Baker Hotel (Mineral Wells, Texas)
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The Baker Hotel in 2006.
|Location|| 200 E. Hubbard St
Mineral Wells, Texas 76067
|NRHP Reference #||82004518|
|Added to NRHP||November 25, 1969|
The story of the Baker Hotel begins in 1922, when citizens of Mineral Wells, concerned that non-citizens were profiting off of the growing fame of the community's mineral water, raised $150,000 in an effort to build a large hotel facility owned by local shareholders. They solicited the services of prominent Texas hotel magnate Theodore Brasher Baker, who gained notoriety by designing and building such grand hotels as the Baker Hotel in Dallas, the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth, and managed the Connor Hotel in Joplin, Missouri. Wyatt C. Hedrick was hired as the architect to design the Hotel after the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, another hotel known for its water and baths. The Mineral Wells hotel has similar designs to the Arlington Hotel. Mr Hedrick was not an architect but a structural engineer. Because of the lack of licensing back then he was able to work as an architect and practice that profession. Work began on the hotel in 1926 but was stopped after Mr. Baker made a trip to California. He had visited a hotel with a swimming pool and decided the new Baker Hotel must have one in the front of the hotel. The hotel site was then moved back and the existing structure of the basement was kept and the swimming pool was placed on top of the site where the hotel was to be built. This allowed the area under the pool to be utilized as work areas for the hotel and also a changing area for guests was placed under the pool. The pool was an olympic sized above the ground pool to be filled with the curing mineral waters. It was the first swimming pool built for a hotel in Texas. The Baker Hotel was to be 14 stories with 450 rooms for guests and was the first skyscraper to be built outside a major metropolitan area. The hotel was said to be a "Spanish Revival Commercial High Rise." Mr. Baker had many modern ideas for the hotel such as circulating ice water for the guest rooms which he used in many of his other hotels. The hotel was to be fully air conditioned which was a novelty during this time. Also the lights and fans were controlled by the key lock on the guest's room doors. When the guest left the room and locked the door the lights and fans went off. Valet doors were also installed so the guests might place clothing to be cleaned in them and not be disturbed by the employee that came to remove the items for cleaning. Construction began the following year on the grand and opulent structure; it would rise fourteen stories over Mineral Wells, house 450 guest rooms, two ballrooms, an in-house beauty shop, and other novelties such as a bowling alley, a gymnasium, and an outdoor swimming pool (added to the plans by Theo Baker after a visit to California). Completed three years later with a cost in 1929 dollars of $1.2 million, the mammoth building instantly dominated the city skyline and was the first skyscraper built outside a major metropolitan area.
The 1930s: a top tier spa destination
The Baker Hotel opened to the public on November 9, 1929 and celebrated with a grand opening celebration gala two weeks later on November 22. It boasted extravagant creature comforts such as an advanced hydraulic system that circulated ice water to all 450 guest rooms, lighting and fans controlled by the door locks that shut off and on automatically when the guest left or arrived in their rooms, and a valet compartment where guests could deposit soiled laundry that was accessible by hotel staff without them ever even having to enter the guest's room. The hotel was fully air conditioned by the 1940s, which added to its appeal as a top-notch convention attraction, offering a meeting capacity of 2,500 attendees; a remarkable number considering that Mineral Wells was home to only approximately 6,000 residents in 1929. Even though it opened mere days after the 1929 stock market crash, the Baker enjoyed immense success throughout the 1930s, largely due to Mineral Wells growing reputation as a top tier health spa destination. Several notable celebrities made the Baker a temporary home during their visits to the city's health spas; the star studded guest list included the likes of Glenn Miller, Lawrence Welk, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, and future U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. It is even rumored by local historians that legendary outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow may have spent a night or two at the Baker.
The 1940s: war brings prosperity
T.B. Baker began to suffer financial difficulties in the early 1930s, eventually declaring bankruptcy in 1934. He passed control of the Baker Hotel to his nephew Earl Baker, who had served as the hotel's manager as well as managing director of Baker's Gunter Hotel in San Antonio. Despite its owner's financial problems, the Baker Hotel continued to thrive throughout the mid-1930s. As the decade came to a close, however, Mineral Wells' reputation as a health spa was in decline; advances in modern medication and the discovery of antibiotics such as penicillin began to lead local doctors, who had been encouraging patients to partake in the area's therapeutic waters, to invest more confidence in medicine. Business began to suffer, until a second boom in the Baker's popularity began when the Fort Wolters military base opened nearby in October, 1940. It was home to the largest infantry placement in World War II, and the hotel enjoyed its greatest popularity and success as a result; throughout World War II, the transient and permanent population of Mineral Wells hovered near 30,000, a large number of them making their temporary homes in the Baker.
The 1950s-1970s: decline and abandonment
After the war ended in 1945, Fort Wolters was closed and business suffered. A smaller renaissance came in 1951 when the Wolters facility was reopened as a helicopter base, and the Baker hosted the Texas Republican Party conventions in 1952 and 1955, and the Texas Democratic Party held their convention at the Baker in 1954. Aside from these successes, business declined steadily through the 1950s and the proverbial final nail was driven by Earl Baker himself when he announced that he would be closing the hotel after the passing of his seventieth birthday in 1963. True to his word, Baker shuttered the building on April 30 of that year, bringing an end to thirty years of service to Mineral Wells and surrounding areas. The hotel re-opened in 1965 when a group of local investors leased the structure from the Baker family, but the revival would be brief and marred by the death of Earl Baker of a heart attack in 1967 after he was found unconscious on the floor of the cavernous Baker Suite. In 1972, the Baker closed its doors for the last time and though several groups have made offers to rehabilitate the structure (the most recent in 2008), the building sits vacant and deteriorating from the ravages of nature and constant threats of vandalism.
2010 restoration plans
Plans were announced in August 2010 for Hunter Chase Private Equity to purchase and reopen the Baker with a proposed renovation budget of $54 million. Hunter Chase Private Equity and The Baker Hotel Development Team currently hold plans to bring the hotel back to life once financing and capital is obtained. Plans call to enlarge the current 400 plus rooms and bring the total number of rooms down to 155. The third floor would be still be maintained as a luxury mineral spa. It is estimated the restoration will take approximately two years upon ground breaking. Austin film director Kevin Pruitt grew up in Mineral Wells and is producing a documentary focusing on the unique history & characters of Mineral Wells as well as the Baker Hotel’s rise, demise, and much-anticipated present-day restoration. The planned title is Ballad of the Baker.
The Baker Hotel was featured on the December 7, 2012 episode of Ghost Adventures.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2006-03-15.
- Helen Anders. "Austin hotelier Trigger to lead restoration of Mineral Wells' famous Baker Hotel Statesman.com Aug. 16, 2010.
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