Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Rise, the Fall and (Possible) Rise Again of the Baker Hotel

Mineral Wells is a small town of roughly 17,000 people set in the heart of Texas. In 1877 a man named James Alvis Lynch with his family located in the area to escape an epidemic of malaria and the humid climate found in North Texas. Upon his arrival it was quickly determined that the area lacked a sufficient water supply so the Lynch family had a well drilled. They immediately noticed that the well water tasted odd. After they tested it on the cattle they decided it was safe to drink. According to the family their health seemed to improve upon drinking the water. It was assumed that the water had healing powers and the word of its therapeutic affects started to spread resulting in thousands arriving in hopes of sampling the "miracle water." As the numbers grew the town of Mineral Wells was established in 1881 with Lynch declaring himself as mayor.

Over time multiple wells were drilled to satisfy the masses. With more wells came more tourists seeking access to the water and a growing tourist industry sprang up in the town resulting in the establishment of numerous bath houses and spas in the town by the early part of the 20th century. This growth in tourism in turn created the need for support industries such as food, entertainment and lodging. The mineral waters were beginning to be known worldwide as a cure all for many types of illnesses.

By the 1920's the citizens of Mineral Wells became concerned that the money from the tourists wasn't staying in town but going to outside investors. As a result the citizens of Mineral Wells decided they needed to have a locally owned resort hotel. So a small group of nine citizens raised $150,000.00 by selling shares in the future hotel to 253 stockholders. Now that they had start-up capital they needed someone to build it.

The citizens contacted T. B. Baker, who had been highly successful with hotels and resorts, to construct a new hotel. Over time he had built numerous hotels such as the Menger, Baker Hotel in downtown Dallas and the Gunter Hotel.

The Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells opened November 22nd, 1929 with 452 rooms and two spas. The hotel claimed to have had the first Olympic sized swimming pool in a US hotel. Unlike other pools the Baker Hotel pool was filled with the miracle water of Mineral Wells. It also differed from many structures of its time in that rather than an Art Deco design it was built as a "Spanish Revival Commercial High Rise." In addition, the hotel was fully air conditioned, which was uncommon in the 1920’s. It was also ahead of its time in energy efficiency in that the lights and fans were controlled by the key lock on the guest's room doors so when the guests would leave a room and lock the door the lights and fans went off.

There’s a long list of famous people from the diesel era who stayed at the Baker Hotel. The list included Judy Garland, Clark Gable, the Three Stooges, Roy Rogers, Will Rogers, Marlene Dietrich, Mary Martin, General Pershing, Dorothy Lamour, Sammy Kaye, Jack Dempsey, and Helen Keller. Probably the most famous, or one might say infamous, people known to stay at the Baker Hotel were Bonnie and Clyde who stayed one night under aliases.

But the hotel’s glory days have long passed. On April 30, 1963 Earl Baker, the son of TB Baker, closed the doors of the Baker Hotel and it has sat vacant and deteriorating ever since. The only resident now is said to be the ghost of a woman who people say was the mistress of the hotel manager. According to legend she jumped to her death from the top the Baker Hotel. Witnesses now say that today she roams the halls of the seventh floor.

But there's hope for the hotel. The Historic Mineral Wells Foundation is working to renovate the Baker Hotel and to bring her back to previous glory. You can visit the web site where you can view photos and videos of the building and donate to help in its reconstruction.


Amanda Williams said...

I love the Baker and your article. I put it on my Blog and gave you credit of course. Thank you for writing this!

-Amanda Williams

Larry Amyett, Jr said...

Thank you so much. I'm honored by your reposting.

The Hepcat Geezer said...

Mary Martin didn't just stay at the hotel. As a young woman, she taught dancing classes there, and sang regularly on the radio show broadcast from the hotel.