THE BAKER HOTEL opened in 1929, two weeks before the stock market crash that ushered in the Great Depression. The 13 story, 250,000 square foot resort hotel dwarfed the competition and remains by far the largest building in the county.

By the 1920’s, Mineral Wells, Texas had become a booming resort town, its mineral water bringing in people from all over the country. The water had a powerful laxative effect and was thought to cure many of the ailments of the age.

In many ways, the Baker was a hotel ahead of its time. Conceived as a world-class facitily, it was the first hotel in the country to offer air-conditioned rooms, the second to sport a swimming pool, and it contained a number of other innovations, such as lights that came on automatically when you entered the room, and on-tap ice water in the bathrooms. If anything, the Baker was extravagantly over-engineered: its generators could power not only the hotel, but much of the city; its laundry service did likewise.

The Baker’s tragic oversight, though, was that it didn’t at all anticipate the fading of the fashion for medicinal waters and the approaching irrelavence of a small Texas town as a major tourist destination. New FDA regulations limited the advertising of the waters’ “curative” powers, air travel brought more exotic, far-flung locales within reach, and people just stopped coming to Mineral Wells. Mr. Baker closed the hotel in 1962. A new group of investors reopened it in the late 60’s, but after the Army closed the nearby Ft. Wolters helicopter base in 1973, the town’s population dropped from 45,000 to 15,000, and filling a 450-bed behemoth became inconceivable.

But in its heyday, the Baker was a hotspot for high society types and Hollywood’s brightest stars. Names like Clarke Gable, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, the Three Stooges, and Ronald Reagan graced its guest list; the best big bands of the day all made tour stops.

The Baker has been sitting unoccupied for almost 30 years now. All of its furniture is gone, sold off gradually in a series of auctions, attepmts to raise money. Much of the hotel’s other decor has “disappeared&,#8221; many times under rather dubious circumstances. But some shops still operate on the ground floor, some first floor rooms are available for weddings and private parties. No one seems to mind the peeling paint and falling plaster. And the Baker still has visitors, curious tourists and numerous ghost hunters, who search the hotel for parts of the past that must still linger.

Location: USA / Texas / Mineral Wells

Photography: Spring 2002