By TODD GLASSCOCK
It’s likely few people in Mineral Wells paid too much mind to April 29, 1963. But the next day, which happened to be Baker Hotel owner Earl Baker’s 70th birthday, probably dropped quite a few jaws.
That day, Baker shuttered the hotel, a little less than 34 years after his uncle T.B. Baker opened it. The hotel’s shutdown ended three mostly lush decades of celebrities, business leaders, political leaders, and conventions that helped sustain the town economically and give it worldwide attention.
Its closing also put more than 200 people out of work, and dampened the rest of the town’s spirits.
“I knew in advance it was closing,” said Gene Anastas, who worked for nearly a decade at the hotel, starting fresh out of high school at 17 as a bellhop, before leaving the hotel in 1963 as its executive assistant manager. “It provided a livelihood to a lot of people.”
Advanced notice of the hotel shutting down didn’t make it any easier to give up working for a place and with people that brought joy, he said.
Simple things – as well as the elegant – made the hotel a wonderful place to work, he said. “In the summertime, one of my fondest memories was running up the [front] steps two at a time.”
He also learned to swim in the hotel pool, a privilege usually extended to guests who were members of the hotel’s Brazos Club.
There were also fond times having a beer with co-workers at the bar across the street after a hard day’s work, he said.
Moments of elegance were evident in rooftop dances and the sight of the famous people who roomed there.
Anastas recalls, while cleaning up one time, finding a sign of the hotel’s past brush with fame – the registration card of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The president, who was crippled from polio, spent quite a lot of time soaking in the hotel’s baths, Anastas was told.