|Mineral Wells, Texas today|
How about a tour of a lovely West Texas city? Set amid the Palo Pinto Mountains, Mineral Wells, Texas is one of the places my husband and I drive for a few hours’ getaway. Although the surrounding terrain looks like hills to most folks, the height and manner in which they were formed makes them genuine mountains. They were named by Native Americans for the fall colors on the profusion of spindly scrub oaks Individual peaks in the range include Sugarloaf Mountain, with an elevation of 1,462 feet above mean sea level; Antelope Mountain (1,321 feet); and Crawford Mountain (1,470 feet). The local terrain is surfaced by shallow, sandy soils with some clay, in which grow oak, juniper, and mesquite. This is the setting for my work in progress, BRAZOS BRIDE an near where my contemporay time travel romantic suspense OUT OF THE BLUE is set.
The largest town in Palo Pinto County is Mineral Wells. Very aptly named for the large mineral content of the water. In fact, the water was responsible for the town when James Lynch laid out the town and became it’s first mayor. For more information on Crazy Water and Lyncg, See Celia Yeary’s January 18th post at http://sweetheartsofthewest.blogspot.com for more information.
|People drinking from Mineral|
Wells' Crazy Water Pavillion
But the title of this post mentions the Baker Hotel, doesn't it? One of my favorite places in Mineral Wells is the Baker Hotel. It rises fourteen majestic stories. Don't laugh. True that's not so tall by most city standards, but dwarfs the mostly one- and two-story buildings around it. My family had driven by the hotel whenever we traveled west on Highway 180 from the DFW Metroplex and I was impressed with the sight of this tall building amid smaller ones--and curious about the interior. The architectural style is a favorite of mine and the same as Texas Tech University and my former high school, Lubbock High.
|The Baker Hotel|
|Lobby as it appeared in 1929|
|Lobby today. Sad difference!|
At one time, "the Baker," as locals call it, had a full spa, solarium with tanning beds, ballrooms, meeting rooms, restaurant, swimming pool, bowling alley under the swimming pool, garages, and big name celebrities entertaining guests. 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 in 1929, Mineral Wells was home to only approximately 6,000 residents.
The Baker also generated its own power. Two huge generators located in the basement supplied the hotel power requirements. Certain hotel areas allowed unseen access to rooms and other locations by the employees.
|Swimming pool over tunnel to garage|
and over full-sized bowling alley
|Glen Miller Orchestra|
The story of the Baker Hotel begins in 1925, 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 had 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. 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
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 lead local doctors, who had been encouraging patients to partake in the area's therapeutic waters, to invest more confidence in medicine. Business suffered, until a second boom in the Baker's popularity occurred 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.
After the war ended in 1945, Fort Wolters was closed and again business suffered. A smaller renaissance came in 1951 when the Wolters facility was reopened as a helicopter base. 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. Earl Baker 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 was be brief. Earl Baker died 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.
Of course, the Baker has at least one resident ghost. People report seeing a ghostly female figure walking the halls. Are you frightened? There are several interesting stories about the hotel itself. One concerns Mr. Baker's mistress, who lived on the 7th floor. She committed suicide and her ghost is said to still roam the hotel, but especially the 7th floor. The feminine presence there is said to be hers.the room she stayed in, apparently quite comfortably, was a suite on the southeast corner of the seventh floor. Many have reported smelling her perfume and her spirit is said to be quite flirtatious with men she may fancy.
Another story tells of a intoxicated woman who tried to jump into the swimming pool from the 12th floor ballroom balcony. Naturally, she was killed. The gangsters Bonnie and Clyde have also been rumored to haunt the Brazos room and ballroom. There are many other stories, but space doesn't allow their dicsussion today. Those interested may check the Southwest Ghost Hunters report at http://www.sgha.net/baker/baker.html and another at http://www.castleofspirits.com/stories04/bakerhotel.html.
For years, friends of the Baker have tried to find investors to purchase and restore the hotel to its former beauty. Hallelujah! Contractors have been surveying the place for about a year now, sizing up everything from its electrical and plumbing systems to its compliance with modern-day building and fire codes. If they get started remodeling the place this spring as planned, it'll be ready to open in spring 2013. The estimated $54 million price tag to get the place up and running again includes outfitting it for business as a modern spa and hotel.
I eagerly look forward to the time when this beautiful old building is restored.
Thank for stopping by!