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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Baker Hotel: Landmark is still closed, but walking tour now available

Baker Hotel

Historically known for the legendary healing properties of the mineral waters in the area, the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells opened in 1929.

At 14 floors and costing $1.2 million, it was the first skyscraper built outside of a major U.S. metropolitan area. The hotel was developed by Texas entrepreneur T.B. Baker and featured progressive hotel amenities including the first Olympic size hotel swimming pool, air conditioning, circulating ice water for the guest rooms, automatic light controls to turn off lights when guests leave the room and lock their doors, and valet doors for dry cleaning to keep hotel employees from disturbing the guests. The hotel attracted many celebrities as performers and as guests, among them Lyndon Johnson, Pat Boone, Jack Dempsey, Marlene Dietrich, Dale Evans, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Will Rogers, Roy Rogers, Elliot Roosevelt and the Three Stooges.

The hotel closed in 1972, but efforts to revive it continue.

www.thebakerhotel.com/

For decades the Baker Hotel has stood tall in downtown Mineral Wells. Though it has been closed for decades, its reputation from days of glory continues to make it a place of mystique, a place folks have to see if they are in the area.

Hopes remain for a complete restoration of the giant that was once a vacation destination for elites from all over the country. Just driving by, one envisions elaborate gatherings under crystal chandeliers in a ballroom, champagne room service, and relaxing days with a glass of southern sweet tea on the veranda.

In late 1929, the Baker Hotel opened, and during the 1930s the 14-story hotel was known as a top-tier health spa destination. Featuring 450 guest rooms, two ballrooms, an in-house beauty shop, a bowling alley, gymnasium and an outdoor swimming pool, the hotel offered a 2,500-person meeting capacity and a luxurious resort experience for guests.

Long after its peak of popularity, the Baker went out of business and closed its doors in1972. It was established on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Today, the building still sits vacant but holds hope and promise of renovation to restore its vibrancy as the pillar of Mineral Wells.

In the meantime, thanks to the Mineral Wells Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, visitors can get a glimpse of what once was and what might be again after the installation of a $42,000, self-guided walking tour with informational signs about the Baker Hotel and other attractions in the community.

“The goals of the walking tour project were to help beautify Mineral Wells, attract tourists to the downtown area and bring hope to the community that the Baker Hotel will one day be restored,” said Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Ryan Roach.

“It was a two-year process and a collaborative team effort among the Chamber and City of Mineral Wells staff, the owners of the hotel, Baker Hotel development partners, resident volunteers and community leaders that resulted in this project coming to fruition.”

The informational-sign walking tour was designed and created by Austin-based Arsenal Advertising. The agency was charged with developing a look and feel for the new chamber of commerce brand and tagline, “Where Texas Runs Deep,” and telling the history of Mineral Wells and the Baker Hotel, along with educating locals and visitors on entertainment and recreational options in Mineral Wells.

The walking tour is around the outside of the hotel. People cannot enter the building due to liability and safety considerations. However, the tour includes a few acrylic windows to view the hotel lobby and imagine the gala events it once hosted and the many famous guests checking in.

The signs tell the story of the hotel with dates, including when it was built, features of the hotel, how it was used by guests, the hotel’s owners, its impact on the community and future plans. Pictures are also shown on the signs.

Roach said he hopes the tour will not only spark more interest in rejuvenating the once-glorious Baker, but also spark others to invest in the city, which has struggled economically in recent years.

“In working with Mineral Wells to establish a new brand, we recognized the significant opportunity the Baker Hotel holds for the community,” Jonathan Smith, co-owner, with Anne Marie Scharrer, of Austin-based Arsenal Advertising, said. “The rich history of the Baker Hotel is truly a symbol of hope for Mineral Wells.

“The city is ripe for an economic comeback. Breathing life and energy into the hotel by creating this historical signage tour can help foster pride among locals and visitors, and possibly even spark interest among developers to invest in this treasure that was once the pillar of the community.”

Leadership Mineral Wells (LMW) Class 23 raised $16,000 for the informational-sign walking tour, the most any class has ever contributed toward a community project. The Brazos Foundation also contributed $17,000 and the chamber provided about $9,000, the remaining amount needed to fund the project.

“What we love about the new Baker Hotel walking tour is that so many different people wanted to see change in the downtown area, and this project really brings unity,” said LMW Class 23 member Tanner Kidd. “It’s rewarding to see so many community leaders, business owners and residents participate, and I think there are really great things to come for this city.”

Richards Sign Co. in Mineral Wells manufactured the 43 informational signs, which were installed by members of the LMW Class 23, the chamber’s board and staff members as well as several local volunteers.

Along with the Baker, the signs also outline the city’s history, as well as tourism attractions around Mineral Wells and Palo Pinto County.

Planning and restoration has been underway for more than 10 years through a private partnership to restore the Baker, city officials said.The $60 million hotel restoration project is expected to be funded by various state/federal grants, private investment, local incentives and other sources, they said. They said final pieces of financing are being negotiated and secured. The development partners’ website is: https://www.thebakerhotel.com/

Roach said that should the Baker re-open someday, the iconic hotel would allow for Mineral Wells to re-emerge as the tourism destination the city was during the first half of the 20th century.

“Not only would it stimulate revitalization of downtown and the local economy, it will also awaken the prideful spirit of those who may have lost hope for our city,” he said. “I believe the restoration and rebirth of the Baker Hotel will go down in history as a victory for Mineral Wells that many believed would be impossible.”

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