Category Archives: Other Baker Hotels

“Fifteen Story Hotel to be Built at Austin”

On November 16, 1922, The San Antonio Evening News announced that T.B. Baker had completed negotiations to build what would become the Stephen F. Austin Hotel in downtown Austin, although the (now famous) location on Congress Avenue had not yet been selected.

It seems that the hotel was designed to have fifteen stories all along, but purposefully, only eleven of them were completed for the grand opening in 1924.  The original rooftop ballroom terrace (now gone) was intended to be temporary all along!  When the new owner added the additional floors in the mid-thirties, did they know  that they were completing Baker’s original vision for a 15 story hotel?

The article also mentions that one of Baker’s “new” ideas for the future hotel revolved around serving local Austinites: it would feature an unusually large lobby for the purpose of being used as an open meeting space for lawyers, UT students, and legislators.

Stephen F. Austin Planned

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The Goodhue

The Goodhue Hotel, a Baker Hotel in Port Arthur Texas (1930s)

The Goodhue Hotel, Port Arthur (1930s)

Invitation to the public for Goodhue Hotel Grand opening in Port Arthur TexasIn 1929, T.B. Baker was on a roll.  Within a six month period, he opened 5 brand new hotels, the last one being The Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells (which opened in November).   However, another Baker that opened only a few months earlier was the 11 story, 160 room Goodhue Hotel in Port Arthur Texas.

J. Forrest Goodhue, a local builder and civic leader, was helping to build the hotel with local funds when he died of a heart attack in January 1929 – while the building was still under construction.

The original name of the Goodhue Hotel was planned to be “The Dick Dowling Hotel” in honor of the Confederate Civil War hero of the same name.  In fact, you may see “The Dick Dowling Hotel” on some of the early promotional postcards for the building.  In April of 1929, however, Baker formally announced that the building would officially be called “The Goodhue Hotel” going forward, simply because “Everyone called it Goodhue instead.”

Over the years, the grand hotel weathered several hurricanes along the stormy Texas coast, including Hurricane Audrey in 1957.

Goodhue Hotel Port Arthur Hurricane Audrey 1957

Cleaning up after Hurricane Audrey at the Goodhue Hotel (1957)

The Goodhue was in the news again in 1970, when Janis Joplin came back to her hometown just months before her death to attend her ten-year high school class reunion.  She gave a press conference in the second floor ballroom of the hotel.

After shutting down in the eighties, the building was demolished in 1990, allegedly due to poor structural integrity. The site is still a vacant lot today.

Interestingly, the Hotel Sabine a block away was built around the same time, and is still standing today (although it is currently vacant and in need of renovation).  That building may have survived the coastal conditions longer than the Goodhue because of the cypress pilings that the Hotel Sabine’s builders reportedly added under every inch of the structure.

Advertisement in Port Arthur News, 29 Sep 1929

Advertisement in Port Arthur News, 29 Sep 1929

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The Stephen F. Austin Hotel

Stephen F. Austin Baker Hotel in Austin, Texas (1924)

Stephen F. Austin Hotel in Austin, Texas (1924)

Stephen F. Austin Baker Hotel Registration Desk, Austin Texas

Registration Desk, Stephen F. Austin Hotel (1930)

In 1924, T.B. Baker of San Antonio opened his fourth Texas Hotel, The Stephen F. Austin, at the corner of Congress and Seventh Street in Austin. It was designed by Fort Worth firm Sanguinet, Staats and Hedrick, led by legendary architect Wyatt C. Hedrick.  Baker would later hire Hedrick again to design and build the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas.

In the early twenties, the citizens of Austin saw the need for a large hotel in Austin, and they invested $600,000 in mortgage bonds with the Chamber of Commerce to help fund the project.  After forming a partnership with The Baker Hotel Corporation, the hotel’s construction was completed in 1924 for a total cost of $775,000.

Congress & Sixth Street (1913)

Congress & Sixth Street (1913)

The location of the hotel on Congress was the former site of the old Keystona Hotel (a wood-framed three story building which was torn down to accommodate the Stephen F. Austin).  Prior to that, the area had been used as a feed lot for horses.  In the picture on the left, you can see Congress Avenue as it appeared in 1913, looking toward the capitol building from sixth street.  The nine story building on the right side of the photograph is the Littlefield building that had a rooftop terrace.  The ten-story Baker went up just behind this building, with the ballroom perched high at the top.

Note: Thanks to Mike at IHG for the additional historical information about the photograph!

As the new hotel was being constructed, a local club called the “Business and Professional Women’s Group of Austin” heard that Baker was planning to call the new hotel “The Texas,” (which is also the name of Baker’s hotel in Fort Worth), and began a campaign to change the name to something more locally significant.  Together with other activist groups, they successfully lobbied to convince Baker to honor the city’s history with a new name: “The Stephen F. Austin”.

10th Floor Rooftop Ballroom at Stephen F. Austin Baker Hotel (1924) Texas

Rooftop Ballroom – Stephen F. Austin (1924)

When the  hotel opened in May 1924, it boasted 250 rooms and was the tallest building in Austin, at 10 stories high.   Uniquely, the hotel featured running ice water in the rooms, along with a coffee shop and U-shaped soda fountain on the ground floor. The 10th floor ballroom quickly became a fashionable spot for parties and events, competing with the historic Driskill Hotel just around the corner, which had been built in 1888.

Over the years the Stephen F. Austin has been a favorite spot for many politicians, and has served as campaign headquarters for many governors, as well as for Lyndon Johnson’s 1937 House of Representatives win.

In 1938, Five more floors were added to the building, again making it the tallest building on Congress for several more years.  The building went through many changes under various owners until 1998, when it was restored to the original architectural plans and brought back to much of it’s original splendor.  Today, the property is owned and operated by Intercontinental Hotel Group.

A menu from the coffee shop in 1929 is shown below.  Note that most of the prices are listed in cents!

Menu from the Stephen F. Austin Baker Hotel, 1929, Austin Texas

Menu – Stephen F. Austin Hotel (1929)

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Designs for the “Sterling Hotel” in Houston

In 1926,  plans were unveiled for a massive forty-story hotel in Houston, TX for Ross S. Sterling,  founder of Humble Oil Company (which later became Exxon-Mobile).

The building was tentatively called the “Sterling Hotel.”  If it had been built, the building would have been “the largest hotel building in the South.”

While the building was never built, Ross Sterling went on to become Governor of Texas for two years from 1931-1933.

This design was  rendered by prominent Fort Worth Architect Wyatt C. Hedrick, who also happened to be Ross Sterling’s son-in-law.

Hedrick and hotel man T.B. Baker worked together closely (Hedrick also designed the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells and the Stephen F. Austin in Austin), and some information suggests that, if built, the Sterling would have been operated by the Baker Corporation.

Proposed design for the unbuilt "Sterling Hotel" in Houston, TX

Proposed design for the unbuilt “Sterling Hotel” in Houston, TX (c.1927)

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The Greenwood: Baker’s First Hotel

T.B. Baker got his start in the hotel business as the night clerk of the Avenue Hotel in Beloit, Kansas at approximately age 23.

After only eighteen months in Beloit, in 1899 T.B. began leasing the Greenwood Hotel in Eureka Kansas, which was known as “The Grand Princess of the Prairie, The Center of Everything.” The Mo-Pac Railway had just been extended to Eureka in 1882, bringing in a steady stream of business, and allowing T.B. Baker to rub shoulders with prominent and powerful cattlemen and businessmen.

It would be the first hotel he would purchase soon afterward, and the phrase “The Center of Everything” would be one that T.B. would go on to use to describe many Baker Hotels in the future. The Greenwood was not only T.B. Baker’s first wholly owned hotel, but it was also the location where he both met and married his wife Mamie “Mae” Crawley in 1903.

A reporter from the Kansas City Star described the prosperous Greenwood hotel this way:

“The lobby of Eureka’s largest hotel is a sort of small livestock exchange. There are the same men with broad-brimmed hats and whips that the visitor sees in Kansas City’s exchange building in the first floor’s corridors. Always they are “talking cattle.” Ask for proof as to how powerful they are, and the evidence is that when a petition of the Eureka cattlemen for a new railway stations went to officials of the Missouri Pacific, work on that station began in less than two weeks. And the Missouri Pacific, it is believed, is not a railroad that is building new depots everywhere that there is a request for one.”

It is estimated that over $1 million dollars worth of cattle changed hands at the Greenwood Hotel in its heyday – a very large amount in it’s time.

T.B. operated the Greenwood Hotel for about eight years before selling the property in 1907, the same year that he purchased the Goodlander Hotel in Fort Scott, Kansas.

For more information about the historic Greenwood Hotel, which has since been renovated, click here.

GreenwoodHotelKS

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