The Baker Hotel was a concept that, in some ways, was ahead of its time. It opened at a moment when time stood still, just before it leaped backward.
In 1929 T.B. Baker opened his pleasure place, 14 stories tall with 450 rooms. It was glamorous, designed it in the Spanish Renaissance style like the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas. At the time, it was only the second hotel in the country to have its own swimming pool and soon became known as “the South’s greatest health resort. “
In its glory days, its water is what made it famous. Reported to be a cure-all for many ailments, the local residents told stories about folks who drank it and lived long into their 100s. Some even tried to bottle the water and sell it. But only Baker had the genius to build a large hotel on top of the well and advertise it as a resort for the wealthy, and for $30 a night, you could drink all of the miracle water that you wanted. Surrounded by comfort, guests could douse themselves in mineral water, which could take five years off their age, according to Baker.
The whole second floor of the air-conditioned hotel was reserved as the bath-and-massage floor. Private elevators allowed guests to discreetly go to and from treatments in robe and slippers. And “patients” came from all over the United States, as doctors everywhere prescribed week-long stays in health resorts, in those days before pharmacology caught up to demand.
For its time, the hotel was very futuristic. The rooms’ lights were connected to the door handle, so when a guest opened the door, the lights automatically came on. The many spa rooms were furnished with mechanical massage chairs that rubbed the back and feet. The hotel had three different stairwells, one for the wealthy, one for their employees, and one for celebrities such as Judy Garland and Lawrence Welk, who visited the hotel in its heyday. The outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, also stayed at the hotel.
The hotel is also full of other secret rooms and doors. In Baker’s 10th-floor suite, you can push back a cabinet to reveal a concealed place where Baker hid his liquor during Prohibition. On the third floor, another hidden door concealed a private gambling parlor.
The area under the Olympic sized pool is open, supported by massive columns. The parking garage for the Baker is across the street and is accessed by driving into a tunnel and underneath the pool and street. The tunnel is now sealed before it reaches the road. The Baker also generated its own power. Two massive generators are located in the basement, which supplied the hotel with all of its power requirements.
In the 1950s, the hotel turned to business conventions and non-medicinal vacation packages for its principal business. The Baker Hotel advertised its baths to “overworked, stressed-out executives,” according to the Mineral Wells Chamber of Commerce, which notes that some 80 percent of the hotel’s business came from Dallas and Fort Worth businessmen and their families escaping the city.
The hotel stayed busy. It was so popular it got the attention of the federal government, which made it quit advertising the mineral water as a cure-all. That was the beginning of the end. Time, suddenly, was passing the Baker Hotel by.
By the 1960s, health resorts all over the country were losing business. Earl Baker, nephew of the founder, let it be known that he would get out of the business when he turned 70. In 1963, he did, and some Mineral Wells businessmen bought it shortly after, but the Baker’s enchanted era was over. The hotel closed its doors for good in 1972. The new owners sold much of the furnishings, and the building sat empty.
Before long, vandals sprayed graffiti on many of the walls, have broken windows, and the building fell into disrepair. Now, something is foreboding about the enormous empty building that just sits there, abandoned.
The hotel is being renovated!