March 3, 2012: The Irish Festival at Fair Park
January 29 - February 1, 2012: A Visit to San Antonio
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February 16-19, 2012
A Trip to Natchitoches
The "Steel Magnolias" Tour

 

Our friends, Justin and Gary, have invited the four of us- Mario, Steve, Fred and myself- to come over to Natchitoches some weekend for a visit, but we just haven't gotten around to it. This week, though, Justin and Gary have some time off, and plan to be in Natchitoches for a long weekend, and so we have made plans to come down on Thursday and leave on Sunday- in time to get Steve back to the hospital for his Sunday evening shift.

 

Our Drive to Natchitoches


Since we were going to get to Natchitoches rather late, I made us a reservation at a local motel where we stayed Thursday night, heading over to Justin and Gary's house on Friday morning. You have already seen a page or two relating to the trips that Fred and I have already made over to Natchitoches, but this time we have someone new with us.

You've probably seen a map of the route from Dallas to Natchitoches before; it is pretty simple, involving about a 150-mile trip on I-20 from Dallas to Shreveport, and then about 100 miles south on I-49 to the exit for Natchitoches.


Once you get off I-49, then it is about four miles into the town of Natchitoches. To go directly to Justin and Gary's, one simply goes all the way into town and past the university to turn north on Jefferson- the street that runs along the west side of the Cane River and is the main street for the town. Their house is about six blocks from where you turn north; it is at the corner of Demeziere and Jefferson.

This evening, though, we stayed at a motel out on the bypass- Louisiana route 1/6.

On Friday morning, we checked out of the motel, since Justin and Gary had invited us to stay at their house, and we headed over to Soldini House- the house Justin inherited from his grandmother.


This is the first time that Mario and Steve have visited Natchitoches, and we plan on doing quite a bit of walking around town. Although we didn't cross the Kelsey Avenue bridge across the Cane River right away, the picture that we took towards the end of our "Steel Magnolias Tour" is a good introduction to our stay here.

As I said, Fred and I have visited Justin and Gary here in Natchitoches a couple of times already. If you have not seen those pages, I would at least like to introduce you to Soldini House. I can do that by sending you to the website for their house- a website that I created for them after our visit Christmas a year ago. At that time, their house was part of a Home Tour of landmark houses in the town.

If you would like to learn more about this historic house, you should definitely visit that website. If you will click on the link below, I will open that web page in a separate window so you can have a look around:

www.soldinihouse.org

 

The Steel Magnolias Tour

When Fred and I were here a year ago, we came to help Justin and Gary get ready for and conduct their home tour. As you saw on their website, they had gone all out to make it a real event. Since Justin and Gary had relatives occupying all their bedrooms, they made reservations for us two houses away at a Bed and Breakfast called "Steel Magnolia House." That B&B is in the home that was used as Sally Field's house in the movie "Steel Magnolias."

Now I understand that you may not have seen that movie, although it has long been one of my favorites; that is why Justin and Gary had us stay in that house- we could walk through the actual rooms that were used in the movie, and even stay in one of them. Many other locations in Natchitoches and nearby communities were also used in the film. When we recounted all this to Steve and Mario, they were quite interested, as they were also fans of the movie. Justin and Gary had mentioned to us that they thought there was a self-guided tour one could take through the town to visit these locations and, as it happened, the local newspaper published that information only a short while before this particular visit and the guys saved us a copy of it. So on Friday, while they were doing some of the chores at the house that they'd come to Natchitoches to do, the four of us, with newspaper in hand, set off to follow the tour.

If you have not seen the movie, I recommend it. Certainly, much of what follows will mean much more to you if you have seen the movie, but I'll try to supply enough backstory so that even if you haven't seen it, you'll get some benefit out of following us along on the tour.

 

Tour Overview

Before we begin the tour, let's take a quick look at the area of Natchitoches that we'll be traversing.


We did not visit all the locations indicated on the tour, nor did we visit them in order. (Some of them required a drive to get to, and so we visited some of those sites on Saturday. I'll include those pictures here, though.) For each of our stops, I'll create a little section below (even if some of these sections are fairly short), and I'll key that section to the little numbers on the diagram at left. Below is a list of the stops we did make, in the order we made them:

The American Cemetery, 2nd Street west of Demeziere (3)
          (Shelby's Funeral) (Julia Roberts)

Lemee House, 310 Jefferson (4)
          (Ouizer's House) (Shirley MacLaine)

Steel Magnolia House, 320 Jefferson (5)
          (M'Lynn's House) (Sally Field)

Trinity Episcopal Church, 533 2nd Street (6)
          (Truvy's Church) (Dolly Parton)

Private Home, 301 Rue Touline (7)
          (Mrs. Robeline's Boarding House) (Darryl Hannah)

Chaplin House, 434 Second Street (8)
          (Aunt Fern's House)

The "Walk of Honor", along St. Denis Street (9)

The Blanchard Building, 700 Front Street (10)
          (Truvy's #2)

Riverside along Front Street (11)
          (The Easter Egg Hunt)

Private Home, 515 S. Maurice Lane (12)
          (Annelle and Sammy's House)

Private Home, 453 Henry Blvd. (13)
          (Truvy's House)

Natchitoches Parish Hospital, 501 Keyser Ave. (14)
          (The birth of Shelby's baby)

Brookshire's (Dixie Plaza SC), 400 Keyser Ave. (15)
          (Clairee and Ouizer go shopping)

Tauzin Plantation Home, 1950 Williams Ave. (16)
          (Clairee's Home)

Odalie Lambre-Gwinn House, 1972 Williams Ave. (17)
          (Shelby and Jackson Latcherie's House)


 

The American Cemetery (Shelby's Funeral)

To get to the American Cemetery from Soldini House, we just walked west along Demeziere two blocks, turned to the south, and followed the cemetery fence to the cemetery entrance. The American Cemetery is one of the cornerstones of the Natchitoches community. Established around 1737, the cemetery is only a few years younger than the town itself, and its historic landscape is filled with trees and wildlife. I passed by the historical marker for the cemetery and stopped to read it. You can also do so here.


In the American Cemetery

Historians believe that the site was the location of the second Fort St. Jean Baptiste (the first was located a short distance to the east on a site that is now submerged by Cane River Lake). It was at this fort that the first official cemetery was founded. All residents of the fort were buried there, regardless of race or class. It is speculated that St. Denis, the town’s founder, is buried somewhere on the grounds, which are situated on a hill that slopes down towards the Cane River. However, any marker that might testify to the location of his remains has long since been lost. In fact, there are no surviving monuments predating 1797. There was a memorial marker describing Fort St. Jean Baptiste, and you can read it here.

There were quite a few interesting markers, and below are clickable thumbnails for some pictures of others of them:


On April 26, 1804, a ceremony was held at the fort to mark the transfer of the French garrisons in the Louisiana Purchase to the growing United States; you can read about that event here. The American Cemetery fell into disrepair and was almost forgotten around the turn of the 20th century. In 1904, a group of local women formed the American Cemetery Association, which quickly received funds and support from the town to restore the cemetery. Their diligent efforts ensured the survival of the site and set a precedent of care and respect for the cemetery that is still honored today. In 1989, this pristine setting was used for the climactic scene of the film Steel Magnolias. The American Cemetery is still in use, giving Natchitoches an unusual link to its past. Residents can be buried mere yards away from their forefathers who moved to this region 250 years ago. This continuity has helped define the Natchitoches community, highlighting the importance of family and history to the residents of this region.

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The cemetery was, as all old cemeteries are, very interesting from a historical point of view. One of the first things I did was to make a movie looking around, and you can watch that movie with the player at right.

And of course we took pictures, and you can use the clickable thumbnails below to see some of them:


There was one large display sign that had some photographs and a lot of interesting information about the cemetery and who may be buried here. Rather than extract this information, you can read the sign using the scrollable window below:

You may wonder why the American Cemetery is on the "Steel Magnolias" tour; it's because the site was used in the filming of that movie. First, you might want to read the plaque describing that event; you can do so here. Then you can use the left-hand movie player below to watch the movie I made standing near the plaque and looking around. Finally, and keep in mind the plaque was not positioned at the exact site of the filming, which covered a fairly wide area, you can use the right-hand movie player to watch part of the segment of the movie that was filmed here:

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My Movie of the Filming Site
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A Clip from "Steel Magnolias"

When we were done here at the cemetery, I called to Fred and we left the cemetery, heading back down towards Soldini House and our next stop on the tour.

 

Lemee House (Ouizer's House)

When we got back to the corner of Demeziere and Jefferson, we turned north towards town and immediately came in front of a building known as Lemee House, which was used as the home of Shirley MacLaine's character Ouizer Boudreaux.


Lemee House

I had to go across Jefferson to get a decent picture of the house. It only appears on one short scene, when Clairee Belcher (Olympia Dukakis) succumbs to Ouizer's entreaties not to let her walk home along after Shelby Latcherie's (nee Eatonton) wedding reception- which was actually being held right next door at the Steel Magnolia House.

In the movie, the implication was that the houses were at least a few blocks apart, which would account for Ouizer's reluctance to walk home alone in the dark. We never actually see the inside of her house- just a brief view like the one at left when Ouizer and Clairee stop in front of it.

 

Steel Magnolia House (M'Lynn's House)

Just north of the Lemee House is the home used as M'Lynn and Drum Eatonton's (Sally Field and Tom Skerritt) home.


The Steel Magnolia House

We didn't actually take any pictures of the Steel Magnolia house this trip, because we actually stayed in the house (which is now a Bed and Breakfast) in 2010 when we visited Justin and Gary for their Christmas Home Tour. If you would like to see more of the inside of the house, with our pictures paired up with clips from the movie filmed in the house, you can navigate to the index for 2010 and open the album pages for December 9th.

The picture at left is one of the many we took at that time.

Of all the stops on this walking tour, this house occupied by far the most screen time of any other building; it was one of the few buildings actually used for interior shots.

 

Trinity Episcopal Church (Truvy's Church)

From the Steel Magnolia House, we continued north along Jefferson, and, after a couple of blocks, crossed what is now only a shallow ravine but which use to be Bayou Amulet.


We walked into town along Jefferson Street, which becomes Front Street when it comes alongside the Cane River in the middle of town. We turned left on St. Denis Street, walked a block west, and came to the church that was used as the setting in one scene in the movie. In that scene, Truvy (Dolly Parton) is attending church with her husband. The church is shown at left.

Actually, the corner of Second Street and St. Denis seemed to be a religious center of sorts, for there were two other churches quite close to the Episcopal Church. One was the First Baptist Church, and the other was the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

 

Private Home (Mrs. Robeline's Boarding House)


Just around the corner from the three churches was the private home that was used as the setting for the boarding house in which Darryl Hannah lived when she first arrived in town.

The town, of course, was not named in the movie; the closest reference to the location was that the parish in which the town was located was named "Chinquapin Parish," although there is no such parish in Louisiana. The author of the play on which the movie was based, Robert Harling, did live in Natchitoches, however.

 

Chaplin House (Aunt Fern's House)


Close by the house that was used for Mrs. Robeline's (which was, supposedly, across the river), was the house used as the setting for Aunt Fern's house. This house appeared only briefly in the movie; it was the place where Sally Field's character left her grandson while arrangements were being made because of her daughter's death and funeral.

It is interesting that in the movie, Field is shown driving some distance out across open country and a bayou to get there, as if the house were actually some distance away.

 

The "Walk of Honor"

We walked a block north to continue the tour, and at the corner of St. Denis and Second Street we found the old Natchitoches Courthouse with its distintive clock tower. There was a plaque describing the building and its restoration after a fire, and you can read that plaque here.

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The "Walk of Honor"

As we crossed Second Street to get to the next stop on the tour, we passed a couple of interesting buildings, including a restaurant that specializes in the local delicacy- the meat pie. You can have a look at these buildings here and here.

The next stop was marked on the tour list, but wasn't actually a location used in the film. Rather, it was Natchitoches' version of the "Hollywood Walk of Fame." There were a series of fleur-de-lis inlays in the long sidewalk alongside the Natchitoches City Hall building. Most of the inlays commemorated people associated with the film, which is why I suppose it was on the tour. But there were other markers commemorating noteworthy citizens of Natchitoches. Why not walk along the walk with us; just use the player at left to watch my movie.

Walking east, we came back out onto Jefferson- which has actually become Front Street as it runs alongside the Cane River.

 

The Blanchard Building (Truvy's #2)

On Front Street, we turned north to walk past the storefronts- many of them more than a century old. Towards the end of the movie, just after the Easter Egg hunt, Dolly Parton's character's husband, played by Sam Shepard, drives her up to a building partway up Front Street for a surprise- he has leased a storefront for a second location for her beauty parlor. "I'm a chain!" she exclaims.


Blanchard Building (center)

You can see the Blanchard Building at left, and below are clickable thumbnails for a couple of additional pictures Fred took here on Front Street:

This location is seen in only this one brief shot, but a great deal of action takes place in "Truvy's #1"- a white clapboard building with a side entrance. In the movie, it is located near Sally Field's house, a block or two away. The beauty parlor was in the back and Truvy's residence was in the front. The little tour guide that we carried around indicated that we would go by "Truvy's House" later on, when we crossed the river. So although it appeared in the movie as if her house were quite close to the Eatonton's, I assumed that filming sleight-of-hand just made it appear so, and that we'd see the familiar clapboard building on the other side of the river. As it turned out, I was mistaken.

It was interesting walking along Front Street with Mario and Steve, although Fred and I had been here before.


Across the street, on the river side, there was an interesting plaque describing the history of the street, and if you would like to peruse that plaque, you can use the scrollable window at right to do so.

During most of the year, tourists can ride in one of the many horse-drawn carriages that ply the streets during the holidays and when there are other events going on. And all along the street, there are interesting shops, restaurants and little courtyards- along with places to sit and relax.

At the north end of the street, there is a little circular plaza with a fountain in the middle, and between it and the river is the Natchitoches Visitor Center- which you have seen before. There is also a little garden with a monument to Louis Juchereau, an early French explorer to lived in the area. And nearby, along the river down the hill below Front Street, there is a bandstand/platform overlooking the river. We have seen it used a couple of times for various occasions. You can have a look at the view from it here.

I made two movies here along Front Street. There is a movie looking up and down the street itself and out to the river, and you can watch it with the left-hand player below. I also made a movie of the garden and its waterfall, and you can watch that one with the player below, right.

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Front Street in Natchitoches
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The Visitor Center Garden

 

The Riverside along Front Street (The Easter Egg Hunt)


Location of the Easter Egg Hunt

Towards the end of the film, you may remember the Easter Egg hunt in which the little Jackson participates and where Darryl Hannah's character goes into labor. Beginning with the hunt, the rest of the film is shot there, including the aerial pull-away that ends the film while the credits roll. This view is from the Church Street bridge that leads across the Cane River to the east part of Natchitoches and our remaining stops.

While we were crossing the bridge, I took another picture of the river looking towards the bridge near Soldini House.

 

Private Home (Annelle and Sammy's House)


To get to the next locations on the tour, we had to cross the Cane River and then walk about eight blocks through residential areas, heading generally northeast.

In the movie, Darryl Hannah's character, Annelle, falls in love with and marries a member of the catering team that she met at the wedding reception held at Sally Field's character's house. She moves out of the boarding house where she had been staying, and the two of them occupy this house, which is used in three different scenes.

We found the house on a small residential street about a half-mile northeast of the river.

From there, we walked back down Henry Blvd. going south, heading towards Henry Blvd. and the house marked on our guide as being "Truvy's House."

 

Private Home (Truvy's House)

Well, I was surprised when we got to the site of Truvy's House; it wasn't at all what I expected.


At left you can see a picture of the Henry Blvd. house that was used as "Truvy's House" in the movie. But I had expected a white clapboard, much older structure. It didn't look at all like the building where he beauty parlor was. I have reviewed the movie, and I did notice that there were some scenes that looked as if they were filmed on the front porch of this house; it's the scene where Annelle and Sammy are putting up Christmas decorations. If you remember the scene, it takes place the day before Shelby (Julia Roberts) is supposed to receive a transplant kidney from her mother (Sally Field), and when they arrive at the house, they go inside and back into the beauty parlor. But this house looked nothing like the beauty parlor house, so I wondered "What gives?"

In the movie, Truvy is always saying "there's a story there" when she means that someone has a backstory, and it turned out from my Internet searching, that there was a story here, too. Indeed, there were two houses used for Truvy's scenes, and indeed, the beauty parlor scenes were filmed in a house near Steel Magnolia House. The reason why the beauty parlor house is not on the tour has to do with events that took place in it long after the movie was released. In one of Natchitoches' saddest local events, the person living in that house abducted and killed a small child; the child's body was never found and the perpetrator is still in prison. Local residents felt that this tabloid-like story would detract from the enjoyment tourists might get from the Steel Magnolia tour, so the house was quietly deleted from the tour and no mention of the discrepancy is made in any of the printed material about it.

I do not know if the house is still standing; my internet searching was inconclusive. So I guess I will have to see for myself the next time Fred and I visit Justin and Gary there.

 

Natchitoches Parish Hospital (The birth of Shelby's baby)

Two blocks further south on E. Fifth brought us to Keyser Avenue, which happens to be the street that crosses the bridge just south of Soldini House.


Natchitoches Parish Hospital

This particular building is only seen extremely briefly from outside, and then only the entrance doors. But there are a good many scenes inside.

It is interesting to note that Robert Harling, who wrote the original play, wrote it about his sister, who died in that hospital years earlier. When the hospital scenes were being filmed, not only was Harling present (he also shows up as the minister who marries Shelby and Jackson), but his mother was there as well. When it came time to film the scene in which Shelby is taken off life support, the director asked her if she would like to leave, thinking the memories would be too hard for her. Her reply was really interesting: "No, I would like to stay. When the scene is over, I want to see Shelby get up and walk away." Something her daughter could not do.

 

Brookshire's Supermarket (Clairee and Ouizer go shopping)

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Truthfully, I had totally forgotten about the scene that was filmed here in Brookshires Supermarket. It wasn't a pivotal one, and I actually had to scan through the movie to find it. It is about thirty seconds long, and takes place in the meat department as the characters played by Olympia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine are shopping for food to cook for Sally Field's character so she will not have to prepare meals for her family when she returns from the hospital after donating a kidney to her daughter. It is a humorous scene; all they throw into their cart are ribs and Bush's baked beans (quite a lot of them), and dish about Sally Field's husband, Drummond Eatenton.

 

Tauzin Plantation Home (Clairee's Home)

The next two stops on the tour, and the last ones anywhere near Natchitoches, were way out Williams Avenue northeast, so from Brookshires we headed back across the Cane River to Soldini House to get the car for the drive out there. We found the houses without too much problem.


Tauzin Plantation Home

Entry

We don't see the house that was used as Clairee's (Olympia Dukakis) from the outside; the only scenes filmed there were at night. It was the Christmas Party given by Clairee at which Shelby's pregnancy is announced, and it contains the scene with five of the six female leads renewing the bond that ties them together.

 

Odalie Lambre-Gwinn House (Shelby and Jackson's Home)

The last house here in Natchitoches was just two doors down from the Tauzin Plantation home.


Odalie Lambre-Gwinn House

The house used for Shelby and Jackson after their marriage is first shown with the first birthday party for their son being held under the tree that you can see in the picture at left. That is the only exterior shot; other scenes were filmed inside towards the back of the house that faces the Cane River.

That really completed the tour of the Natchitoches shooting locations for "Steel Magnolias," but there was one other site used in the movie that we had yet to see.  

The Melrose Plantation

According to the guide that we had, Shelby's wedding was filmed at the Septemberine Catholic Church in Melrose, an unincorporated town about fifteen miles south of Natchitoches. We thought since we'd seen everything else, we'd drive down and see that, too. We understood that the church was on the grounds of the plantation, but we weren't sure about that.


Melrose Plantation

I have checked the movie, and there are no exterior shots of the church but, in any event, we were not able to find it. (Nor, it seems, can I find any reference to it other than a listing in our Steel Magnolias Tour guide. I am beginning to wonder if it was made up, and not an actual site at all.) In any event, when we got to the plantation it was closed, so all we could do was take a few pictures from outside the gate. Fred's best one is at left, and there are clickable thumbnails below for two of mine:


 

At Soldini House

Aside from our walking tour and some excursions out with Justin and Gary, we spent a good deal of time just hanging out with them at their house.

Justin and Gary were decorating the house for Mardi Gras, and this included a tree on the front porch- seen with Fred here and with me here. Below are clickable thumbnails for some of the other pictures that we took inside the house; as you can see, the decorations are over the top:

We spent some time outside too, some of that admiring the new fountain that Gary put in the side yard. Gary, Fred and Steve are all "plant people," in that they are horticulturally-oriented. So of course Fred took a number of pictures of the flora around the house. There are clickable thumbnails below for the best of these:

It was an enjoyable three-day trip, but we had to head back on Sunday morning so Steve could be back at work Sunday night. I know that Fred and I enjoyed the trip, and I think that Steve and Mario did, too.

You can use the links below to continue to another photo album page.


March 3, 2012: The Irish Festival at Fair Park
January 29 - February 1, 2012: A Visit to San Antonio
Return to the Index for 2012