The people of east Palo Pinto and west Parker County must be very fond of the fictitious line from Casablanca “Play it again, Sam” because they have heard it so often. Every year or so, an announcement is made that the Baker Hotel is going to rise again out of the ashes like the fabled Phoenix bird.
Southlake developers Laird Fairchild and Chad Patton announced recently that they had purchased the hotel and had plans for renovating it immediately. This is a mammoth project since the last hotel guest was there in 1972. My builder father used to tell me that an unoccupied building goes down faster than one occupied but not maintained.
The last time I was there for an event was in 1969, when I was covering a Boy Scout banquet for the Democrat. The ballroom floor was already buckling because of the leaking roof. Since that time, according to some trespassers the hotel has been home only to ghosts. Yes, the main level has had some small businesses over the years but the hotel itself has been going downhill since it was closed for occupancy.
The Baker as it has been called over the years has had a fascinating history. From its storied beginning until recent years when it could have been a Stephen King novel setting, there is much history connected with it.
Mineral Wells and the surrounding area became famous for its mineral springs and their curative properties late in the 1800s. Over the years, millions of dollars have been spent advertising the springs and the hotels it spawned and it was called the place “Where America drinks its way to health.”
Over the early years, tales were told of people drinking the waters and being cured of almost any disease. The time period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was filled with “quack” doctors and miracle cures from “medicines” to cure-all machines. This was the background for the area. Following a fire that destroyed the original Crazy Hotel there, a million dollar Crazy Hotel was opened in 1927 with 200 rooms and all of the latest amenities included an air conditioned hotel coffee shop. Conrad Hilton and the governor of Missouri attended the opening.
Local business people got together to plan a hotel that was locally owned and not funded by out of towners. A Chamber of Commerce committee was formed to work with hotel magnate T. B. Baker to raise funds to build a resort palace on land purchased in downtown Mineral Wells that formerly held the Lamar and Star Wells, two of the many spas that dotted the area.
Plans called for the Baker Hotel to be twice the size of the Crazy Water Hotel, 400 rooms and the building could be seen for miles and miles because of the smaller city structures and the flatness of the area. Wyatt Headrick of Fort Worth and Weatherford, who designed the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, AR, designed the Baker and the buildings are very similar. The Baker building opened in 1927.
Competition between the Baker and Crazy Hotels was hot and heavy during the early years with each vying to have the top visitors and orchestras being in town. You have to remember that the depression had hit during this time frame. One author said that expensive automobiles were driving down the streets with their famous owners staying at the luxury hotels while some residents were living in dugouts.
A couple of things stood out in the benefit of the hotels. In 1902, the Northern Texas Traction Company laid its first tracks for the interurban electric trolley service between Dallas and Fort Worth. In 1912, the Fort Worth Traction Company opened a line to Cleburne and a line was also opened to Mineral Wells through Weatherford. Automobiles were just beginning to be able to follow the Bankhead Highway during the early years when interurban riders could speed along at 65 miles per hour. Getting to Mineral Wells was not the problem it was just a few years earlier.
Another benefit for the newly traveling public in addition to the luxury hotels and automobiles was the invention of the radio. Fort Worth opened the airways in the early 1920s and other stations soon followed. Quiz radio shows and others began very popular and among the prizes offered were weekend trips to Mineral Wells as prizes. The interurban provided the transportation for north Texans to the fun city.
Earl Baker, a nephew of the builder, became interested in the Baker and purchased it in a sheriff’s sale after one of its down periods. He told the residents when he became 70, he would sell the hotel for in excess of one million. A group of Mineral Wells businessmen got together $375,000 and purchased it. The ups and downs continued through the years until it closed for good.
A who’s who of the top political, movie stars and blue book entries registered at the Baker over the years and all of the top orchestras in the country sent their music over the radio airways and night skies during the hey day of the Baker. Many orchestras or bands of the period got their start in mineral city. A listing of celebrities would fill several pages.The spas lost favor over the years but if the hotel is reopened it would be a luxurious place today to have a spa.
Jon Vandagriff is an award winning daily newaspaper editor and college history professor emeritus, who still writes, teaches and speaks. Contact jvan222sbcglobal.net or 817.341.3719.