Most accomplishments in my adult life first appeared as items on to-do lists written on scrap paper. An abandoned motor lodge over 1,000 miles from my Brooklyn apartment called The Bellemont first made it back onto one of those to-do lists on March 30 when a commenter on this blog wrote that it was the lodging for Bette Davis and Joan Crawford while shooting the film "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" at Houmas House on River Road. (Joan did not last long on the film set-- it's too much to get into here, but there was no love lost between the actresses. Here's a quote on imdb.com attributed to Bette about Joan: "For a goddamn week in Baton Rouge, she brought twenty pieces of luggage. It was a black-and-white movie but she had color-coordinated outfits for the daytime scenes, and for the night shots all of her evening dresses were chiffon, which meant that the wardrobe lady had to spend hours ironing them in the one-hundred-degree weather." )
It wasn't just those two superstars who stayed at the Bellemont (allegedly): it was Clark Gable, John Wayne, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and later Jackie Gleason and Richard Pryor when filming "The Toy", as well as Sonny and Cher, presumably when they were employed full-time by America as wearers of horribly awesome polyester pantsuits.
And all of this is just what I gleaned from digital hearsay in my blog comments. There is much history at The Bellemont. There are people who remember it and stories to be told. There is at least an article to be written here, and I'd love to write that article. I wished I had the time. While I am grateful to be an employed writer, after a minimum two-hour round trip of commuting each day, I return home drained of the energy for such extracurriculars.
Only about two weeks ago, when I heard they were tearing down The Bellemont, I knew I had to go down and see it all before it was too late, and I pitched the article. Before, I'd only seen it from the outside looking in--this time I would get inside and I would really explore it. Fortunately, Memorial Day weekend was coming up. And fortunately, my flight attendant friend had buddy passes so I could travel on short notice. And fortunately in this case, things do not move fast in Baton Rouge, including demolitions.
Here is just some of what I saw at The Bellemont on one day during its final weeks of existence.
Former Baton Rouge resident Becky Ford had visited the site several times by the time I got there, and in the week and a half since demo began she became a self-styled expert on The Bellemont. I met up with Becky and her son there on Thursday morning.
The demolition crew was present, but nothing got torn down during about six hours that I spent there. In fact, while lots of exterior brick had been torn off to be sold off, few of the buildings were gone.
My name is hoopty...rhymes with an oopty
The upstairs offices were a dusty musem of vintage computers (many by Wang), dot matrix printers, and tapes.
Let's just say I'm glad I never ate here. This shelf also contained generic canned salmon.
It was a gorgeous day. Coming near demolished parts like this, from inside the dark moldy ruins, bird chirps and sunlight filtered through the destruction in welcome contrast. I remembered how great the light was in Louisana for taking photos, and the peace I felt slowing down to do that.
Wonder how much the above Vulcan would fetch, or the ones below. Maybe someone who came after me found out.
Whomever made it into the Great Hall before us in pre-demolition times or even now had to traverse the above kitchen in pitch darkness, unless they came prepared with flashlights. Considering that it seemed like they were living there at least part time, I'm not certain they came bearing flashlights.
THE GREAT HALL
EDIT: Here is just one of those photos, provided by Alicia, a couple identified as Leslie and Patrick.
The main ballroom--which is carpeted?--with the requisite shopping cart
The Great Hall was the best-secured and least damaged of all the structures. But evidence indicated people lived in the darkness of the smaller event rooms and offices. That evidence included odors of pungent biological and chemical varieties, clothes and blankets on the floor, and in one room corner, a makeshift bathtub made from a kiddie pool.
I need to wrap up this post for now, but you haven't even seen any guest rooms yet. I will post a continuation, including the famous Pan American honeymoon suite, once the pride of the Bellemont, and some unexpected sights, very soon.
UPDATE: Click here to see the rest.