Raceland Couple's Home Becomes Roadside Attraction


RACELAND, La. (AP) — While driving along Bayou Lafourche in Raceland one day, Judy Neal couldn't help but notice the cluster of slides, trampolines and barges in someone's backyard.

Sparked by curiosity, Neal pulled over.

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"I was parked on the other side of the bayou and I said, 'I really need to go meet whoever lives there.' So I came across the bayou, knocked on the door and Juliana answered. We've been buddies ever since."

Neal was one of several curious people who visit Juliana and Lance Martin's unique Raceland home every week.

"Daily we still have five to 10 people who stop by and take pictures," said Juliana Martin, a 34-year-old Wisconsin native.

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"When you live in art, what can you expect?" Neal added. "This is definitely not a subdivision."

The Martins have called the residence at 2206 La. 308 home for about 14 years. Combining Juliana Martin's unique artistic vision with Lance Martin's carpentry skills, the couple created a living space along the bayou reminiscent of Peter Pan's clubhouse in Neverland or the board game Chutes and Ladders.

The backyard is an interconnected web of slides, balance beams, multiple decks, boardwalks, trampolines, clubhouses, statues, hammocks, a barge tethered to a boat launch, tugboat rope, tunnels and hundreds of other pieces of bric-a-brac that have found a new purpose, such as an old fire hydrant and several road signs.

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"We moved here and just started doing what we do," Juliana Martin said. "It was a smaller house and to fit the kids we had to add on. We just started building what came to mind. My husband builds what I can't. Both of us come up with ideas, but the colorful stuff comes from me. My parents were very creative as well. They grew up during the Woodstock days, so they liked colorful things."

The couple's children, 5-year-old Talon and 13-year-old Avah, have been given a home many kids dream about, Juliana Martin said. Avah's room is equipped with a slide that leads down from her elevated bed, and Talon has a tunnel in his bedroom that leads out to give him a bird's eye view of the backyard.

A slide is used to access the trampoline. It's one of eight slides the Martins salvaged for their backyard.

"A lot of our stuff comes from actual playgrounds," Juliana Martin said. "We also get a lot of stuff from New Orleans like shutters, old doors and mantles."

Perhaps the most recognized feature of the Martins' backyard is a large blue waterslide that leads into the murky waters of Bayou Lafourche. The couple salvaged the attraction from a long defunct water park a decade ago.

"It's actually the Sonic Shoot from Water Land USA that was on La. 311 way back," said Juliana Martin, who works as an artist.

Water Land USA hosted two decades of lazy summers for scores of locals who swam, enjoyed the slide and just hung out before closing in 2009 after sustaining damage from hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

The Sonic Shoot has since found new purpose on the bayou, prompting recent speculation on the Facebook site "Da Buzz" that the Martins had opened a water park.

"When someone on Facebook said a water park was opening, the parish thought we were really opening a water park," Juliana Martin said. "They had received complaints and wanted to keep their eyes on it. They even sent an engineer to inspect it."

Juliana Martin said her favorite part of her backyard is a small wooden dwelling she calls her collaboration station, a workshop where she comes up with many of her playful ideas.

"It's where I make a lot of my stuff," she said. "It's the heart of it all. I need to channel my energy somehow. I have a lot of untapped creative energy and basically need to find an outlet."

Illuminated by Christmas lights, the workshop is filled with whimsical décor from all walks of life including theater masks, woodcarvings, paintings and statues. At the center of the work station sits a wooden desk with a wheelchair Juliana Martin uses as an office chair.

Maintaining such a dwelling didn't come without its challenges, however. Last year severe weather uprooted a maple tree, which came crashing down on the Martins' home. Instead of viewing the incident as a setback, the Martins saw it as an opportunity and started building a tree house for the kids.

"Perception is everything," Juliana Martin said. "Everybody has their own perception about things. People always ask why, and I say 'why not?'"

For Neal, visiting the Martin home never gets old because she always finds something new.

"This is what you call imagination," she said. "You can't take it all in at one time. There isn't anything quite like this."

– by Dan Copp, AP reporter

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