Since 1929, the Baker Hotel has towered over downtown Mineral Wells as a visual icon of the town “built on water,” and of its enduring history as a resort and health community.
People not only came from far and wide to partake of the purported health benefits of the mineral waters, they came to experience the luxurious accommodations available at some of the finest hotels in the country. After the original Crazy Hotel burned in 1925, the Collins brothers from Dallas brought in “outside money” and purchased the Crazy Well and land where the old hotel once stood. They saw an opportunity to profit from the mineral water and spa business by building a new Crazy Hotel.
Local citizens were not happy that outsiders had come to town to make money off their city. The Chamber of Commerce formed a committee of nine town citizens, including businessmen and investors, and formed The Mineral Wells Hotel Company with 253 citizen stockholders. They raised $150,000 in capital to help jumpstart a movement to lure famous hotelier T.B. Baker, from San Antonio, to build a large resort hotel in Mineral Wells to compete with the new Crazy Hotel.
Capital stock soon increased to $450,000, and the company purchased two blocks at the location of the former Lamar and Star wells as a construction site for a new hotel. In 1925, Baker accepted the investment money and agreed to build a new hotel.
Theodore Basher Baker, the youngest of five children, was born in 1875 to a farming family that lived in Iowa and Kansas. By age 20, he went into the steam laundry business with a partner, but soon realized that business was not his calling. Since his father was in the hotel management business, he sold his interest in the business and got a job as a night clerk in the Avenue Hotel in his hometown of Beloit, Kan.
Eighteen months later in 1899, he leased and later purchased his first hotel – the Greenwood Hotel in Eureka, Kan. In 1903, at the age of 28, he met and married Mamie “Mae” Crawley from Tennessee. During the next 10 years, the Bakers owned and operated four other hotels: The Whitley Hotel in Emporia, Kan.; The Kingfisher Hotel in Oklahoma Territory; The Goodlander Hotel in Fort Scott, Kan.; and The Illini Hotel in Alton, Ill.
During this period, their only child, Mary, was born, but died two years later from unknown causes.
After selling some of his hotel interests in 1910, including the Goodlander, Baker purchased the historic Connor Hotel, a large-scale luxury hotel in Joplin, Mo., where he and Mae became well-known members of that community. In 1914 he traveled to San Antonio on business, where he met the owner of the grand St. Anthony Hotel, built in 1909 by cattlemen B.L. Naylor and A. H. Jones.
A year later, he sold the Illini Hotel and purchased The St. Anthony, his first hotel in Texas, and soon after bought The Menger Hotel, famous for its history associated with Teddy Roosevelt and his recruitment of some of the Rough Riders at the Menger bar. Richard King, of the legendary King Ranch, died there in 1885.
T.B. Baker’s oldest sister, Myla, soon joined T.B. and his wife in San Antonio and became prominent fixtures in society there. They made trips to Europe, where they visited lavish hotels and gleaned ideas for their hotels in the United States. Furniture and other lavish furnishings were shipped back for decorating their hotels. Baker began expanding his hotel empire during the 1920s by building the Texas Hotel in the heart of the Fort Worth Stockyards, The Baker Hotel in Dallas, and The Stephen F. Austin Hotel in downtown Austin.
In 1924, he purchased the Gunter Hotel in downtown San Antonio, across the street from the Majestic Theater. He redesigned the lobby and added three floors for apartments on top of the existing building. T.B. and Mae lived in one of the apartments for many years. Many of Baker’s hotels were modernized, with modern amenities including in-room ice water, childcare, backup generators, modern laundry facilities and glassed-in rooftop terraces for dancing.
SLIDESHOW: A look inside the Baker Hotel
Mineral Wells Index staff writer and photographer Tyler Mask was given a special tour Thursday of the Baker Hotel, from top to bottom. Here is a slideshow of photographs he took during that tour, showing the deterioration of the last four decades, some of the vandalism and destruction, and some the beauty that still exists inside the 14-story building.
Building the Baker
Construction of the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells began in 1926. Architect Wyatt C. Hedrick modeled the hotel after the design of the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Ark. After returning from a trip to California and seeing a swimming pool at a hotel there, Baker insisted that the new hotel in Mineral Wells should have one also. It would be the first hotel in Texas with a swimming pool. The pool was placed on top of the already completed basement, which was used as a work area for the hotel and changing area for guests.
Construction resumed, and the building was completed and opened on Nov. 9, 1929, at a cost of $1.7 million. It was twice as tall as the Crazy Hotel, and had twice as many rooms.
The building was 14 stories with 450 rooms and had two ballrooms, an in-house beauty shop, doctor offices, pharmacies, a restaurant, bowling alley, gymnasium, Olympic-size swimming pool, circulated ice water to each room, lighting and fans that shut off and turned on automatically when guests left or arrived at their room, and valet doors that allowed laundry to be picked up without disturbing guests in their rooms. It was the first skyscraper built in Texas outside a major metropolitan ares. In the 1940s, the hotel became fully air conditioned.
In the late 1920s, Baker continued to acquire hotel properties in Texas, including The Galvez Hotel and Hotel San Luis in Galveston, The Edson Hotel in Beaumont, The Goodhue Hotel in Port Arthur, and the Thomas Jefferson Hotel in Birmingham, Ala.
Although the Baker hotels fared well during the early 1930s, the long-term financial crisis created during the Great Depression began to impact his hotel empire. Some properties were liquidated and others divided into several holding companies. Through lengthy legal litigations, some hotels continued to be operated by family members, including T.B.’s two nephews. Fenton J. Baker managed and later owned the Dallas Baker Hotel, and Earl M. Baker managed and later owned the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio and The Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells.
In its first full year of operation, a renovated Baker Hotel could realize $2.1 million in n…
T. B. Baker’s unmarried sister, Myla, permanently moved into the Mineral Wells Baker Hotel in 1933 and died in 1950. T.B. and Mae continued to live in The Gunter Hotel in San Antonio throughout the 1930s and 1940s, but little is known about them for the next 30 years, as they faded from the limelight. Mae died in 1963 at the age of 87, and T.B. moved into a small white house in south San Antonio and died in 1972 at the age of 96.
Earl M. Baker closed the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells for the first time in 1963, and for the last and final time in 1972.
The Grand Old Lady of Mineral Wells still beacons local citizens and travelers passing through Mineral Wells, hoping it will someday return to its days of glory. It also stands as a testament to the vision of one of the Texas’ most famous hotel entrepreneurs – T.B. Baker.