The Bellemont, Part the Last
May 30, 2012
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
As my friends Kevin and Alicia said on seeing those twin staircases, "So many prom pictures..."
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.
In one of the lobby photos, I think you stumbled upon metaphor. The brochure holder from the convention and visitor bureau has the slogan "Baton Rouge. The Flavour of Louisiana."
Amid the filth and ruins.
Posted by: The Mighty Favog | May 31, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Another great post, Colleen! Can't wait for the next one! Bette Davis and Joan Crawford didn't stay there though. They actually stayed at Houmas House. I went on a tour there recently (HH) and the tour guide said, "This is known as The Bette Davis room for when she stayed here during the filming of 'Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte'" when we walked into a room with a grand bed. But who knows, maybe they spent some time at The Bellemont too!
Posted by: RoPo | May 31, 2012 at 10:25 AM
RoPo, I took that tour too and remember that room. It could be they stayed in both places-- In addition to the above-mentioned Bette Davis quote mentioning Baton Rouge, the IMDB profile lists Baton Rouge as a filming location in addition to Houmas House, which is about 30 miles from Baton Rouge.
Posted by: cokane | May 31, 2012 at 11:03 AM
The thought of "if theses walls could talk" would drive me to distraction if I were there in person.
Can't wait for the next part!
Posted by: RoadsideWonders | May 31, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Glad you made a trip back down. I really miss your pictures and updates on this site. I followed your blog during your entire stay here. I may be too late, but I think I'll head by there tomorrow to see if there are any momentos worth salvaging. Really makes me sad to see that piece of Baton Rouge history go. Every native Baton Rougeon has a story or connection to that hotel.
Posted by: Ryan | May 31, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Yeah that's what I thought too after I posted. Either way, it's a great story and I wish there could be a book written with everybody's stories and memories of The Bellemont. It was a fantastic place for sure.
Posted by: RoPo | May 31, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Wow. Amazing photographs, stunning documentation of the decline of the Bellemont. I hadn't see it since it served as a staging area for first responders in the immediate aftermath of hurricane Katrina, in 2005. I was on the mental health team, debriefing the emergency workers as they came off duty. The hotel, I think, had not been in service for some time.
Posted by: Lynn Schlossberger | June 02, 2012 at 11:12 AM
Ha! I was at that same prom that Leslie & Patrick went to. Good memories.
Posted by: Mel_NOLA | June 04, 2012 at 06:43 PM
I am headed to Baton Rouge for vacation this weekend...wonder if any of it is still there? I would love to photograph this and anything else recommended while there! I am a photographer in Ohio and love to shoot abandoned places. I have a page on my website dedicated to it...it's small, but I plan to grow it a lot more this year. Any tips on places in Baton Rouge or New Orleans would be greatly appreciated!
Posted by: apylate | June 04, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Beautiful and sad. I was at Prom with Leslie and Patrick, too. Before I scrolled down and saw their picture, I saw the photo of the stairs in the Great Hall and thought, "I took a picture right there in my purple tuxedo jacket and purple Chuck Taylors" The place looks surprisingly good after all this time.
Posted by: Jason Thomas | June 05, 2012 at 12:32 PM
I remember the Bellemont Hotel in its splendor. When I was a junior in high school - around 1983/84, the Bellemont was selling all the fine china from their restaurant. My mother bought place settings for 8 along with various bowls, a creamer, sugar holder, coffee cups, saucers, etc. Very beautiful white china with light blue flowers and a silver rim. I suppose I own a little piece of Baton Rouge history and that's really cool. It's ashame that area of town has gone to pot - It would be wonderful if someone could build the Bellemont in a better area of Baton Rouge just as it was when it was alive and well.
Posted by: Angela | June 06, 2012 at 10:12 AM
Indeed a great place. I always had an odd fascination with the decline of this place. I was fortunate enough to work on three different movies that shot at The Bellemont in 2009-2010. The gave me the perfect opportunity to snoop around the entire complex and take lots of photos. The amount of overgrown greenery in the center of the back building (where the other pool is) was incredible. The only place I was never able to break in was the Pan Am suite. I heard there was a pool inside the suite.
We shot most of Flypaper (starring Ashley Judd and Patrick Dempsey) in The Great Hall (Flypaper is on DVD and Netflix) The Bank which is where the entire film is shot, was The Great Hall. They transformed that entire front entrance and turned it into a bank. You would barely recognize it. We also shot Dragon Eyes starring Sean Claude Van Damme all around the back buildings. They turned that entire section into a rough looking apartment complex. We boarded up all the downstairs rooms and spray painted graffiti on it. It was very cool. In 2007 we shot the film The Chameleon (starring Famke Jameson and Ellen Barken). Two of the hotel rooms were completely dressed to look like functional apartments. One of the rooms they used actually had a kitchenette in it. The cool thing about that back building was one could conceivably rent the entire top floor since every single room and suite adjoined. We shot at night on this movie and they were able to turn the power on that building and the guys re-lit all the rooms and hallways. Just like it was open.
Posted by: Hank | June 07, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Thanks for documenting this. Grew up only about a quarter of a mile away. Remember seeing Bear Bryant's fedora from the outside of a bus as we watched the Bama team pull away from the Bellemont on their way to giving LSU another whipping in the '70s. Remember Mardi Gras balls at the Great Hall. Good times. My friend used to joke that someone was going to decide just to rebuild Baton Rouge on the west side of the river rather than just try and make the current situation work. Well, I guess he was almost right. Everyone moved south. I guess everyone will be living in houseboats on Lake Maurepas in 25 years.
Posted by: Dan Davis | June 08, 2012 at 10:06 AM
Very nice. Looking forward to spending time exploring the rest of your pictures. Thanks for doing this I'm fascinated with this type of photography but to chicken to do it myself!
Posted by: Kathleen Rausch | June 12, 2012 at 12:32 AM
I celebrated my 18th birthday at the Plantation Room Lounge in the Bellemont in May of 1974; what was cool about it was that I had been going there for three years without getting "carded" & thrown out!
Posted by: David Jordan | June 14, 2012 at 07:39 AM
Something strange about Baton Rouge, Nothing survives it. I could tell a million stories, Masion Blanche, Bon Marche, Cortana Mall, Broadmoore,New Generation, Florida Blvd, Airline Hwy, the Amusement park it's actually endless. Whatever new this way comes destroys something old. Tradition here is forgotten memories and lost loyalty for the fad of the day. It's always been that way in BR.
I've seen it's prime and now it's lowest low. Every time I return home I wonder how much further can it sink ? Or can it? It's sad but it seems to be the flavor of the day for most of the eastern us.
Posted by: paul b | July 02, 2012 at 09:14 AM
La bonne chose au sujet de votre information est qu'il est assez explicite pour les étudiants à saisir.
Posted by: chaussures nike free | July 20, 2012 at 05:00 AM
This is such a pity!
The place was luxurious and so beautiful...And what is left from this beauty now?
Posted by: Kimberly G. Foulds | August 31, 2012 at 05:05 AM
Yeah thats what I thought too after I posted. Either way, its a great story and I wish there could be a book written with everybodys stories and memories of The Bellemont. It was a fantastic place for sure.
Posted by: hotel a paris | October 08, 2012 at 12:30 PM
They tore it down, it's totally gone, the main building all the apartments in the back, it's just gone. Like it was never there, it's so sad.
Posted by: Vanessa | December 07, 2012 at 11:56 PM
I remember this place! I had two proms there at the Great Hall. Never stayed there, but I always wondered what it looked like in its prime.
Posted by: Monica Tong | February 04, 2016 at 12:59 AM
Bette, Joan and the rest of the Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte cast actually stayed at the Oak Manor Motor Lodge on Airline Highway. Crawford, whose husband was chairman of the board of Pepsi, even made a statement that she was delighted that she was staying in a motel that was next door to the Pepsi Bottling Company.
Posted by: Matt Isch | July 11, 2017 at 01:48 PM
Thanks, Matt. Can you share your source for that?
Posted by: Colleen Kane | July 12, 2017 at 10:15 AM
I was employed at the Oak Manor Hotel which was the sister hotel of the Bellemont hotel. Over time the Oak Manor closed and I began to work at the Bellemont Hotel. I remember the ground breaking of The Great Hall which added grand ballrooms and meeting rooms. New year Eve’s parties were on a grand scale with the big bands. Numerous brides to be had pictures taken on the stairway that were picturesque.
Another celebrity that stayed at the Bellemont was George Burns. To my delight I was able to take a picture with him. There was also Bernadette Peters.
I worked there over a decade and have many fond memories. When I used to visit home, Baton Rouge, I would always take the route to see the Bellemont. That place was more than just a building. I hate to know that it’s gone.
Posted by: Jerri cox | July 28, 2018 at 02:06 PM
It’s a shame this place had to be torn down.. I grew up in Baton Rouge, even got to go to Jackie Gleason sand Richard Pryor room to meet them in person, also had my prom there lots of good memory’s.... Clint hunt
Posted by: Clint hunt | January 21, 2021 at 12:51 AM