Sunday’s Feature Fade: The Despair of Port Arthur, Texas – Robert Baptista

Port Arthur, Texas is a gritty, oil refinery town best known as the place where Janis Joplin grew up. The Procter Street downtown business area has sadly faded away along with Janis’ powerful voice. I hadn’t visited downtown in years, so I went there on February 11th with my Nikon N-90 film camera and three rolls of film.

These scenes convey the despair of downtown Port Arthur – which once thrived with department stores, office buildings, hotels, restaurants and night clubs. The area comes to life once a year for Mardi Gras weekend and then returns to its vacant ambiance. In the early 1990s, elaborate murals of historic scenes were painted on building walls, but these too are disappearing due to the relentless sun and rains of southeast Texas.

But some hope of economic redevelopment is stirring. The World Trade Building on Austin Avenue, an impressive structure built in 1928 with fine architectural details, is slated for conversion to a 170 unit apartment complex. And the Hotel Batiste is being considered for an adaptive reuse such as a school. The refineries in town have announced several billion dollars of expansions which will create jobs and give the local economy a boost. The gasoline you use in New York is most likely refined here.

– Robert Baptista (www.colorantshistory.org)

Civil War Mural
Civil War Wall Mural – Racial Harmony – Pt. Arthur, TX

Civil War Mural
Civil War Mural – Robert E. Lee – Pt. Arthur TX

City Limits - Proctor Street
Port Arthur City Limits – Kress Building – Proctor Street

Coca-Cola - Proctor Street
Coca-Cola, Proctor Street

Derelict Hotel Batiste
Derelict Hotel Batiste

Golden Light Social Club
Golden Light Social Club – Houston Avenue

Derelict Golden Steer Restaurant
Derelict Golden Steer Restaurant – Houston Avenue

Derelict Hotel Sabine
Derelict Hotel Sabine – Proctor Street

Jet Taxi - Houston Avenue
Jet Taxi – Houston Avenue

Loans - Proctor Street
Loans – Proctor Street

Meat & Bait
Meat & Bait – Ripped Apart by Hurricane Rita

Reckless Driving
Reckless Driving Billboard – Proctor Street

Texaco Station - Proctor Street
Texaco Station – Proctor Street

Verna's Club - Proctor Street
Verna’s Club – Proctor Street

World Trade Bldg - 1928 - Austin Ave
World Trade Building c. 1928 – Austin Avenue

© Robert Baptista

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13 responses to “Sunday’s Feature Fade: The Despair of Port Arthur, Texas – Robert Baptista

  1. Do you have any older photos of Port Arthur pre hurricane damages please? Once a year there is also the Janis Joplin Birthday Bash. You forgot to mention that. There is a new website going up for the Graduate Museum otherwise known as the School Museum. I could use a photo of the old Walgreen’s Building.
    Thanks for sharing these. Where did you get your information about the school and the apartment building? Motiva Refinery is already in progress. That will bring new jobs to the area. Mother nature has really played havoc with downtown Port Arthur. Since Hurricane Ike I can’t go downtown until the stench (odor) is gone. Ike brought in a lot of mold. The marina was destroyed. I took photos of that.

  2. Thanks for posting these photos!! PA is in a sad situation. It is the victim of white flight by people who would rather cut and run than embrace the city’s diversity and keep it thriving. It is so easy talking to former residents to see that there was no reason for them to flee; it seems to be one of those “we don’t want to live next to THOSE people” things.

    Anyway, I hope that the movement to revitalize downtown PA will gain some traction. Sadly, it is going to take a lot of outside money to do so since so many Southeast Texans have such hate-filled preconceived notions about the city.

    Truly sad.

  3. Blaming white flight for the demise of Port Arthur is stupid. The problem is forced diversity. Obviously THOSE people are not welcomed so what is one to do? White Flight, of course and today THOSE people have Port Arthur all to themselves. Happy now?

    That is what truly sad is and it has nothing to do with hate. It has to do with people’s freedom of choice which is to NOT live with THOSE people.

  4. Im white and I have lived in port arthur all of my life.The majority of port arthur is now colored people but whats wrong with that? I think thats a great thing that it is so diverse.You are just a hateful person period.What would be so bad about living around colored people,they are the same as you and I.I think Port Arthur is a beautiful place with greater potential than any of the surrounding citys but its because of racist people like you that nothing gets done down here.

  5. Oh and i totally agree with Mack.

  6. Joel Hoshkins

    Great photos of P.A.

    They’re sad and beautiful all at once. They really seem to capture the decline of Port Arthur. You can clearly see what once was.

    Reality is the new Port Arthur is being built up along 365 and is encroaching on Nederland and Port Neches. It’s like Port Arthur now has the problem of “black flight” to deal with.

  7. I was born and raised most of my life in Port Arthur,Tx. I did not have much but it was my home town and to this day I still have much love for old proctor street. I ran up and down proctor street back in the early 1970’s til 1986. Everyone knew everyone back then by first name. I remember running in and out of the old bars, the union cafe (owner’s Mayie and Jim) Scatterbrain (Black Police officer) The palace(Vincent Muzzira), The Keyhole, (little Johnny)from the longhorn cab stand, The Sabine Hotel, The lions Den, The 333, Perry’s Lounge, The 5th street lounge (Lou), The 1201 club (Charlito and Jean Hernandez) I even rented from Verna and Bill (Verna’s Cafe) back in those days. There wasn’t another place in the world better than Port arthur, Texas. I miss all the people that ran up and down proctor street from that period of time. Port Arthur was Cheer’s before Cheer’s was a T.V. show…everyone knew our names. I am just an old artist now living in Fl. where no one know my name.

  8. Hey Hernandez- What a great narrative. A time capsule of an era come and gone. Where abouts in FLA are you? What kind of art do you make? All the best to you. Frank

  9. How you doing Frank? I am now living in Saint Petersburg, Fl. (home of the Rays) and next to the beach. I am oil painter. I just finish a protrait of John Lennnon crying , he is over looking Manhatten with the burning twins (911), with the American flag waving in the back drop of the sky. He always wanted to be know an American, plus he loved New York.

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  12. I lived and worked in Port Arthur from 1958 – 1966. I could fill your website (or bore you to tears) with stories.