Origins and Construction
Nestled in the heart of Mineral Wells, Texas, The Baker Hotel is a testament to a bygone era. Its story began in 1922, when local citizens, concerned about outsiders profiting from the town’s famed mineral water, raised $150,000 to build a grand hotel.
They enlisted the services of Theodore Brasher Baker, a renowned Texas hotel magnate, and architect Wyatt C. Hedrick, who based the design on the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Construction commenced in 1926, but a sudden inspiration struck Mr. Baker after a trip to California. He decided the new Baker Hotel must have a swimming pool in front of the hotel, a first for Texas.
The pool was placed atop an already-completed basement, which served as a work area and changing space for guests. The hotel’s Spanish Colonial Revival design would rise 14 stories over Mineral Wells, housing 450 guest rooms and various amenities.
The construction was grand and opulent, reflecting a cost of $1.2 million (equivalent to $20 million in 2022). Completed three years later, the mammoth building instantly dominated the city skyline, becoming a symbol of pride and ambition for the local community.
The Golden Era (1929-1940s)
The Baker Hotel opened its doors on November 9, 1929, with a grand celebration gala on November 22.
It was a marvel of its time, boasting extravagant comforts such as an advanced hydraulic system that circulated ice water to all guest rooms and lighting controlled by door locks that turned off and on automatically.
The 1930s were a time of immense success for the Baker, mainly due to Mineral Wells’s reputation as a top-tier health spa destination.
Celebrities like Clark Gable, Lawrence Welk, Glenn Miller, and Judy Garland were drawn to its luxurious offerings. Even legendary outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were rumored to have spent a night at the Baker Hotel.
Despite opening mere days after the 1929 stock market crash, Baker thrived. However, financial difficulties began to plague T.B. Baker in the early 1930s, leading to bankruptcy in 1934.
Control of the hotel was passed to his nephew Earl Baker, who had been the hotel’s manager. Yet, the Baker Hotel continued to shine, a beacon of elegance and sophistication.
War and Prosperity (1940s)
The 1940s brought new challenges and opportunities. T.B. Baker’s financial woes were a distant memory as the Baker Hotel thrived. The opening of Camp Wolters nearby in October 1940, home to the most extensive infantry placement in World War II, led to a second boom in the Baker’s popularity.
During the war, the population of Mineral Wells, both transient and permanent, remained close to 30,000. Many of these individuals found temporary residences in the Baker Hotel. The hotel’s bell tower and ballroom became symbols of prosperity, and the Baker enjoyed its most tremendous success.
However, Mineral Wells’s reputation as a health spa began to wane as the decade ended. Advances in modern medication and the discovery of antibiotics led local doctors to invest more in medicine, and businesses began to suffer. Yet, the Baker’s legacy as a hub of luxury and comfort remained intact.
Decline and Abandonment (1950s-1970s)
The post-war years were not kind to the Baker Hotel. Camp Wolters shut down in 1946, and nearby businesses suffered. A brief revival came in 1951 when the camp reopened as Fort Wolters, a military helicopter training base. The Baker hosted political conventions, but business declined steadily.
Earl Baker’s announcement of closing the hotel after his 70th birthday in 1963 marked the beginning of the end. True to his word, he shuttered the building on April 30 of that year. A brief revival in 1965 ended with Earl Baker’s death in 1967, and the hotel closed its doors for the last time in 1972.
The once-glorious Baker Hotel became a shadow of its former self, a poignant reminder of a bygone era. Several groups offered to rehabilitate the structure, but it remained abandoned, a silent witness to the passage of time.
The Baker Hotel Restoration and Future Plans
Hope glimmered in 2019 when it was announced that the Baker Hotel would be renovated and restored. A budget of $65 million was allocated, and plans were unveiled to reduce the number of rooms to 165 and maintain a luxury mineral spa.
The local mineral springs, once a draw for celebrities, would be utilized again, along with modernized amenities for the modern-day guest. The projected reopening date in 2025 stirred excitement and anticipation in the community.
The entire renovation process, to be documented and filmed, will promise to breathe new life into the Grand Old Lady of Mineral Wells. The blend of historic architectural design with new technology will offer a glimpse of a revitalized landmark ready to embrace a new era.
Cultural Impact and Popular Culture
The Baker Hotel’s influence extended beyond its walls. It was featured in episodes of “Ghost Adventures” and “Celebrity Ghost Stories,” adding to its mystique.
Rumors of paranormal experiences and releasing the “Baker Hotel” album by Country Singer William Clark Green further cemented its place in popular culture.
The hotel’s status as a National Register of Historic Places and its influence on Texas architecture spoke to its enduring legacy. It stood as a symbol of a time and place, a connection to history, and a source of inspiration for future generations.
The Baker Hotel’s rich history, from its grand beginnings to its decline and hopeful resurgence, is a captivating tale. Its cultural significance and the anticipation of its reopening as a revitalized landmark resonate with the community of Mineral Wells.
The enduring legacy of The Baker Hotel is a reminder of the power of vision, ambition, and resilience. It is a timeless landmark, a beacon of elegance, and a symbol of pride for the people of Mineral Wells.