The Baker Hotel is a long-shuttered hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas. The Baker Hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
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 fame 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.
Architect Wyatt C. Hedrick based the hotel design on the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which was known for its water and baths. Construction began on the hotel in 1926 but was stopped after Mr. Baker made a trip to California, where he visited a hotel with a swimming pool and decided the new Baker Hotel must have one in the front of the hotel. The swimming pool was placed on top of an already-completed basement, which was used as a work area for the hotel and a changing area for guests. An Olympic sized pool to be filled with the curing mineral waters, it was the first swimming pool built at a hotel in Texas.
Construction began the following year on the grand and opulent structure, which was described by Palo Pinto County historian John Winters as “Spanish Colonial Revival, Commercial Highrise." 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. Completed three years later with a cost in 1929 dollars of $1.2 million, the mammoth building instantly dominated the city skyline. It was the first skyscraper to be 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 Baker Hotel bell tower and ballroom.