Baker Rising

In her glory days, the majestic Baker Hotel embraced U.S. presidents, Hollywood royalty, socialites, oil tycoons and cattle kings.

Clarence Holliman
Beth Watson
Sue and Fred Rauschuber
R.E. Mason
Mayor Mike Allen
Charlsie Blocker
Laurie Mauldin
Sandra and Jesse Gonzales

Conceived by a group of Mineral Wells businessmen and built by famed Texas hotelier T.B. Baker, the hotel opened its doors, Nov. 9, 1929, and it held its grand opening Nov. 22, just two weeks after the Wall Street Stock Market crash. At a cost of $1.2 million, the Spanish Revival-style, 14-story hotel had 450 air-conditioned guest rooms and featured tennis courts, medical clinics, shopping, restaurants, a drinking pavilion, a beauty salon, outdoor pool, a bowling alley and one entire floor dedicated to a spa for mineral baths and massages. It was the home of the famous Brazos Club.    
     The Baker thrived for two decades. By the 1940s, most of the mineral water companies had closed. With World War II and gas rationing, people couldn’t make the trip to Mineral Wells. Earl Baker, the nephew of T.B. Baker, took ownership in the 1950s. He shut the doors on May 31, 1963. A group of local businessmen bought the hotel in 1965 and reopened the following year. They closed the Baker in March 1972.     
     Vandalism and neglect have left the historic hotel in a sad state of decay, but you can’t help but stand in awe of this beautiful building with so much history and potential.    
     For many years, no one had any interest in restoring the Baker, but due to a public-private partnership between The Baker Restoration Team and the City of Mineral Wells, plans are well underway to restore the “Grand Old Lady” to her former glory.      
     “If you spend enough time in that hotel, she draws you in like an enchantress,” said Mineral Wells Mayor Mike Allen. “I sometimes get the feeling that she’s crying for this rebirth.”
     “When the hotel is restored and opened, I don’t know if we can really comprehend what it’s going to do for our local economy,” he said.
     “We’ve got golf courses nearby, Clark Gardens, the Famous Water Company, the Brazos River, Possum Kingdom Lake and lots of museums. This is an old city with lots of heritage. With 20,000 square feet of meeting area in the hotel, there are going to be companies wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle and come over for a sales meeting. On the weekends, we can do three weddings at a time. When it opens, the influence will radiate from the Baker, and it will start with rejuvenating downtown,” Allen continued. “People are already looking to buy buildings. I think there will be restaurants, boutiques, all the things that you would see in an area like this. Then it’s going to spread out to stimulate new housing and stimulate the pride in Mineral Wells and how you feel about your neighborhood.”
     The Baker Hotel Development Partners LLC includes Laird Fairchild, Chad Patton and Brint Ryan—all of whom are financers and managing members of the development team. Mark Rawlings serves as general contractor and member. Jeff Trigger is operator and member. Kurt and Beth Thiel serve as design and procurement team and members.
     Patton is a financial advisor, and Fairchild is a principal at Southlake-based Hunter Chase Capital Partners.    
     “Laird and I fell in love with the Baker Hotel more than a decade ago and found ourselves, about six years ago when the hotel went up for sale, just identifying whether or not some tax credits would be available for the project,” Patton said. “As we continued to do our diligence, we became more and more addicted and overwhelmed with ‘what would happen to that community if the Baker Hotel were alive and thriving again?’ Through the years, we have continued to identify how to finance the project.”    
     After thousands of hours dedicated by Patton, Fairchild and the other partners, they still weren’t sure they had a viable project, Patton said. “Through the financial analysis that had been done over and over again, it looked like the hotel, if it were up and running at 155 rooms, had a valuation of somewhere around $35 million. The costs are currently at $56.2 million. Traditional financing back in 2008 was out the window, particularly for the hospitality market,” he said. “Traditional financing isn’t available even in a right market today because of the value of that property when stabilized and the cost of constructing to complete. So, we started looking at ways to make it work through tax credits and the like and realized that we needed significant equity that wasn’t really at risk by an individual or group of individuals that would be investing.”
     Patton said it was never their intent to go to the citizens of Mineral Wells and ask for money in the form of raising taxes or donations, but in order to secure some of the financing, the federal and state financing sources want to see community input.    
     That’s where a 4B sales tax comes in. The voters approved the referendum on May 10. Mineral Wells can levy up to two cents of generated sales taxes. “All we’re doing is reappropriating one eighth of a cent from the city’s general fund and dedicating it to an economic development corporation group,” Patton explained.    
     The city council would appoint the board members that would manage the assets within that corporation. What the development team is asking for is the first $300,000, which equates to the estimated one-eighth cent revenue generated in the first year and following years, dedicated to support the services debt on bonds that will be floated down the road to support the hotel. “We believe that we could float close to, if not more than, $4 million,” Patton said. “Anything over $300,000 can be used for additional economic development within the community.”
     If the hotel is not financed for whatever reason, the city can keep the economic development corporation in place or they can take it back for vote to eliminate the referendum 4B and put those dollars back into the general fund.     
     Patton said they’ve identified the capital sources and now are putting all the pieces together. He feels confident that by the end of 2014, they can have the project financed.    
     Clarence Holliman served as mayor of Mineral Wells from 2002-2008. He played a key role in paving the way for the Baker restoration project.    
     “When I became mayor, I contacted our state representative, Jim Keffer, to see if there were things we could do that would make [the restoration] a viable project,” Holliman said. “City Manager Lance Howerton and I did the exploring of what it would take. We found that it would take a TIF District, but the state law at that time was that if Mineral Wells Independent School District would participate, they would lose funding. Jim carried some legislation worded so that the school district would not lose any funding. Sen. Rodney Ellis, out of Houston, carried it to the Senate for us, and the legislation got passed. Without the TIF District, it would have been impossible to try to get any business people to invest in this.”    
     Beth Watson, planning marketing director at Corner Post Financial in Mineral Wells, with the help of her husband, Steve, founded Friends of the Baker to campaign on the Baker’s behalf regarding the 4B sales tax. According to Patton, they saved the restoration team a substantial sum of money they would have paid to a third party outside of Mineral Wells.    
     “The reason I was interested in being involved in helping move the project forward is because it fixes a major image problem that Mineral Wells has—not just how we think about ourselves, but how we are perceived across Texas,” Beth Watson said. “When you talk to people throughout the state about Mineral Wells and you tell them that we have a new research and development center, we have a new manufacturer, and we just brought 250 jobs to town, they don’t care. All they identify in Mineral Wells is the Baker Hotel, and in the outside world and even internally, sometimes the condition of the Baker is inaccurately taken as reflective of the state of Mineral Wells because it’s such a monstrous structure. Fixing that will work wonders for our image statewide and for the local morale.”    
     Mineral Wells native, Austin filmmaker Kevin Pruitt produced Ballad of the Baker to inform the public about the decline of the Baker and encourage a restoration. In 2009, he created a Facebook page for The Baker Hotel. That’s where he heard about Fairchild and Patton. “I told them I wanted to meet, and I wanted to help,” Pruitt said. “I’m not a banker; I’m not a developer; I’m a video producer. I told them we have the power to change the course of Mineral Wells and get the word out so that the people of Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto County, and even the state know this time it’s the real deal. The video we produced has garnered a lot of attention and a lot of awareness to this restoration project,” he said.    
     Several people in Mineral Wells have ties to the Baker Hotel and are excited about the restoration.    

     Alleen Coalson Stringer, 85, was engaged to Captain Dick Stringer in the Brazos Club in 1951. She and her husband (now late husband) lived in a suite at the Baker from 1968 to 1972. She still has the key. They were the last ones to leave the hotel before it was closed. “I’m always late, no matter where I go,” Stringer said. “They were cutting off the electricity. We got downstairs, and I had forgotten my photo album in the suite. So, I had to walk up six flights of stairs with a maintenance man with a flashlight to get my photos. My late husband said, ‘I told you that you’d be the last one out.’ I’m terrible about that,” she said, laughing. Stringer said the Baker was a romantic place and an ideal place to live. “My late husband said all I had to do was breathe. We had a maid service and the coffee shop downstairs. My fondest memory was when the champagne was brought to the table and he gave me my engagement ring in the Brazos Club in front of all our friends. The Baker just means so much to me, and I’m looking forward to it reopening. We could have bought it for $125,000 back then. Oh, I wish we had,” she said.     
     Sue and Fred Rauschuber, both in their early 70s, spent their honeymoon at the Baker 51 years ago. “We got married at St. Monica Church in Dallas,” Sue said. “We were college students at North Texas at the time and had only known each other six months. The Baker was just wonderful. We had the mineral baths and the massages. Maybe it will be ready in time for us to celebrate our 54th anniversary with a weekend there. That would be neat.”     
     Charlsie Blocker has been a hairdresser in Mineral Wells for 53 years. She owns Charlsie’s Last Salon and Blocker’s Bargain Barn. She worked in the hair salon at the Baker from 1962-1963. “My fondest memory is when I was 17 years old, and I cut Enid Justin’s beautiful white hair,” Blocker said. “I charged her $4 for a shampoo and a haircut, and she tipped me a dollar. That was a lot of money then. When I found out who she was and how famous she was, I thought, ‘Oh, my word!’ I was scared of her, but she was so nice. She told me about her home in Nacona, and it seems like she talked about things being pink in her house.” Blocker said she had seen the Baker go down but had never seen it go this far down. “It makes me so sad to see it the way it is now.”
     Laurie Mauldin, her mother and grandmother worked at the Baker at the same time for two years. She has voided paychecks for all of them. They made 33 1/3 cents an hour. Her grandmother lived to be 99. She worked there from 1935 until 1972.
     Laurie worked the concession stand at the pool and alternated as a lifeguard. In the summers of 1966-67, she worked in the mornings serving the breakfast run. “My daddy’s only rule was I couldn’t date military men,” she said. “All those handsome guys were coming to the pool from Fort Wolters, and I couldn’t date them. There was just so much going on back then. People were standing in line on the sidewalk to get in. And the dances on the roof. How I loved that everyone looked like Marilyn Monroe in those beautiful gowns,” she said. “If they hurry and open up, I’m going to get me a room and live in it,” she said. Mauldin has worked as a title examiner for 16 years at Elliott and Waldron Abstract of Palo Pinto, Inc., in Mineral Wells.
     R.E. Mason, 82, worked as a pinsetter in the Baker’s bowling alley in 1946 and  1947. He made 25 cents an hour. “My mother didn’t want me on the streets after dark because Mineral Wells was kinda rough when the Fort Wolters base was here,” he said. “I worked about four hours after school and took home a dollar in my pocket. I remember instead of trying to keep score, people thought it was funny to try to hit me with the bowling ball before I could jump up on that padded side. It was a fun time.”    
     Sandra and Jesse Gonzales met and fell in love at the Baker and married in 1959. He was a cook, and she was an elevator operator. Now they’re both cooking at their business, Jesse’s Drive-In, in Mineral Wells. They’ve owned it for 34 years. They both started at the Baker with summer jobs in 1957 and 1958. “In the days when we worked the Baker, it was very busy,” Jesse said. “A lot of conventions came to town. You know, back then, I made ice sculptures by hand. I remember working in the freezer 30 minutes at a time, coming out and warming my hands up and going back in,” he said. “When I went back to the Baker, I was just so sad at the way it looked, but the good memories came back too.”    
     Sandra said that her thing was “going up and down, up and down. They called me elevator girl. I remember taking a lot of high-ranking military on that elevator,” she said. “I could go from one floor to the next in a heartbeat. That elevator was fast.” Her uniform was a peach dress with a little collar and cuffs on the sleeves, Sandra recalled. It buttoned all the way up the front. “It was a romantic time, the era when I fell in love with my husband.”
     “In the 1920s the citizens of Mineral Wells found a developer to build the Baker Hotel,” Allen said. “Then we had several decades of growth. Since then, our destiny has been controlled by outside forces—whether it was the closing of our military base, the booms of oil and gas that went away, or corporations that came in and put plants in, stayed for years, and ultimately decided to move them somewhere else. What we’re doing now is similar to what they did in the ’20s when they said, ‘we need to find somebody to build us a hotel.’”
     “We’ve found people to do that, and we have supported them and put our destiny in our own hands.
     “To me, the Baker Hotel is an anchor that holds us to the past, but with this renovation, I believe it will be the prow of this huge liner that leads us to the future,” he said. | photography by Alex Lepe |

 

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