On Saturday night, about 250 people showed up for the Baker Hotel Ghost Walk looking for signs of the paranormal from the old shuttered hotel.
Whether they’re believers or skeptics, visitors are drawn to the massive 14-story structure that towers over the Mineral Wells skyline and hints at the town’s colorful history.
“Everybody wants to have something they can’t obtain and the fact that you can’t go inside — that’s a big part of the draw,” said Mineral Wells native Angela Morgan, who has been conducting ghost walks on fall weekends since 2012.
“I’ve been offered thousands of dollars to take people inside,” Morgan said. “They’re drawn to the beauty of it. Just about everybody has a relative who stayed or has a story about the Baker.”
It’s also been a lure for investors who are trying to restore the Baker to its former glory.
Four years ago, the $63 million renovation project got a show of support from Mineral Wells voters, who approved reallocating an eighth of a cent of the city’s sales tax to the project.
Chad Patton, one of the Southlake-based developers, said they are still trying to secure the final $20 million in funding. One of the challenges for the Baker team is the hotel will likely be worth $40 million to $45 million when completed, far less than the total price tag to renovate the old hotel.
“Our project is shovel-ready if we’re able to close that loan,” Patton said. “There’s still a strong belief we’re going to get this to the finish line.”
Mineral Wells City Manger Lance Howerton said the city still fully supports the effort to bring the Baker back to life.
“I think the discussions we’ve had of late indicate that they’re very close to finalizing the financing,” Howerton said.
However, Mayor Christopher Perricone, who was elected in May, said he’s had no contact with the investment team. While he hopes the Baker someday reopens, he has no idea if the developers’ concept will work.
“I have never met them,” Perricone said. “I don’t have a clue. I know there’s a lot of optimism but there always seems to be a lot of optimism.”
But Perricone, who worked in a previous career as a financial adviser, said some have expressed skepticism that the numbers could work with a project costing more than it would eventually be worth.
“I hope it goes through for the sake of Mineral Wells,” Perricone said.
The Baker team has held off meeting with the mayor until the financing was in place.
“We really want to show the mayor a final package,” Patton said.
The Baker has slowly decayed since hosting its last guest in 1972. Trespassers have stripped most of the hotel’s fixtures and covered the walls with graffiti. There’s also plenty of water damage throughout the hotel.
The hotel included mineral baths, an Olympic-size swimming pool and a rooftop nightclub known as the Cloud Room, where old-timers could recall hearing tunes drifting across Mineral Wells at night.
“Back in those days, the Baker would probably rival anything in Las Vegas today,” former assistant manager Roy D. Walker said in a 1993 Star-Telegram article. “Big-name stars like Lawrence Welk, Sophie Tucker, the Dorsey Brothers. You couldn’t find a parking place for blocks.”
By World War II, Mineral Wells became a military town as home to Fort Wolters and continued in that vein through the Vietnam War when it was a key helicopter training school.
The hotel closed in 1963 but reopened two years later, only to have its final paying guest in 1972. Fort Wolters was officially deactivated three years later in 1975.
On a 2016 tour of the hotel, registration cards from old guests were scattered across the floor ground and the basement was flooded. On another, earlier visit, snow coated the rooftop Cloud Room’s floor. On both visits, there were plenty of eerie shadows and strange sounds that would spook the fainthearted.
But is it haunted?
To Morgan, the answer is an absolute yes.
Morgan will conduct another ghost walk Saturday night and then another on Thanksgiving weekend.
“I guarantee you’re going to leave with something that arouses your curiosity,” Morgan said. “The main thing that most people see at the Baker is a woman in a white dress.”
But some visitors, including Morgan, have had more visceral experiences.
“You can sometimes smell perfume,” Morgan said. “Some people have been scratched. Cell phones have drained and camera batteries have stopped working. When people take pictures of the Baker, sometimes their Facebook app will pop up and ask them to tag the person in the photo. They’ll look and see some kind of image on their camera roll. That happens all of the time.”