Baker Is Back

| illustration by Charles Marsh |

There’s word that the old Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells is going to be renovated soon. I sure hope so. Unfortunately, most people these days don’t remember this historic landmark, and the ones that do only remember that it met its sudden demise more than 40 years ago. It’s kind of like the Titanic. Nobody ever mentions the good times before they hit the iceberg. And there were plenty.

Of course there’s been talk about renovating the Baker Hotel for years. But none of the potential developers could secure the financing. According to my real estate buddies, it was harder to find than the gluten-free section at Walmart. 

A development group out of Southlake has apparently been working on a deal that could start a complete renovation of the Baker by the end of this year. So how did they do it?

Well, according to reports, it took more than six years just to structure the financing. And the major problem in obtaining loans was the requirement that all the asbestos be removed from the old structure. And there was a lot of it. It would have kept mesothelioma attorneys busy for centuries.

But somehow these guys were able to get a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to abate the entire problem. Additional monies then started coming through a variety of sources until finally the entire renovation budget was raised. I’m glad because the Baker Hotel used to be a pretty cool place. Literally. It was one of the first structures in Texas to be air conditioned.

Although it was completed in 1929, the idea for the Baker Hotel began in 1922. Citizens thought it would be a great way to profit off of their famed mineral water. They then hired a famous hotel magnate, Theodore Brasher Baker, to come up with the plan. When it was finished, it stood 14 stories high with 450 guest rooms. Amenities included two ballrooms, a beauty shop, a bowling alley and a gymnasium. It was the first skyscraper built outside a metropolitan area and had the first swimming pool ever built for a hotel in Texas.

I’d also like to point out that around this time the birth of another legend was taking place in Mineral Wells. It’s always been thought by local residents that the giant “WELCOME” sign you see when you enter Mineral Wells was the inspiration for the similar-sized “HOLLYWOOD” sign. The town was known nationwide for its mineral waters that supposedly had curative powers. The town attracted all types of celebrities. One of them was D.W. Griffith, the famous movie producer. Word has it that he was impressed by the sign and was part of a group that had the Hollywood sign erected shortly after he returned to Los Angeles. California historians deny all this. They say the idea for the sign originated in Hollywood. I tend to side with the residents of Mineral Wells for two reasons.  First of all, their sign was erected well before the Hollywood sign. And secondly, there has never been an original idea that’s ever come out of Hollywood. 

If you grew up in the ’50s, chances are your parents took you on a short summer vacation to the Baker Hotel. That was about the last time I ever walked the grounds. So one morning a couple of weeks ago, I decided to take a quick road trip to Mineral Wells just to see it again. But before I started, I had to swing by Whataburger and get their new breakfast sandwich. It’s sausage, egg and cheese on a jalapeño cheddar biscuit. It’s incredible. I have now had one every day since Easter. And one day, thanks to me, scientists will know exactly how many it takes to kill you.

Anyway, it took a little more than an hour to get to Mineral Wells. I suddenly realized it had been almost 60 years. I hopped out of the car, dusted off the biscuit crumbs and just stared. What was once one of the finest hotels in the country was totally trashed. That really upset me, but I’m not sure why. Truth is, there wasn’t much for kids my age to do there, except wait for their parents to finish doing whatever they were doing in those mineral baths.

I really hope the developers can pull off this renovation. They’ve supposedly raised almost $56 million to do it. And when they finish it, I’m going to book a room as soon as I can. Then I’m going to try one of those mineral baths to see if they really do have curative powers. My dad swore it would take care of any part of your body that was giving you trouble.

I know what you’re thinking. And the answer is, “Yes, I do intend to rub plenty of that water on my head.”