Saturday, November 14, 2009

Big City Dreams in a Small Town


I was born and raised in a small Texas town called Mineral Wells. It is a sleepy little town of 16,000 or so residents about 50 minutes west of Fort Worth. The area is very pretty with lakes and rolling hills. The water around the town became known for its healing properties (hence the name, Mineral Wells) and in the late 1800's, the town was founded. Stories of Mineral Wells' healing waters brought tourists from around the world in the early part of the 20th century. Little hotels, drinking pavilions, spas, and bathhouses started popping up, taking advantage of the benefits of the water both for bathing and drinking that were becoming so popular. The tourist trade came to town and put Mineral Wells, Texas on the map.

In 1929, Texas hotel entrepreneur T.B. Baker opened a 14 story, 450 room Spanish revival hotel smack dab in the middle of Mineral Wells.
It was an elegant hotel with a huge lobby, large Olympic sized outdoor swimming pool, marble spa areas for a variety of treatments including mineral baths (nice), massages, (really nice), and colonic treatments (eeeeoooooowww). Mr. Baker spared no expense in installing the newest features such as circulating ice water for the guest rooms which he used in many of his other hotels. The hotel was to be fully air conditioned which was a novelty during this time. Also the lights and fans were controlled by the key lock on the guest's room doors. When the guest left the room and locked the door the lights and fans went off. Valet doors were also installed so the guests might place clothing to be cleaned in them and not be disturbed by the employee that came to remove the items for cleaning. The Baker Hotel had wide porches, its own bowling alley, a full sized gymnasium, and several restaurants and ballrooms with the most impressive (in my mind anyway) being the Cloud Ballroom at the 14th floor with its large windows all across both sides of the room overlooking our little town and beyond. It was the scene of big bands and dancing and good times on a Saturday night.

There were tales of movie stars visiting the hotel in its heyday and big bands playing in the clubs. Bonnie and Clyde stayed there for a time. U.S. Presidents and congressmen visited.

I went there once with my dad as his "date" for a Rotary Club banquet when my mom got sick at the last minute. The hotel was 45 years old at the time, but I remember how big and elegant it still seemed. There were tall ceilings, cloth napkins and hotel silver, and beautifully patterned rugs. Even then, I could imagine back in the day when people would come from all over to take the baths, maybe enjoy a little entertainment, and a chic cocktail from one of the bars. The swimming pool was also quite beautiful and impressive to a little girl with its fountain and children's wading pool on one end and the huge pool at the other.

But, times change, then, as now. Antibiotics, the Food and Drug Administration, the interstate that diverted traffic 20 miles away-all of this came together to bring an end to the glory days of the Baker Hotel. After slowly becoming an obsolete destination, it closed its doors for the last time in 1972.

Even as a young teenager, I was intrigued by the history associated with this grand old gal, although she was not aging well and was becoming more and more tattered and run down (and vandalized) each year as she slept, waiting for her prince to come rescue her. Back then, I, as most of our town, still had the hope that someday, someone would rescue the hotel. As of yet, that day has not come, despite many tries by various entities to renovate and reopen the Baker Hotel. Not much call for a GINORMOUS hotel in a little town that seems to be shrinking rather than growing.

Now, almost 38 years after she closed her doors for the last time, she sits. Getting more decrepit and broken down with each passing year, she waits. Becoming such a hazard that the city finally closed her to visitors altogether in 2006, this once grand old lady is getting dangerously close to passing the point of no return-too far gone to restore, too expensive to tear down.

It breaks my heart to see her standing there in her current state. I often wonder if my love for cities, bright lights, grand hotels, and, in general, HUBUB might have had some beginnings growing up in the shadow of this grand old hotel with its rich past. Unlike so many of my friends, both in my real world and my virtual world, I've never been at home in the country-at least, not for more than a short while. I've always loved big cities as long as I can remember. My parents were both from small towns and lived their entire married lives in small towns, so I can't attribute it to them. I just love the sound of humanity carrying on at all hours-the sirens, the traffic, the hum of the city. Throw in a far off train going down the track, and I can go to sleep like a baby. I don't know why, it just is what it is.

I haven't been back to Mineral Wells since a few months after my father died in 2006, but I assume the Baker Hotel is still an albatross, dying a little more each day. It makes me so sad to think about it, but it is a part of me, so I pay it homage here in Blogland. For what it's worth, this is where I come from. Thanks for listening.

Until next time,

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  1. So sad...I hate to see this kind of historic elegance falling prey to modern times. I'm hoping some millionaire who loves history reads your blog and takes the plunge...

  2. How utterly heartbreaking. What a grand lady she was and the stories she could tell. Can you imagine that lifestyle when traveling was an art and no one owned disposable anything. When luggage was a matching set WITH monogramming, bellboys, room service with real china, cocktail hour. Oh my...I was just born at the wrong time. Such a shame. We had our senior prom in the Baker Hotel in Dallas back in the day...gone now! It was bought by SWB and they decided to implode it. Funny isn't it? Is SWB even in business now? I do have room service tags that came from the old hotel to remember it by. Sigh, I loved this post.
    P.S. Didn't I read somewhere that y'alls is haunted?

  3. Hi Judy,

    Such a sad story, and was really hoping to read that someone could take this over and return it to its former glory.
    What an amazing old place, it is very beautiful.
    thanks for sharing.

    Happy weekend

  4. Hi Judy,

    Thanks for sharing this fascinating story about the hotel and the town you grew up in. How wonderful if this could be restored--if not for a hotel--then at least for another purpose. Makes you wonder whatever happened to all of the silver and the other finery that used to furnish it. My mother was born in another even smaller town in north east Texas also built around mineral springs--Hughes Springs. Similarly, there is little left to commemorate grander days gone by. It seems that every one has left and headed for the larger cities. Hope you are having a relaxing and enjoyable weekend. ~Jermaine~

  5. It is sad to see such a beauty in such decay today. I do believe my family went there when I was young. I'll have to ask on my next visit home...on Thanksgiving.
    Thanks for coming by today and if your interested, I found the photo of me in the box.
    Warm Wednesday Blessings ;-)

  6. Hi Judy,

    It me again coming by to let you know that I have invited you to a little Thanksgiving gathering. Please stop by when you can.

  7. Sad indeed,we have so many stories like that,why do we let such beauties turn to dust? I do love the photos in this post,all the best,Chrissy

  8. What a tragedy that the hotel is in ruins, it is gorgeous! But the fact that it is still standing means that there is always hope that something can be done with it!

  9. Oh what a beauty she must have been in her heyday! Yes, I just hate it. I'm afraid suburbia has done in alot of the things we loved as children.


  10. What a gorgeous old building... and such a lovely story of how you remember her.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you! xo Heather

  11. Very interesting story about a grand old building. Such a shame it's fallen into disrepair. I bet there are some fascinating things to be seen in it still. You're lucky to have gotten to be a guest there as a little girl with your dad. That's so sweet.

  12. Wow what a coincidence! I found you blog hopping and couldn’t believe it when you mentioned the Baker Hotel! I live in Abilene and my family and I go camping at the Mineral wells state park every year! I have been obsessed with Mineral Wells and the hotel ever since I first went though the town about 8 years ago. I snuck into the Hotel once. I didn’t break in just squeezed though the door. I found a few envelopes with the Baker Hotel logo on them that I still have and cherish. The whole town just has a certain “vibe” to it. It sounds crazy but that hotel almost seems alive! It’s very cool to find someone from Mineral Wells! I love your blog. I’m having a give-away at my blog. You should stop overJ


  13. My sister sent me links to the renovation of the Baker Hotel. I am so excited and started researching more and found your post. If you don't know by now, cut and paste and have a look here

    screening of documentary
    Hope all is well with you.


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