A great video showing what the hotel looked like then and now.
A great video showing what the hotel looked like then and now.
A contact recently provided me with a great old color photograph of 1920s Texas hotel magnate T.B. Baker at Christmas-time. My best guess is that it was taken in the mid-sixties. Here he is – around 1910 (~age 35) and around
1965 1958 (age 83).
Cheers to the hope that his Grand Old Lady will finally be restored in the new year.
Earl Maynard Baker, the nephew of hotel tycoon T.B. Baker, ran two of the Baker hotels for most of his adult life. He was General Manager of the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio for over twenty years before he sold it almost at once when his uncle T.B. turned over the deed in the fifties. Perhaps even more famously, for forty years he also managed (and later owned) the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells until his death in 1967. During his tenure as owner, he unsuccessfully attempted to get rid of the Grand Old Lady on several occasions, and he famously followed through on his ultimatum to shut it down on his 70th birthday in 1963 if he didn’t find a buyer. However, the hotel did re-open again from 1965-1972, thanks to the efforts of a group of scrappy local businesspeople who wouldn’t let the landmark go – they paid Earl monthly rent to keep the doors open.
History has not been especially kind to Earl’s memory. Are some of the stories true? Probably. But are some of them just rumors? Probably. Based on research done so far, I’ll attempt to help separate the two:
Did Earl have a mistress named Virginia Brown who killed herself inside the Baker Hotel? It is not known whether a woman named Virginia Brown (or any mistress) existed at all, although the ghost hunter programs that routinely film inside the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells would certainly like you to think so. According to some, the specter of Earl’s mistress Virginia still haunts her suite on the seventh floor, stopping to flirt with male visitors. More than one person has mentioned smelling her perfume or sensing a playful spirit. What is certain, however, is that no young woman ever killed herself inside the Baker hotel (and for the record, nobody ever jumped from the balcony to the pool, either.) That said, what we do know is that Earl and his wife divorced at some point, and that he did not remarry. There are enough rumors surrounding his character to make the mistress story believable, but it has not been confirmed.
And I certainly don’t have any information about who these two ladies might be with him in the picture above. Aside from the fact that there are two women sitting on his lap, that cheetah print fur is telling us quite a story of it’s own – am I right? Edit to original post: The woman in cheetah fur has been identified as Mr. Baker’s wife, Gladys.
Did Earl engage in court battles with his family? Yes. In the 1940s, Earl and his elderly aunt Myla (who I believe lived at the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells at the time) were engaged in a lengthy court battle in Texas over shares to the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio. When T.B. had money to do so, he had always provided for his unmarried sister Myla, but it appears that something bitter and contentious happened between Earl and Myla later on. The detailed court records of this case were recently discovered, in fact, and I look forward to updating you on what I find out.
Did Earl have a drinking problem? Sources seems to suggest – probably. Several pictures and brochures found in his personal effects after he died suggest that he struggled with alcohol. The picture to the left may have been taken inside an office in the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells.
Did Earl die at the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells? Yes and no. After Earl closed the hotel on his 70th birthday in 1963, unhappy local Mineral Wells businesspeople scraped together the funds to re-open the aging hotel, hoping to keep the tourism in town alive. Then, at some point in 1967, Earl came back to the hotel. Some say that he had just come back for a quick visit, and others suggest that he might have begun living in the Baker Suite. In any case, on December 3, 1967, Earl had a heart attack in the Baker Suite on the eleventh floor and subsequently died in the hospital in Mineral Wells. Earl was 74 years old.
I’m very excited to be able to post two recently discovered photos of T.B. Baker, the original builder and operator of The Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas. A family member who knew him confirmed that this is indeed “Uncle Pete” (as he was called among family). I’m thrilled to see that our favorite 1920s hotel tycoon is looking dapper, even well into his seventies.
The first photograph shows a relaxed family scene from what appears to be the mid-thirties, when Baker would have been about 60. He fell on hard times during the Depression, and his clothing seems to reflect that.
This second photograph was dated 1952, when T.B. Baker would have been about 76. Love that he is wearing a double breasted suit and standing in front of a Cadillac! The same year in 1952, T.B. Baker turned over his final ownership of all remaining hotels (including the Gunter Hotel) to his nephew Earl M. Baker.
Lawrence Welk recalls entertaining in the Sky Room at the top of the Baker Hotel in the 1930s, back when he could barely speak English:
“I remember the Baker as one of the more lavish hotels in Texas,” he said, “A famed resort. Lots of rich ladies.”
He also often played in the dining room of the Dallas Baker Hotel for lunchtime guests.
Here is a video of a Lawrence Welk performance from 1938, which is probably an indication of what his performances at the Baker were like:
In October of 1929, just a month before the stock market crashed, and just a month before the Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells opened, The San Antonio Newspaper ran a full page spread on T.B. Baker, the man who was “the most prominent hotel man in the South.” It’s worth noting that both Conrad Hilton and the Moody family out of Houston (with their National Hotel Company) were also competing with Baker in the race to build their own Texas hotel empires. During the roaring twenties, the oil boom was still carrying the economy forward in a flurry of activity, and men like Baker, Hilton and Moody saw their fortunes well within their reach. But when things got bad in the early thirties, they got very bad. Hilton would later write in his autobiography that he went to mass every morning to pray that he would make it through just one more day.
Several articles suggest that as late as 1931, T.B. Baker was seen entertaining friends at the Savoy Hotel in London, and had taken trips to Paris. But just as quickly as his name had risen to prominence, it seemed to vanish.
T.B. Baker’s world seems to have imploded in March 1933. That month, the Baker Corporation sent a letter to all of their stockholders, telling them that the hotel business had been hard hit and that they would be unable to pay out dividends. Next, the Gunter was peeled off from other Baker Hotels and reorganized into the “Gunter Hotel Company” under different leadership and with the primary goal of paying back and satisfying the largest creditors. But minor stockholders suffered under this plan, and later that year the Baker Corporation was sued. What happened next is still somewhat unclear.
The Gunter Hotel, at least, was handed over to Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1934 to manage it as trustee, until it could be placed back with the Baker Family. A similar situation happened with the Baker Hotel in Dallas after a lengthy court proceeding, in which the hotel was almost sold to the Moody family, but T.B.’s nephew Fenton J. Baker won the suit, was put in charge of the hotel and eventually regained full ownership.
The Baker in Mineral Wells seems to be unique in that it did remain with the Baker family during this time, but was reorganized into the “Resort Hotel Company.”
It is yet unclear about what happened to all of his other hotels and at what point the Baker Corporation may have sold them or relinquished control.
Then, in 1936, Earl M. Baker, T.B.’s other nephew, re-emerged as the buyer of the Bakers’ beloved Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, and took it back from the Life Insurance Company that had held it for the previous two years.
All the while, no mention is ever made of T.B. Baker, who did indeed still live in San Antonio. There are some who say that Earl may have found a way to take the hotels away from him. While more research is needed to find out if that statement is true, there was definitely some contention in the family. T.B.’s unmarried sister Myla (Earl’s aunt) fought a lengthy court battle against Earl from 1942 to 1948 for control of the common stock of the Gunter Hotel, which Earl eventually won.
T.B. seems to have faded into the background after 1933. He lived quietly, simply, in a small white house in South San Antonio until he died in 1972 at age 96 – nearly forty years after the turmoil of the thirties. What did he do for forty years? How does one rebuild a life of simplicity after one of such ambitious success and lavish luxury? Therein lies a story yet untold.
On September 16, 1940, FDR signed the “Selective Service and Training Act” which established the first peacetime draft in US history. Then, in November of 1940, workers broke ground on Camp Wolters just outside Mineral Wells, Texas. It would be the largest of four Infantry Replacement Training Centers in the US during WWII.
When construction was completed in March of 1941, the camp could accommodate over 20,000 soldiers at any given time. Many of the newly enlisted men that arrived in Mineral Wells in the spring and summer of 1941 were some of the country’s first WWII draftees.
Weatherford native General William Hood Simpson arrived in April 1941 and served as the Commanding Officer of Camp Wolters until October. He and his wife actually lived at The Baker Hotel in downtown Mineral Wells during their seven month stay. Later, in 1945, General Simpson would famously lead the US 9th Army across the Rhine and into Germany.
An original fact sheet about Camp Wolters from the Mineral Wells Chamber of Commerce is below:
In 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.
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.
When young Dallas entrepreneurs Carr P. Collins and Hal Collins decided to get into the hotel business in 1926, they had no idea that they would soon be competing directly with one of the most prominent hotel men in Texas: T.B. Baker.
As it happened, Carr owed his older brother Hal some money. So when he decided to purchase the Crazy Water Company and Hotel in Mineral Wells, he gave him a call. From the biography Carr P. Collins: Man on the Move:
“Hal,” Carr told him, “you have $35,000 worth of stock in the new Crazy Hotel at Mineral Wells.”
“That’s just great,” replied the puzzled Hal. “Where am I going to get $35,000?”
“Oh,” his brother explained nonchalantly. “That’s the $35,000 I owe you.”
And so the brothers began their new venture in Mineral Wells, starting by rebuilding the recently burned down Crazy Water Hotel. They made a good team: Carr had a sharp mind for numbers and was already a semi-successful insurance executive in Dallas, and Hal had been busy building a career in sales, advertising, and local politics.
Their father, lawyer and Texas Senator V.A. Collins, would later recall: “A very nice six-story hotel was built on the old hotel site and it was wonderfully arranged and beautifully furnished, but of course it was not without a large investment. They felt sure when the hotel started it would soon earn enough to take care of all expenses and pay interest on the investment. They soon found that they were much disappointed in that. I never saw Carr and Halley get very badly frightened over business before this occurred, but they saw they were falling behind with everything they could do to make ends meet and they became alarmed.”
By the early 30s, the brothers were in deep trouble. The stock market had just crashed, and to make matters worse, the Baker Hotel had just opened in town – and it was twice as tall, had twice as many rooms, and boasted twice the luxury. The Crazy Water Hotel suddenly found itself obsolete, just two years after its opening, and the brothers’ financial situation was grim.
“The sheriff was two steps behind us,” Hal would later admit.
So, out of desperation, they came up with a wild proposal for hotel man T.B. Baker, according to the book Carr P. Collins: Man On The Move:
“With two hotels in operation in Mineral Wells,” recalls Hal, “We decided we were nuts to buck Baker. So we made an appointment with him. Our suggestion was that our two companies could divide the business, with his taking the hotel profits and ours taking the product profits.”
Baker heard them out silently, then, according to Hal, refused flatly to discuss their proposition. Says Hal summarily, “We bristled like javelina hogs and went out and got rich. He went broke.”
Their father, V.A. Collins, also wrote: “They have always been very resourceful and when they saw they could not get through one way they turned to something else, so they began to manufacture Crazy Crystals by the tons and Hal went on the air advertising Crazy Water Crystals. I do not think there was ever a better radio advertiser than he.”
Thanks to several groundbreaking marketing decisions by Hal to advertise on the radio, as well as to launch an old-fashioned musical variety show, product sales quickly soared. Over the next decade, the brothers would indeed go out and get rich: sales of Crazy Crystals topped $3 million a year for several years.
In the early 40s, the FTC and FDA cracked down on health product claims, and the brothers eventually dropped the business altogether. Crazy Water, however, is still sold today.
The Cherokee cowboy-philosopher, humorist, and actor known as Will Rogers was perhaps one of the world’s best known celebrities throughout the 20s and 30s. Known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son,” he penned countless stories and newspaper articles, starred in vaudeville shows and motion pictures, and perfected his own unique brand of folksy political satire and humorous social commentary that spoke to the heart of the culture of the time.
Sometime in the early 1930s before Rogers’ untimely death in 1935 (at the young age of 55) he visited the famous Baker Hotel in Mineral Wells. The photograph below shows him standing on the front steps with Mineral Wells Mayor Charlton Brown along with other unidentified local citizens. The banner behind him says: Welcome to Mineral Wells, Where America Drinks its Way to Health.