersion in 1954,
where she sung in the choir and where her mother Dorothy taught Sunday school.
The congregation moved to Ninth Avenue in 1984. A picture of Joplin
in the choir hangs at that location.
In 1991, a painting by her of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane was
found in an old Sunday school supply cabinet. It is now on view at
the Museum of the Gulf Coast.
The Baugh congregation, Central Assembly of God, which averages about
55 congregants weekly, bought the Woodworth Boulevard church last
year and is now renovating it. Workers are installing a new stage and
repairing water damage suffered during both Hurricane Rita and
Phillip Baugh, who is pastor of the congregation, plans on operating
a soup kitchen and food ministry out of the building.
A former rock musician, Phillip Baugh said he was aware that Joplin
once performed in the church, but mainly he's focused on building up
his ministry rather than promoting the building's celebrity connection.
"We're just trying to get this church back up," he said. "But
hopefully, we can get a good band out here, make this a
coming-together point for the community."
Don't hear much about her
Memorial High School, formerly Thomas Jefferson High School, probably
embodies the demographic shifts in Port Arthur better than any other
local institution. Integration had yet to hit when Joplin graduated
in 1960. Today the school is mostly black, Hispanic and Vietnamese.
In 1960 Port Arthur had a population of about 72,500, according to
city directories from the time. About 7 percent was foreign born.
Today the city is home to about 57,000 residents, 12 percent foreign
born. Mexican and Vietnamese shops line the city's major thoroughfares.
Nowadays teenagers are much more likely to hang out at Central Mall
or the shopping centers and restaurants clustered around Mid-County
than they are on the eerily quiet Procter Street lined with closed
businesses, where Sam Monroe, a fellow alum of Joplin's, used to
cruise on weekends.
"It really was like 'American Graffiti,'" he said. "We would just go
on the drag there at Procter, go down to about the 300 block, loop
around and go back. We'd make connections with friends there."
Monroe, who is now president of Lamar State College-Port Arthur, said
Joplin stood out in school for wearing blue jeans and for being
something of a beatnik. She was made fun of, but contrary to popular
belief she was not a complete loner, and she did a have a group of
like-minded friends she hung out with.
"It was part of that non-conformist movement," he said. "They found
some interest in folk music, which at that time was considered kind
of a protest art form. And there was one coffeehouse in town they
frequented. It was dark, and you'd go in and sit down on a mat."
Many students at Memorial today said they're aware of the famous
alum, but don't seem to know a great deal about her. Rap, R&B and
country seem to be the genres of choice for the teenagers.
"I know that she was born and raised here," 17-year-old 11th-grader
Erik Granades said. "But the only time we really hear much is when
they do the birthday bash every year."
"Sometimes, from the teachers, the older teachers, we might hear
something about her," 18-year-old senior Brittany Paul said. "I know
that she was an influential musician back in the '60s, but that's
pretty much all I know about her life."
Still, however, Joplin does have a few fans in the hallways where she
"I'm not a huge fan of rock, but what she incorporated when she sang,
was just a certain feeling she had. She sang acid rock, bluegrass
rock, blues," 17-year-old 11th-grader Donovan Harris said. "She was
just a great singer."
IF YOU GO Dedication of historical marker
What: Janis Joplin historical marker dedication.
When: 11 a.m. Saturday.
Where: Joplin's second childhood home, 4330 32nd St.
How much: Free.
Contact: Call (409) 982-7000.
Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame Show
What: The 21st Annual Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame Show featuring
performances by the Clique, the Beat Daddys and Janis Joplin tribute
artist Andra Mitrovich, with an appearance by Edgar Winter (who is
not scheduled to perform).
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Carl Parker Multipurpose Center on the campus of Lamar State
College-Port Arthur, 1800 Lakeshore Drive.
Tickets: $20 in advance and go on sale Friday at A&S Music, 3411
Spurlock Road, Nederland; Swicegood Music, 3685 College St.,
Beaumont; the Penny Record 333 W. Round Bunch Road, Bridge City; and
the Museum of the Gulf Coast, 700 Procter St., Port Arthur. Tickets
also are available at the door at $22 on the day of the show.
Contact: Call (409) 982-7000.