Forgotten History - Baker Hotel - Mineral Wells
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Baker Hotel, Mineral Wells
When I was a very young boy my father used to take me along with him on weekend bird hunting trips. He had a friend who owned a large cotton farm outside of the small town of Breckenridge just west of Mineral Wells and during hunting season we would load up his Chevelle with food, an ice chest full of beer for him and soft drinks for me, a Coleman stove, cots and sleeping bags. We would drive west through Weatherford, down long desolate stretches of highway carved through rocky cliffs and I always knew we were close to Mineral Wells when I saw the monolithic Baker Hotel looming on the horizon.
The Baker was still operating then but would close when I was around 14 in 1972. Even as a young child I thought that such a huge opulent hotel was out of place in such a tiny little town as Mineral Wells. It was a gigantic 14-floor structure looming over a small downtown area where most of the buildings were no taller than two floors. Back then and even today it doesn't take long to drive through Mineral Wells at all.
The story of the Baker Hotel dates back to the 1920s when Mineral Wells began to garner a reputation for the supposed curative powers of its mineral waters which came from a large aquifer under the town. Locals became concerned that people from outside the city were cashing in on this reputation and raised $150,000 to construct a large hotel owned by local shareholders. Hotel magnate Theodore Baker was enlisted to supervise the project and architect Wyatt C. Hedrick was contracted to design the hotel. He based the design on the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, also famous for its own mineral water, baths and spas. Construction began in 1926 and three years later the Baker Hotel dominated the skyline of the city.
It was (and still is) the largest building in town with 450 guest rooms and amenities such as two grand ballrooms, a barber and ladies hair salon, a restaurant, a gymnasium, a bowling alley and a large outdoor swimming pool. An entire floor was dedicated to sauna and spa facilities, which attracted rich and famous guests from all over the country. For a good decade at least the Baker acquired a national reputation as a top tier, five-star health resort destination. World War II kept the Baker occupied by servicemen from nearby Fort Wolters and Mineral Wells population rose from 6,500 in the 1920s to a booming 30,000 by the mid-40s, many of them staying at the Baker, which soon became the town's leading employer.
In 1945 Fort Wolters closed and the transient population of servicemen moved on. Doctors began to place more faith in modern medicine with the development of penicillin and other antibiotics and began to send fewer and fewer of their patients to the Baker for mineral water treatments. The hotel hosted two Republican conventions and a Democratic one in the 1950s, but overall business began to decline and the hotel struggled until 1963 when it was temporarily closed down for two years but was re-opened in 1965 by a group of private investors. The hotel continued to struggle until 1972 when it was closed for the final time and the building has towered over the sleepy town of Mineral Wells for the last forty-plus years deteriorating with the effects of both time and vandalism.
Today the Baker looms over the town as a reminder of much grander and more glorious times. The handrails on its front staircase lay on their sides, the doors and windows on the bottom floor are covered in plywood and the Olympic-sized swimming pool out front is empty. The building is supposedly haunted and was featured in a 2012 episode of Ghost Adventures. At one point walking tours were conducted from time to time by local historians but the building has deteriorated too badly to make that feasibly safe anymore and no one is allowed inside. Scrappers have looted much of the buildings copper wire and plumbing pipe.
You can park on the street, climb the stairs and hold a camera up to the broken windows and see the crumbling remains of the lobby, which now resembles a CLOCKWORK ORANGE set and if you use your imagination really hard you can mentally picture the building's former glory. Obscenities are spray-painted on the walls and after a rain a foul odor emanates from the broken windows; time has not been kind to the Baker Hotel. You can walk partially around the lower floor on a brick walkway that almost circles the bottom floor and get a good bird's eye view of downtown Mineral Wells.
From time to time investors talk about raising money and re-opening the Baker; it would be nice to see it happen but it could very well be cheaper to demolish it and rebuild it as opposed to rehabilitating it to 2016 standards, but local residents would love to see it happen.
If you visit Mineral Wells be sure and stop by the Jitter Beans coffee shop across the street from the Baker (101 NE lst Ave) The nice couple who operate it serve a good cup of coffee and genuinely seem to appreciate the business.
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