June 16, 2015

Oak Alley Plantation, Host to Vampires and Beyoncé

Oak Alley Plantation View of Oak Alley

photo by: Peter Guthrie/Flickr/CC BY NC ND 2.0

The Oak Alley Plantation house was completed in 1839 and first restored in 1925.

In this summer’s upcoming issue of Preservation, we bring you the story of the Lombard Plantation house in New Orleans, one of the only surviving structures from the city’s 19th-century agricultural past. Period furniture and a plethora of original details, like hand-stenciled wallpaper and preserved pine floors, are just a few of the features that give the 1826 Creole-style home such a strong connection to the city’s heritage.

These remarkable historical characteristics were part of what made Hollywood location scouts single it out for the 2006 time-travel thriller "Déjà Vu," starring Denzel Washington. Its relatively modest footprint ultimately wasn’t big enough to accommodate the necessary camera equipment and crews, but set designers were able to recreate an exact replica of the house’s first floor in a New Orleans warehouse, creating an authentic backdrop for the film’s events.

While Louisiana does have tax incentives meant to entice filmmakers to the Pelican State, its unique historic architecture and natural beauty are photogenic enough to form the perfect setting for any unfolding fictional drama. One particularly popular filming location is Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, about an hour’s drive from New Orleans.

As coincidence would have it, the Lombard Plantation house shares another link with Oak Alley beyond their mutual good looks -- historical evidence suggests that they were both designed by Joseph Pilie, a civil engineer who served as the city surveyor for New Orleans in the early-to-mid 19th century.

Oak Alley Plantation House Exterior

photo by: Anthony Turducken/Flickr/CC BY NC ND 2.0

Both the interior of the house and the plantation’s 25 acres of grounds have been used as filming locations.

If some of these pictures look familiar, there’s a reason for that. More than a dozen films, music videos, and television episodes have been filmed in Oak Alley’s Greek Revival-style mansion and on its 25-acre grounds, including Beyoncé’s “Déjà Vu” music video and scenes from the 1994 film "Interview with the Vampire," starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. 28 southern live oak trees create an 800-foot-long allée, or canopied path, leading up to the mansion, which was completed in 1839.

Oak Alley Plantation was originally established in 1830 by Valcour Aime, one of the wealthiest men in the South, to grow sugar cane. The mansion was built by subsequent owner Jacques Roman, Aime's brother-in-law, and the property changed hands a number of times before falling into disrepair following the economic ruin of the Civil War and the end of slavery.

In 1925, Andrew Stewart and his wife Josephine acquired the property and ran it as a cattle ranch. They also commissioned architect Richard Koch to restore and modernize the house, and both of the Stewarts lived there until their respective deaths. When Josephine Stewart passed away in 1972, she left the house and property to the Oak Alley Foundation, which opened them to the public.

The National Park Service credits the Oak Alley restoration with sparking a revival of the 70-mile-long storied River Road district, a stretch on each side of the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans where wealthy sugar mavens built mansions in the 30 years prior to the Civil War, largely in the same Greek Revival style.

Also along the River Road: Evergreen Plantation, which we covered in a 2013 issue of Preservation and which served as a filming location for the film "Django Unchained." Today, many of the River Road properties have been restored, and are open to the public for tours.

Oak Alley Outbuilding Interior

photo by: John Perry/Flickr/CC BY SA 2.0

This room in a reconstructed outbuilding holds the names of all the enslaved workers who lived at the plantation.

Besides "Interview with the Vampire," which featured the exterior of Oak Alley as the family home of vampire Louis (played by Brad Pitt,) the plantation was featured in a storyline of the soap opera "Days of Our Lives" in 1984. The 1998 film "Primary Colors" was partially filmed there, and the 2008 Lifetime movie "Midnight Bayou" prominently featured both the house and grounds as a newly purchased haunted manor.

“We don’t allow indoor filming unless it’s done in the evenings,” explains Hillary Loeber, who handles requests for film and television production at the site. “We have to be sure that our daily visitors still receive the tour experience they anticipated when choosing to tour Oak Alley.” She points out that one of the most recent projects at Oak Alley was the 2014 HBO drama "True Detective," which featured otherworldly shots of the sugarcane fields.

For a complete list of films and television shows shot at Oak Alley, visit their website -- or, for the full experience, visit them in person.

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.

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