The Baker Hotel: Amazing views of it now and in the future
A hotel guest hasn’t slept in the historic Baker Hotel since 1972.
Over the decades, there have been numerous plans to bring the hotel back to life but now it is finally happening.
On Thursday, Southlake-based developers Laird Fairchild and Chad Patton announced they had purchased the Baker with plans to restore it beyond its former luster.
“We now own the Baker,” Fairchild said. “Renovations will begin immediately.”
A three-year project
The $65 million project will take another three years to become reality with a full year given to asbestos and lead abatement, Patton said.
Then the number of rooms will be reduced from 440 to 157, with the hotel opening sometime in 2022 as The Baker Hotel and Spa.
“This is going to change the feeling on the community,” Patton said. “It’s going to change the culture, and it’s going to give this community an added purpose.”
The renovation is billed as the largest restoration in Texas of a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The old hotel, which hosted Clark Gable, Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich, is intended to become a destination resort and host corporate retreats, weddings and other events.
A key piece was Gov. Greg Abbott declaring downtown Mineral Wells as an opportunity zone, which helped draw more investors.
“We thought if it doesn’t happen in 2018, it doesn’t happen,” Patton said. “Once we had the opportunity zone, we realized we were going to be able to raise the capital needed to go forward with the project.”
One thing the investors won’t be using is the EB-5 Immigrant Investor program, which allows wealthy international investors to obtain U.S. visas by placing at least $500,000 in a U.S. business that creates or preserves at least 10 full-time jobs. Patton said they were able to secure enough funds without using that controversial program.
A long wait for Mineral Wells residents
For residents of Mineral Wells, it’s been a wait that has lasted decades, and hundreds crowded in front of the steps of the hotel roaring at the announcement the hotel was coming back.
Five years ago, the plan to renovate the hotel got a boost from Mineral Wells residents who overwhelmingly approved dedicating an eighth of a cent of the city’s sales tax to the project.
“It’s a sigh of relief,” said former mayor Mike Allen, who supported that election five years ago. “I think it will be an exclamation point on the other work that is ongoing to bring back downtown.”
Other downtown projects, including renovating and reopening the Crazy Water Hotel, have started as residents waited for the Baker’s rebirth. There are also plans for a new downtown park.
The investment team also includes includes Dallas businessman Brint Ryan, who restored the closed Settles Hotel in Big Spring; and Jeffrey Trigger of Austin-based La Corsha Hospitality Group, who once oversaw Dallas’ Mansion on Turtle Creek and Austin’s Driskoll Hotel. Mineral Wells businessman Randy Nix, who has been involved in efforts to energize downtown and the Crazy Water Hotel, is also part of the team.
Hotel with a storied past
The Baker Hotel has had a difficult history.
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 the sound of big bands echoing 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 had transformed into a military town as home to Fort Wolters and that remained through the Vietnam War as it became a key helicopter training facility.
The hotel closed in 1963, then reopened two years later, only to have its final paying guest in 1972. Fort Wolters was deactivated three years later in 1975.
On a 2016 tour of the hotel, registration cards from old guests were scattered across the ground and the basement was flooded. On an earlier visit, snow coated the rooftop Cloud Room’s floor.
Is the Baker haunted?
Some say the hotel is haunted and there were plenty of eerie shadows and strange sounds to send visitors’ blood pressure rising.
There were also trespassers. On one tour, two people apparently under the influence of drugs were found crouched where the mineral baths once stood.
“I’ve been offered thousands of dollars to take people inside,” said Angela Morgan, who hosts the ghost walk, last year. “They’re drawn to the beauty of it. Just about everybody has a relative who stayed or has a story about the Baker.”
But Fairchild, the Southlake developer who first drove by the Baker in 2003 and started pursuing its revival in 2008 during the last real estate crash, admitted he had his doubts that the hotel would ever open again.
“I don’t know if I fully believed it would happen until today,” Fairchild said.