Movie magic saves Baton Rouge landmark

POSTED: Friday, December 10, 2010 - 6:59pm

UPDATED: Thursday, October 20, 2011 - 11:15am

BATON ROUGE, La (NBC33) -- A once-beloved Baton Rouge landmark gets a second chance in the spotlight, and this time, it has a little movie magic to help keep it afloat.

As Verna Jackson walks through the Bellemont Hotel, she's not surprised to hear the words "action" ringing in the halls. That's because the Bellemont has become a movie set.

In it's prime, the facility was beautiful. "It was the best," says Jackson, the property manager of the Bellemont. "It had all it's glitter. The chandelier, the lights, the whole nine yards."

In fact, there were few places better to throw a party. The Bellemont was a well-known for hosting proms and weddings. "We had just about anything and everything. I mean from the simple meetings to the major balls."

Time took its toll on the entire area surrounding the Bellemont. As Interstate 10 moved in and chain hotels sprung up, the Bellemont was all, but forgotten.

Not, however, by Jackson. She has worked at the Bellemont for 26 years, starting as porter and working her way up to property manager. The Bellemont is her home away from home. "The staircase," remembers Jackson, "when people walked in, it just took their breath away." She has watched the landmark change from a pristine gem to a rundown remnant of what it once was.

"When Hurricane Katrina hit, and then the other one, Rita, came right behind it, the Bellemont couldn't stand that blow, especially on the roof area." The hotel was forced to shut down.

Five years later, the Bellemont still has guests roaming its sprawling 19-acres. The film industry breathed new life into the old landmark, creating everything from horror movies to bank robbery scenes.

Casting director, Hank Langois, has been involved in five movies filmed at the Bellemont in the recent past. "Every film that we've shot here has been completely different from each other," he says. Right now, the hotel plays host to an action film called "Dragon Eyes" starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Over the summer, the Great Hall was transformed into a bank for "Flypaper."

For Jackson, the silver screen set-up took some getting used to, but she's embraced the changes, thankful that the once-grand facility won't go to waste. "It's vital for this community and it gives us hope," she says.

Video courtesy of Dragon Eyes and Flypaper.

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