As we stroll from the ruins of the Baker Hotel lobby into what's left of the dining room, Mark Rawlings points his flashlight through a hole in the paster ceiling, lighting an ornate stretch of the original moulding hidden underneath. Back in the '50s, he tells me, an attempt to modernize the 1929 resort hotel ended up remodeling away pieces of the old building's original charm. "You don't try to impose your will on one of these old buildings," Rawlings tells me. "You take what she's willing to give you, and roll with it."
Rawlings is a managing partner with HHCC, the Austin-based contractors charged with giving the place a 21st Century reboot, and making Mineral Wells a weekend tourist destination once again.
After Robert first mentioned that Jeff Trigger, the man who resurrected the Stoneleigh, was working on the Baker next, Rawlings was one of the first to reply to my emails asking for more details (along with Kevin Pruitt, who's making a documentary about the job, and architects Kurt and Beth Thiel, with whom we'll post a Q&A early next week). The place is a towering concrete albatross around Mineral Wells, looming over a town that doesn't look to have changed much since its heyday as a wellness getaway. The hotel closed in the early '70s, and despite a few attempts to put the place back in business, it's been empty since then -- except, of course, for 40 years of squatters, taggers, kids, security guards, cats, bats and raccoons, some of which were still hanging around on my walk through the 14-story hotel on Wednesday.
Jump for a photo tour through the hotel ruins, past old spa machines, through hotel rooms, up into the bell tower and down into the basement. And don't worry, I'll warn you before you reach the mummified cats.