Driving through Texas, I take a short detour to the town of Mineral Wells. I’m in search of a particular abandoned historical landmark, but I have little idea what to expect. As I turn off the main highway and enter the small town, I immediately see it rising before me: the majestic Baker Hotel.
The once-popular luxury destination opened its doors in 1929, but since the 1970s the hotel has sat empty in solemn ruin. Affectionately known locally as The Grand Old Lady, the long-shuttered structure still stands 14 stories tall and casts a long shadow—both literally and metaphorically—over the surrounding town.
I walk slowly around the hotel’s perimeter, soaking in its magnificence and grandeur. I long to go inside, but “No Trespassing” signs cover the crumbling Spanish Colonial facade. Broken windows give a distorted glance inside, and behind the hotel are the remnants of an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a grand fountain. Even though they officially closed in 1972, the doors of the Baker Hotel are set to open again soon thanks to a $65-million renovation project.
An infamous past and a new beginning
He’s right. Upon first glance, The Grand Old Lady’s claws immediately sink deep, but gently, into my heart. I am transported back to when Mineral Wells was a bustling tourist destination. The fully air-conditioned hotel opened two weeks after the great stock market crash of 1929, but its 460 rooms, suites, and spas still attracted celebrities, musicians, and politicians.
People came from all over the world to experience the hotel’s opulent interiors and the “healing” mineral waters of the town’s eponymous wells. It’s not hard to imagine the hotel in its heyday, during the 1930s and 1940s when Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, and Judy Garland stayed here—even the infamous duo Bonnie and Clyde stopped by.
As the Baker Hotel’s glory days faded, so did the town; the hotel closed briefly in 1963, but reopened two years later. It didn’t last long. Profits declined and the hotel was shuttered for good in 1972. Decades later, The Grand Old Lady still stands, in glorious patience, waiting for someone to breathe life back into her.
Renovation and revival
That time may have finally come. The Baker Hotel is set to return to its former glory in late 2022, thanks to Chris Patton and a team of developers. “We believe that Mineral Wells will become a destination again,” Patton says. “Our goal, our vision, our belief is to restore the Grand Lady to prominence. We want to resurrect it in modern flair with respect to its history and the Spanish Colonial style on the outside. We are reviving the hotel and restoring the town.”
The community of Mineral Wells stands strong behind its beloved landmark, believing in and encouraging the renovation from the beginning. “Over the years, the community has really gotten behind us and the project has snowballed,” Patton says. “There is strong support from city leadership and the citizens at large. This is a warm, receptive, and encouraging community.”
There is palpable excitement in the air of Mineral Wells—and in the voice of my waitress at a local cafe. She talks excitedly about the hotel’s renovation, even though similar plans over the years ultimately haven’t come to fruition. “I just hope this time it really does happen. It would be so great for our town,” she says.
This time, the plans seem to have stuck. Demolition and abatement work on the hotel began in early October. According to the project’s website, the new Baker Hotel and Spa will be an “enchanting meeting point for residents and visitors alike to immerse themselves in luxury, comfort and hospitality, all while enjoying the natural landscape and burgeoning spirit of the recharged Mineral Wells.”
Larid Fairchild, a co-founder of Hunter Chase Capital Partners, a real estate developer in Southlake, Texas, told the New York Times, “This is not a renovation of a building. This is a renovation of a town.”