By June Naylor
Photos by Mark Graham
Meet the Colleyville team that is tackling the restoration of the long-neglected Baker Hotel.
n a blazing hot summer afternoon, the Baker Hotel’s red tile steps swarm with activity. Never mind that the 1929 Mineral Wells landmark hasn’t welcomed guests in almost 50 years; the shuttered downtown hotel’s grounds teem with visitors craning their necks to take in the intricate details of all 14 stories of the brick building. Young and old, the curious walk the wide promenade encircling the lobby level, trying to peer inside the silent behemoth.
Two people standing on the Baker’s front steps are grinning like kids on Christmas morning. Architect Kurt Thiel and his wife, designer Beth Thiel, have waited more than a decade for this moment and have been making the more-than-hour-long commute to Mineral Wells with greater frequency in recent months. Beth greets friends joining them for a sneak preview, her eyes twinkling as she says, “So, here’s our little project.”
The Thiels and their Colleyville-based staff of 25 are creating the interior and architectural design for the $65 million restoration of the Spanish Colonial Revival hotel that begins this month. The renovation of the Baker has been in the works since 2008, and a large partnership of developers from Southlake, Dallas and Austin gathered funds for the substantial overhaul. The Baker Hotel and Spa is projected to open in 2022.
While restoring a historical New York property 11 years ago, the Thiels were introduced to Chad Patton and Laird Fairchild, Southlake friends and businessmen who’d begun brainstorming ways to bring back to life the beautiful but derelict old building near Fairchild’s ranch. “We found them to be like-minded and passionate about doing something bigger than ourselves, something long-lasting. We were on board right away.”
Numerous renovation plans that never saw light made many doubt the Baker’s prospects. As decay of once-elegant ballrooms, 450 guest rooms and the Olympic-size swimming pool worsened during the years of abandonment that followed the 1972 closing, a renovation scenario became ever more daunting. Smashed windows, crumbling stonework and rotting interiors made it impossible to believe that the resort — renowned for the healing powers of its natural mineral water springs — was once a magnet for visitors like Judy Garland, Clark Gable, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Marlene Dietrich and Lawrence Welk.
Confident in Patton and Fairchild’s determination, the Thiels got to work. Kurt figured out how to break the estimated three-year renovation project into manageable pieces. “You assess what is savable, what is not and what needs to be left intact for historical purposes. You figure out what is restoration and what is a new-build process.”
Meanwhile, the Southlake investors brought together a team including Brint Ryan, a Dallasite and entrepreneur known for the magnificent restoration of the Hotel Settles in the West Texas town of Big Spring; and Jeff Trigger of Austin, whose La Corsha Hospitality Group restored the Settles, Salado’s Stagecoach Inn, the Hotel Saint George in Marfa, Dallas’ Stoneleigh and The St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio.
In organizing a strategy for renovating, restoration and repair, and figuring in the precise quantity and quality of the furnishings, Kurt says he and Beth recognized that the synergy between architect, designer, builder and hotel management group was organic. Beth revels in this natural evolution, noting that although there are a lot of projects within projects inside a building of such size and scope, the independent tasks are relevant to one another. “We established a final vision for what this will look like, how various units come together,” Kurt says.
Weaving together the many pieces, the Thiel & Thiel team is creating, overseeing and coordinating elements for 157 guest rooms, almost 300 fewer than the original but with an average size of more than 700 square feet each, as well as larger suites and more than 20,000 square feet of meeting, conference and event spaces. The renowned top-floor ballroom called The Cloud Room is another challenge, as are restaurant, lounge, coffee shop and multiple retail spaces. One of the new Baker’s assets for becoming a destination resort is an indoor-outdoor wellness spa, utilizing the natural spring waters that made the town famous nearly a century ago.
“We have so much to keep in focus, between the function, history and aesthetics of the spaces,” Beth says. “Our 25 people, all with their own strengths and skill sets, are on teams to address specifics, and then we have a team that does oversight to pull it all together.”
Echoing Chad Patton, who says, “The Baker is part catalyst for the redevelopment of Mineral Wells,” Beth admits that their undertaking has become far more than an interesting project.
“It’s become a moral responsibility,” she says of the restoration. “It’s about what the Baker will be to the city of Mineral Wells. It’s about the rebirth of a whole town.”