Vacant hospital to be revived as movie set


When Anne Arundel Medical Center relocated just outside Annapolis more than a year ago, residents who lived near the old hospital site downtown worried about the riff-raff they feared would be drawn to the vacant buildings.

Who knew they would get Hollywood?

Next month, Disney's Touchstone Pictures is expected to take over part of the old hospital to shoot scenes for Ladder 49, an action film starring Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta.

Filming for Ladder 49 begins in Baltimore this month. Officials say they expect filming at the Annapolis hospital site for three days at the end of next month.

Some in the city are sounding a bit star-struck. "This is so cool," said Mike Miron, the city's economic development officer, who met with Disney representatives in a logistics session Monday.

"It's exciting," said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who acknowledged seeing Travolta's movie Saturday Night Fever multiple times in the theater. "I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to meet the stars or not, but I'm certainly looking forward to having the opportunity to."

The film, directed by Jay Russell, features Phoenix as firefighter Jack Morrison, who reflects on his life when he's trapped in a blaze. Travolta plays his mentor and chief.

In the Annapolis hospital building - vacant since December 2001 - the producers will re-create a burn unit where some firefighters are treated and a maternity ward where Morrison's wife, played by Jacinda Barrett, gives birth to their child, a production spokesman said.

The producers were looking for a vacant hospital. Because the planned redevelopment of the 4.5-acre site in the Murray Hill neighborhood is behind schedule, they were able to find one.

On the first floor

Lisa Hillman, vice president of development and community affairs for Anne Arundel Medical Center, said the moviemakers will spend a couple of weeks getting parts of the first floor of the main building ready for filming. Prepared for demolition - not for the silver screen - it needs to be cleaned, painted and glamorized.

Hillman, who said the hospital would like to be mentioned in the credits and might receive a small fee for use of the building, quipped about adding "and movies" to her job title. But she said this won't go to her head.

"We don't hold any delusions of grandeur that they are going to come find any of us to be extras," Hillman said. "But it's fun to be some small part of this."

Some in the city - where parts of Patriot Games and, last summer, Head of State, starring Chris Rock, were filmed - might not be so shy around the cameras.

"You always have a shot," joked city administrator Robert Agee. "I plan on delivering sandwiches and lingering around with my profile. I'll slip business cards where I can be reached in the sandwich wrappers."

Cameo alert

Then, there is the business of the mayor's cameo. The word is that Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley - known also as the muscle-shirt-wearing lead singer of an Irish band - will make an appearance.

"If he gets a cameo, how about this mayor?" Moyer said. "He's a young, studly guy, so that may fit in with this particular movie. ... But there ought to be a place where they want some mature women."

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