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Janis Joplin Would Roar: Rock star's house in the Haight converted into drug rehab center

by Kevin Fagan - San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

Janis Joplin's pals say she would have dug it. The Haight-Ashbury hipsters around the corner couldn't care less.

And most important, 20 homeless drug-addicted mothers and their babies will get a new lease on life because of it.

The happening?

Thirty-one years after she dropped her last hit of acid there, rock legend "Pearl'' Joplin's funky old house in San Francisco is being turned into a drug rehabilitation center.

If the four-story Victorian at the corner of Lyon and Oak streets could talk, it would tell wild tales of the hippie days in 1967 and 1968 when Joplin played and laughed beneath its peaked roof on her way to stardom. Country Joe McDonald, Jefferson Airplane and the other rock icons who hung in the Haight back then remember the stories -- but to look at the place today, you would never know what went on there.

After a yearlong $350,000 renovation, the building's nine rooms are painted muted yellow and shiny white, and new cribs and beds dot the whistle-clean bedrooms. Tidy offices for Golden Gate Community Inc., the nonprofit that will run the rehab center, cover the top floor, and the edgiest thing on any bookshelf is the Sesame Street adventures of Oscar the Grouch.

There aren't even any stereos anywhere -- music is too distracting to people trying to live together and shake drugs, said Golden Gate Executive Director Randy Newcomb.

It is a far cry from the days when the living room was painted black, booze bottles abounded, live "Piece of My Heart'' renditions jangled the air and a whole wall was plastered with posters of a bare-breasted Joplin herself. But then, the change is totally appropriate, said McDonald, who once lived there as Joplin's boyfriend.

Considering that the Haight was once the world's epicenter of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, what could be a better use for one of its historical shrines than a quiet, healing refuge for addicted mothers?

"I think Janis would be really pleased and happy to have this happen,'' said McDonald, who became enamored of Joplin while tripping on acid at a mutual gig of both their bands in Berkeley. "Really, she was just a regular person who had simple pleasures and liked family life.

"She'd like to know something good was being done with that house.''

Newcomb said the rehab center, known as Oak Street House, will open June 19 to house 20 mothers and their babies. The women will be able to stay two years if they participate in a host of outside and in- house programs giving counseling on addiction, parenting, and employment.

Golden Gate has owned the 103- year-old house since 1981 and used it for everything from a crisis center to a homeless shelter. The idea of converting it to its new purpose came in 1995, when directors of the nonprofit and the city's homeless- aid department brainstormed on how to address the increasingly severe shortage of beds for homeless

families. They wound up getting $800,000 in startup grants.

"If you track homeless families, you find the best opportunity to get clean is when a woman is pregnant or has an infant,'' said Newcomb. "We will give them that opportunity.''

Joplin moved into the house in 1967 after getting tired of commune life in Marin County with her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, at a time when she was merely part of a hot local act with no radio hits.

While there, she perfected her stutter-talk style of blues singing and exploded into prominence with her now-legendary performance at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, recalled McDonald, who was a hit himself in Monterey.

"It was a big deal for her to get her own place,'' McDonald recalled. "I was in Berkeley with my band at the time, didn't have a car and had to hitchhike to San Francisco, so she let me live there about three months.''

There's not a trace of anything Joplin-ish in the house today, and there are no plans to install any tributes, said Golden Gate directors. The only thing that will look the same will be the outside--which has the same wide Victorian windows, curlicue frescoes and beige color scheme it had in 1968, although there is now a splash of purple thrown in.

McDonald, who today is a clean- living peace activist in Berkeley, still doing music, said while they were in the house, the ever-volatile Joplin asked him to "write me a song before we get too far apart,'' so he obliged. The result was "Janis,'' in which he sings, "Into my life on waves of electrical sound and flashing light she came,'' which pretty much sums up a lot of the feeling of the day.

The two broke up, and then in 1968 Joplin was evicted over a dispute about her dog. She charted a string of hits with her trademark blues-screech style, became the generation's leading symbol of drug-and-booze-addled rock stardom, and died Oct. 4, 1970, of a heroin overdose in a Hollywood motel. She was 27.

After she left the house, it became headquarters of an LSD-loving religious cult. Then Golden Gate bought it.

News of the Joplin house's new incarnation fetched little more than a yawn yesterday in the hip heart of the Haight, where as with many things '60s, Joplin is mostly a faded memory good for selling memorabilia and old recordings. Bus tour guides point out at least three different houses on Lyon Street as being Joplin's, including the one that truly is, but the locals rarely bring her up.

"Heck, Jimi Hendrix used to live in this very building, but really, who cares that much?'' said Brian Friedman, the thirtysomething owner of the Anubis Warpus store of rebel- cool knickknacks on Haight. "In their day, that was their scene, but it's old and worn out.

"Janis just isn't that modern any more,'' he said with a smile.

Janis Joplin's former house on Oak Street in S.F.'s Haight. Chronicle Photo by Greg Peterson

This is the house on Oak Street in S.F.'s Haight where rock star Janis Joplin lived and cavorted in the '60s. Chronicle Photo by RobinWeiner

Randy Newcomb, executive director of Golden Gate Community Incorporated,sits in one of the newly renovated rooms at the Oak Street House in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Chronicle Photo by Robin Weiner

A stuffed monkey was propped on a bed in the home where homeless drug-addicted women and their babies can find refuge.

Chronicle Photo by Robin Weiner

Regarding the article above:

Oops! Turns Out Janis Joplin Lived Next Door Haight's hippie history proves to be a bit fuzzy on details

Kevin Fagan - Chronicle Staff Writer

The story is legendary, the rehabilitation center is nice, but just one thing is wrong: The new home for drug-addicted mothers on Lyon Street wasn't actually rocker Janis Joplin's house.

It was the one next door. Really.

Blame the mixup on rock 'n' roll's drug-hazed, oversaturated history, especially when it comes to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury. And even more especially when it comes to the district's one- block stretch of Lyon where Golden Gate Community's new 20-bed rehab center will open next month -- and where the famously screaming rocker actually lived in 1967 and 1968.

To believe the dizzying variety of versions from tour guides, history books and local lore, "Pearl'' Joplin lived in any of four different houses on the block, right near two separate houses that Jimi Hendrix supposedly crashed at -- not to mention two more houses where newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was reputedly kept prisoner in the basement.

It's all fun to talk about. But as with a lot of things handed down through the thickness of years and a thousand old dope trips, little of it is true.

After reports about the new rehab center being in Joplin's old digs appeared in The Chronicle and other media all the way to England this week, a few hard-core experts popped up to set things straight.

Even some of those who were there back when Joplin was boozing and singing her way into rock fame are still a tad hazy on the details -- but the proof came with a copy of Joplin's 1960s driver's license. It places her at 122 Lyon, which is in the house right next door to the new rehab center at 124 Lyon.

"It just shows how mythological the whole thing is,'' said Country Joe McDonald, who lived with Joplin on Lyon for three somewhat fuzzy months in the late '60s -- and at first recalled it as being the location of the rehab center, until deeper memories kicked in yesterday.

"Before you know it, they'll just go by that street some day and say, `Janis lived somewhere in this three block area,' and leave it at that,'' said McDonald, who was Joplin's boyfriend in those days. "It's hilarious.''

He paused to laugh over his own confusion on the address, saying tongue-in-cheek: "I don't know, I took a lot of drugs back then and my memories are pretty fuzzy. Heck, maybe I got Janis mixed up with someone else!''

Not much chance of that. Several Joplin biographies and many of her old friends place them together back then, so his role in that bit of history is safe.

Golden Gate managers have believed the story that their four-story, 103-year-old Victorian was Joplin's for so long that they stopped questioning it years ago. So when they sent out a press release this week announcing their new center, they automatically mentioned their minor claim to music fame -- and reporters ran with it.

Some even took the nonprofit's word that Joplin owned the house in the early 1970s, perhaps neglecting to check the fact that she died in 1970 of a heroin overdose, at age 27, and that every account of her life in the Haight says that she could only afford to rent an apartment on Lyon.

But no matter. It was a fun story. And it doesn't bother Golden Gate to be set straight.

"Maybe that's part of the rock God mystique,'' director of development Thomas Reynolds said yesterday. "After awhile, everyone believes these guys stayed everywhere. In fact, World Entertainment News in London called to say they heard Joan Baez lived in this house.''

"Whether she lived here or not, our center is still true to the spirit of the '60s in the Haight in that it's all about people helping each other,'' Reynolds said.

Peter Albin, bass player in Joplin's band Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Joplin's Lyon Street roommate and clothing designer, Linda Gravenites, both got a chuckle out of the address snafu.

"If the stories about Janis' house can help something like a rehab center for mothers, then that's cool,'' said Albin. "She would have gotten a good laugh out of it.''

Gravenites remembered that Joplin and she liked the apartment, but it was too cramped with only one bedroom -- so they moved to Noe Street in 1968.

The folks who today live in the real Joplin house say they get a kick out of the tourists rolling off buses and walking up to snap pictures of at least four different houses -- including theirs -- that they were told were Joplin's.

"It's kind of cool to think that Janis lived here, a nice connection to the old days, but we don't make much of it,'' said Tom Mills, 41, who lives one floor down from her old apartment -- which has been empty for about six months.

...another article. I found this one funny so I thought I would put it up.

Junkie House Was NOT Joplin's House!

By Linda Galeazzi - Editor-in-Chief []

The much-hyped Haight-Ashbury mansion-cum-drug rehab centre that was once allegedly owned by the late Janis Joplin has turned out to have NO connection to the hippie rocker at all. It turns out Joplin lived in the house NEXT DOOR during her heyday. Junkies who were planning on kicking the habit at the Joplin mansion have now decided they'd rather remain on heroin than detox at a rehab centre that "has no pinache," as one junkie described it. Instead, they will continue to score heroin at the house next door. "The smack sucks," said one addict, "but at least THIS place has some connection to Janis, unlike SOME houses I could mention."

Joplin was famous in the late 60s for her raunchy blues voice and hard lifestyle, which included drinking and a heroin addiction. Heroin finally claimed the singer's life in 1970, so it seemed fitting that a house that once belonged to her would now be used to help others kick their habit.

Has-been Country Joe McDonald, who was once Joplin's boyfriend, said, "It's hilarious!" when told of the mix-up. "Before you know it, they'll just go by that street some day and say, 'Janis lived somewhere in this three-block area and leave it at that."

McDonald quickly shut his fat yapper when CyberStones asked him what his recent accomplishments have been, besides scoring some fleeting fame as the former boyfriend of a rock legend. McDonald sniffled and told this reporter, "I really did sleep with Janis Joplin! I really did!" but couldn't produce any pictures, videotape or used condoms to prove that fact. CyberStones smells a big lie here.

Anyway, the social services organization that owns the mansion is not as embarassed by the revelation as they should be.

"Whether she lived here or not, our centre is still true to the spirit of the '60s in 'the Haight' in that it's all about people helping each other," said Thomas Reynolds, Director of Development.

I always thought the true spirit of the 60s was having promiscuous sex, dropping and using words like "groovy," "far-out" and "psychedelic." But what the heck do I know, right?

Meanwhile, former Joplin bassist Peter Albin, said the late rocker would have "gotten a good laugh" out of the mix-up had she not, you know, died of a heroin overdose and stuff.


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