Abandoned Baker Hotel in Texas
Baker Hotel, Mineral Wells Texas
Opened just three weeks after the great stock market crash of October 29, 1929, The Baker Hotel represents a period of time, place and values that will never again be approached. Built in a town of about 6,000 people, this 450 room hotel had a meeting capacity of over 2,500 people. Its significance as a social and community focal point is even more profound than its physical presence on the townscape. During the era of "the big band," few musicians missed a stop at this luxurious outpost. The guest register reads as a virtual Who's Who of social, political, cultural and military elite. At least one president and many also-rans had more than a fleeting knowledge of the Baker's mineral waters.
Mineral Wells was founded in 1881 by Judge J.A. Lynch who happened accidentally on the magical medicinal properties of his well water. The town quickly developed as a health spa. The Crazy Well was so named for a disordered woman who regularly availed herself of the healing waters. A pavilion was constructed near the well in 1895 and finally in 1910 a hotel, appropriately named The Crazy Hotel, was constructed. This hotel was destroyed by fire in 1925. Realizing the market for a hotel, civic leaders convinced one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the state, T. B. Baker, to build a facility that would respond to that need.
T. B. Baker was born in Iowa in 1876 and was raised in Missouri. Baker's father was in the hotel business and the younger Baker began his professional career operating hotels in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois. Vacationing in San Antonio he quickly worked an arrangement to obtain the lease on the St. Anthony Hotel there. The Texas base thus established, Baker concentrated his efforts in the state. The Baker chain included the Menger and Gunther in San Antonio, The Stephen F. Austin in Austin, The Texas Hotel in Fort Worth, and The Baker Hotel in Dallas, The Goodhue in Port Arthur, The Galvez in Galveston, The Edison in Beaumont and The Sterling in Houston.
Mr. Baker was no doubt familiar with the success of the small spa center located just some thirty miles from Fort Worth. Mineral Wells provided an opportunity to extend his hotel concept into a slightly different field of hostelry, catering to a more permanent and vacation minded crowd seeking the healthful curing waters. A hotel would be built, but it could not be ordinary in any respect. Certainly not in this era of the "roaring twenties." The Mineral Wells Hotel Company, headed by T. B. Baker was formed and immediate plans began for the development of this extraordinary edifice.
Baker inspected many other hotels. He engaged the design services of Wyatt C. Hedrick. After visiting Hedrick's Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, he decided on a reasonable facsimile and construction soon began in 1926. Mr. Hedrick was an engineer by education and in the absence of Texas licensing laws at the time, was permitted to proclaim himself an architect and practice that profession. The engineering background of Mr. Hedrick and the influences of that training were obvious in this project. The structure of poured-in-place concrete, although not radical in design, was a significant effort in Mineral Wells. The structure is typical of the early efforts in multi-story design as high tensile steel had yet to emerge as a viable structural alternative. The lack of a labor force skilled in structural steel erection techniques contributed to the decision to employ the more accepted mode of reinforced concrete piers, columns, beams and floors. Shortly after construction began in 1926, Mr. Baker decided to move the building back and build the pool on the foundation prepared to the south. Consequently a below level tunnel and passage was provided.
The Baker Hotel opened formally on the evening of November 22, 1929. It received considerable notice in the Dallas and Fort Worth newspapers. This was obviously one of the great social events of the year.
Constructed at a cost of $1.25 million, the hotel boasted three dancing areas, a gymnasium, a bowling alley, and a fanciful drinking bar offered in this era of Prohibition, the grand elixir, mineral waters. A 117 acre golf course club was developed at this time as well.
Activity at the Baker Hotel continued at a hectic pace despite The Depression. Cattlemen came to Mineral Wells to regain their health and the widows came to marry them. One of the performers at the Hotel during the period recalls, "I have fond memories of all the people who gave me a start. I remember the Baker as one of the more lavish hotels in Texas, a famed resort. Lots of rich ladies. I came off the farm and still couldn't speak much English then. Due to this language problem, I didn't think I made too big a hit with them," recalled Lawrence Welk. If Welk was a fledgling performer, many of the others who appeared were not. Their numbers included Guy Lombardo, Paul Whiteman, Herbie Kay and Jack Amlung. Mary Martin, a country girl from nearby Weatherford, operated a dance studio in the Hotel and sang at the evening shows. Dorothy Lamour, Judy Garland, Giselle McKinzie, Sophie Tucker, and later Pat Boone were other entertainers who stopped at the Baker.
A waiter recalls the $2.00 given him by desperados Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, although he didn't recognize them at the time. Others of prominence included Will Rogers, Tom Mix, Marlene Dietrich, Gen. John Pershing, Elliot Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Jean Harlow, Sam Goldwyn, Sammy Kay, Clint Murchison, Sr., Dr. Charles Mayo, Jack Dempsy, Sam Rayburn, Clark Gable, Alvin Barkley, Hellen Keller, Roy Rogers, and last but not least, the Three Stooges. J. W. Neel (owner of the coffee company that developed the Maxwell House brand), spent 3 weeks at the Hotel for over 17 years. He stated that it was the best investment of time and money he ever spent. U.S. Senator Ed Moore's (of Oklahoma) constituents once complained to him that they elected him and he should spend at least some time in Oklahoma rather than at The Baker. Despite the activity, the Baker actually filed for bankruptcy in 1932, but it never closed its doors. The company was reorganized as the Resort Hotel Company.
The advent of the 1940's ushered in a new activity and economy to the area. Fort Wolters was opened on October 13, 1940. During the War, Fort Wolters grew to be the largest infantry replacement training center in the country with a population of 30,000 men. The Baker was at its peak as it catered to civilians and military personnel alike. The end of WW II and the closing of Ft. Wolters marked a period of Significant decline for The Baker. Its popularity was revived briefly in 1951 when Ft. Wolters was reactivated as an air force installation with a mission of helicopter personnel training.
In 1952, T. B. Baker, advanced in years and childless, passed the operation of The Baker chain to a nephew, Earl M. Baker. T. B. continued to live for quite a few years, passing away at the age of 96 in 1972.
Earl Baker had considerable experience in the hotel business. Letters and correspondence from the Baker Company records indicate that he played a dominant role in the corporate structure. Baker, who lived in San Antonio, stated that he would continue to operate the hotel until his 70th birthday on April 30, 1963. True to his word, Baker closed the hotel on May 31, 1963, ending 34 years of active use serving over 2 million guests. The closing of The Baker had a profound effect on Mineral Wells. "The May 31 (1963) closing of the Baker was more than the end of an era. It stifled social life in Mineral Wells. Business leaders could no longer relax in luxury at their morning coffee break or at lunch. Visitors from out of town, which tended through the years to add a metropolitan touch to a town of under 15,000 people, stayed away...It put more than 200 persons out of a job." (Undated newspaper account)
The Hotel was put up for auction at a public sale in August, 1963. Bidding was light and nothing came of the activity, other than to raise townspeople's hopes for a dramatic reopening. Finally in 1965 a group of local leaders formed The Civic Development Corporation and reopened the Hotel once again. Profits were slim, however, and the venture was forced to a premature ending in 2½ years. Earl Baker, while while visiting the Hotel, died suddenly on December 3, 1967. The Civic Development Corporation attempted to sell the Hotel on several occasions and finally succeeded in selling the property to the Horne Texas Trust, James Stewart and the United Funding Corporation in 1972.
The Baker Hotel is history. Its physical presence gives testimony to the eloquence and excesses of the good years preceding The Great Depression. The 1930's saw the era of the Big Bands and the 1940's War Effort. It hosted the State Republican Conventions of 1952 and 1955, and the State Democratic Convention of 1954. It has been cited by the American Medical Association as one of the finest resorts in America. Today it sits empty, looking to the future that holds a promise of a return to the days of distant glory.
The building remained abandoned until 2019, when it was announced that the Baker Hotel would finally be renovated and restored.
Plans were announced in August 2019 for the Baker Hotel Development Partners to purchase and reopen the Baker with a proposed renovation budget of $65 million. Plans call to enlarge the current 450 rooms and bring the total number of rooms down to 165. The second floor will still be maintained as a luxury mineral spa.
The $65 million renovation plan has begun, and the hotel is projected to reopen in 2024.
The Baker Hotel is a thirteen story, 180' tall structure containing 450 rooms and 250,000 square feet. The general configuration is a tower of an irregular elongated surface face. The yellow brick facade is of reinforced concrete construction. The style is best described as Spanish Colonial Revival, Commercial Highrise. The main structure includes a basement, ground floor lobby and grand stair, mezzanine, 10 floors of residential spaces of various floor plan and size, a ballroom, and a 40' tower. The swimming pool was constructed at the time of the Hotel's construction in 1929. Numerous arcades and window openings have been enclosed. The parking garage is of recent vintage (1949) but is of sympathetic design and matching materials. Although the building is not one of significance in the Spanish Colonial design vernacular, the Baker's physical presence and design in a community the scale of Mineral Wells is unique in Texas.
The main structure is visually divided into four subsections; base, shaft, cornice and tower. The base consists primarily of an arcaded portico of wide and tall dimensions. The extradosed arches are of brick faces resting on tapered cast stone imposts. The columns continue to the cast stone banding running the length of the arcade and serving as sills to the openings created. The arcade, or loggia, a common design element of the Spanish Colonial genre, engages the building on the south, west and east elevations. Small portal windows and other odd-sized, stylized openings are placed at intervals to create an additional embellishment. Beneath the arcade is a ground level of commercial and office activities, These openings have been altered to allow for the particular tenant requirements during its years of active use. Glass block was placed in several of the store glass facade openings at a later date, An enclosed drive-in and turn-around area is found on the northeast corner of the site. The totally enclosed brick courtyard has a Spanish tile roof overhang and provides a strong sense of intimacy and luxury for the guests arriving at the hotel. The roof area of the arcade is of Spanish pantiled arrangement. A double roof line of moderate pitch, rising to narrow row of tile leading to a flat roof, is evidenced. Additional cast stone details embellish corners and various major openings. The main (front) entry is a highly detailed stone arrangement around windows, columns, cornices and parapets.
The second major section of the building, the shaft, consists of the 10 story apartment area. This is a fairly embellished section of brick. The major design attribute is the discontinuous facade lines that provide for additional window visibility. Windows are of wood frame, sash type, 8 over 8 lights. Sills are cast stone. A cast stone ornamental banding runs the length of the facade between Floors 2 and 3, and 9 and 10. This light design touch serves to quietly highlight and delineate this portion of the building. A center piece of the major facade planes is the two-story, paired Palladian cast window frame that encloses four sets of windows, the lower level of standard 6 over 6 with the upper Palladian multipaned lights.
The next major section to be considered is the cornice line area. An enclosed roof top ballroom (The Cloud Room) that reiterates the arcade effect at the base is to be found in this location. Windows are multipaned. Roof brackets are of jigged, wooden scallops. Wooden pilasters with capitals matching roof brackets complete the exterior roof top facade. A tile roof encloses the edifice.
A forty foot single bell tower completes the building facade. Palladian windows with cut stone ballustrade and tile roof neatly balance the building, providing flair, elegance and a touch of the exotic to the small midwestern townscape. Following the philosophy of "form follows function" the structural bay interval was developed to accommodate the room layout and reflected little design innovation. Although the exterior walls were "curtain" in the sense that they covered an independent structural system, the walls and fenestration were characteristically conservative and mirror elements of a traditional design vocabulary.
While the municipal power company provided the electrical service for the hotel, the capacity of the local system was somewhat limited; there was also some question as to its reliability. Both of these factors contributed to the decision to provide a back-up system in the Baker that could generate the necessary electricity to permit the Hotel to function in the event of a power failure in the municipality's system. This back-up system was a coupling of steam boilers which provided the necessary energy to drive three electrical generators. As in most cases where this concept of energy supply exists, it was not uncommon for a system to generate more power than the Hotel could consume. While that potential existed and was recognized by the developer and local government, there is no evidence to support the fact that the contract between the Hotel and the City ever became anything more than a contract for supply.
Excavation for the project had hardly begun when a decision to move the Hotel was made. That original excavation is now the location of the swimming pool which is structurally different from pools today. Instead of the earth or sand fill providing the form and base for the pool's ultimate shape, the Baker pool has a separate set of structural columns and piers supporting it. The concrete pool is a structural entity and has a rather extensive sub-surface area that is connected under the access drive to the Hotel's basements.
The Baker Hotel was inspired by the Arlington Hotel. in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and was executed by the same architect, Wyatt C, Hedrick of Fort Worth. While typical of Hedrick's design efforts, the Mineral Wells building dominates the City in a different way than its Arkansas cousin. The impact of its 180 foot height on this basically one or two story downtown creates an expected powerful image, The Baker Hotel is easily the town's most viewed building, rising above the City from at least ten miles distance.
With time, mass production of the auto and well maintained State roads, Mineral Wells and The Baker had to reckon with the demand of the tourist and parking problems, The garage was built in 1949 of load-bearing masonry walls and long span steel joists. Wyatt Hedrick was careful in the development of the design for the new garage and transposed various architectural elements and details from the Hotel to the garage. Use of ornamental cast stone and twin "B" (for Baker) cartouches assist further in developing a unified theme. Purposefully understated, the facility successfully reflects the design of The Baker.
The quality of the interior design of The Baker is typical of large hotels of this vintage in Texas and the execution of the design effort in the rooms is uninspiring, with the following exceptions: While the Hotel's lobby, ballrooms and Brazos Club reflected the design image of the architecture, the coffee shop was distinctly different. The facility was a departure from that of the Hotel and employed aspects of the design philosophy suggested by the modern movement. While not radical in concept or spacial configuration, the furniture finishes and lighting in particular were those of another design idiom. As an example, the illumination for the coffee shop is provided by circular, recessed, indirect lighting with neon tubes. These combined with the mirror clad columns, vinyl floor and vinyl upholstered counter seating develop a visual quality that reflected those of the clear modern look. Design precepts other than those of a traditional nature were also present in the selection of tile in the bathrooms. Although the more sedate white tile work is dominant in the public facilities and bath house walls and floors, a mixture of lime green, brown, lavender and pink characterize the finish of the baths in private rooms. These tile colors have been mixed with contrasting colored tubs, water closets and lavatories and reflect the popular color theory of the modern movement.
Mr. Baker's private suite does reinforce his enthusiasm for the Spanish Colonial style evidenced in the Hotel's public spaces. Entered through a massive, arched and carved doorway, one is immediately introduced to a tiled floor and ornate tile fireplace. Two columns of Spanish origin divide the entry from the parlour. Other rooms include a kitchen, two baths and two bedrooms that are basically typical of the accommodations throughout the building.
The interior spaces, although not excessive or innovative in design and embellishment are reflective of this period of time. The accommodations were comfortable. The public spaces were more elaborate and with comparable furnishings to the first-class hotels of the period in Dallas and Fort Worth.
All of this contributes to sustain the fact that the Hotel and its supporting facilities were no small enterprise. They compare in scale and scope to the program of urban hotels today and, for Mineral Wells in the late 1920's, were a rather major achievement.