You Still Can’t Stay at the Baker Hotel. But Fans Are Flocking to Its TikTok. –Texas Monthly

The video-sharing app TikTok is known for creating niche communities. There’s CleanTok, with its cleaning hacks and cathartic organizing, and PlantTok, boasting propagation techniques and people eager to show off their “jungalows.” But have you ever heard of BakerTok? It’s not cupcakes and sourdough starters but rather an ode to the Baker Hotel and Spa in Mineral Wells, a city of about 15,000 an hour west of Fort Worth.

“BakerTok is SO LIT,” wrote a follower on one of the hotel’s viral videos. “The Baker is the only reason I’m still on TikTok!” proclaimed another. The once abandoned, almost century-old hotel isn’t slated to reopen its doors for at least another two years. People from across Texas and as far away as Europe and Australia are already asking how they can book a room.

This doesn’t surprise 24-year-old Remy Fairchild, who oversees investor relations for the hotel and started the TikTok account to appeal to her peers. Fans kept begging for YouTube construction updates, but Fairchild, who has no formal experience with video editing or social media management, thought TikTok would be an easier lift. She posted the first video in October 2021 and less than a month later, the Baker went viral.

The clip that Fairchild says “changed everything” depicts the hotel lobby with its decaying, albeit beautiful, vaulted ceilings and windows that look like they belong in a cathedral. Fairchild covers the camera lens just as the lyrics “Can we skip to the good part?” blast from the speakers. Then, the words “Coming 2024” fill the screen. To date, the video has more than 860,000 views, but not everyone loved it. One commenter teased, “That’s not a skip. That’s full-on waiting for game of Thrones Season 8.” To be fair, people have already been waiting a long time.

The Baker is a fourteen-story, Spanish Colonial Revival–style landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hotel tycoon TB Baker spared no expense in its construction. It opened in 1929, the same year as the stock market crash, but the wellness resort capitalized on the purported healing powers of the town’s “crazy water” mineral springs and managed to stay afloat. It went on to host the famous—Clark Gable, Judy Garland—and the infamous—Bonnie and Clyde—before ultimately closing in 1972 after another economic downturn and the loss of nearby Fort Wolters military base and all the customers that brought in. Now, after almost fifty years and a decade of fund-raising, the hotel that locals call the Grand Old Lady is getting a $75 million facelift.

“I always knew that the Baker TikTok would do well because [the hotel] has such a long history,” says Fairchild, who remembers driving by the hotel as a kid with her father, the project’s lead developer. “For years and years, people have been telling stories about how their grandparents got married here or how they broke in in high school to have a look around. The love was already there. I just tapped into it.”

Followers have also fallen in love with Mark Rawlings, a Brownwood native with a broad smile who wears many hard hats as the general contractor, restoration project manager, investment partner, and now TikTok star. Rawlings is the on-camera talent for nearly every video and, in a world of highly curated content, he’s simply himself.

“I’m just recording Mark being Mark,” Fairchild says. “No matter what, whether he’s on camera or off camera, having a few beers or in the Baker working, his personality is consistent, which I think is rare.”

Fairchild calls her star a “one-take wonder.” He’s also yet to say no to one of her ideas from her, despite having veto power. In the spirit of TikTok trends, he has recorded with a Kim Kardashian voice-over, painted his nails while communing with the beloved Baker cactus, and filmed multiple dance numbers, including one with pirouettes set to a Taylor Swift song.

“If somebody said I look stupid, I might agree with them,” Rawlings says, chuckling, “but it’s all for a good cause—getting the word out about the Baker.”

Fairchild and Rawlings have also used humor to dispel a few myths, like that servicemen bound for Vietnam stashed their hot rods in the hotel’s basement. But not all the gossip is untrue: Mr. Baker really did have a hidden cubby for booze during Prohibition (a feature the design team plans to play up).

To keep people coming back for more, the duo have intentionally skirted one of the most frequently asked questions: Is The Baker haunted? In one video, Rawlings makes a nod to the film Fight Club when he says, “The first rule about ghost club is you don’t talk about ghost club.” Although he accompanied a camera crew on a tour of the hotel for the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures back in 2012, Rawlings is skeptical.

“I’ve never seen a ghost,” he says. “If there is something in there, I think I’m getting a hall pass because we’re putting tens of millions of dollars into their house and they’re just happy to get it fixed up.”

Jokes aside, Rawlings is seriously passionate about the restoration of the hotel and that’s what followers find most endearing. “I just watched a ridiculous amount of these videos and the joy and love in Mark’s face is contagious,” commented one fan. “The way he is so eager to share his knowledge and love for this place is the reason people will continue to come back when it’s open,” said another.

Rawlings got his start helping his dad restore historic properties in his hometown of Brownwood, two hours southwest of Mineral Wells. In the eighties, I have moved on to work in bars and restaurants on Austin’s Sixth Street. Then, in the nineties, he turned to hotels, including the Driskill in Austin and the St. Anthony in San Antonio. He’s redone properties with more than 800 rooms, so the Baker—built with 450 rooms but slated to reopen with 165 larger ones—isn’t his biggest project, but it could wind up being the most expensive. Luckily, he’s also a pro at conserving resources.

Rawlings designed temporary bathrooms to save $100,000 in portable-toilet rental fees (that video got nearly 230,000 views) and built workshops on-site to refinish existing materials like door hinges and all 997 windows. This is Rawlings’ way of avoiding transportation costs and supply-chain issues and making sure nothing gets lost or broken, thereby maintaining the original integrity of the hotel.

“She was done right the first time,” he says. “We want people to experience what they would have seen when they came in 1929. The key is to make sure that wherever you can, you keep it true to its original look.”

Altogether, Rawlings and his crew have salvaged, labeled, and organized more than one thousand items in what he calls the “treasure room.” They plan to reinstall the lobby chandeliers and other light fixtures, modernize old phone booths with charging stations, and turn the ticket booth from the Cloud Room—where guests once paid to see acts like the Three Stooges—into the gift shop checkout counter.

Some aspects of the hotel are no longer up to code, but Rawlings found workarounds, as when he created a fireproof version of the old valet doors and used leftover rebar from a bank vault in the Driskill to upgrade railings. Things that can’t be reused, like questionable spa equipment, will find a home in the planned hotel museum or be given a new purpose altogether. Worn-out hardwood floors from Mr. Baker’s suite are destined to become picture frames; broken glass from the rose-colored mirrors in the Brazos Club will become a pink disco ball for special events. He’s even found a way to preserve some of the graffiti that adorned the walls in the form of a coffee-table book.

The overall goal for the design, dubbed “Palo Pinto chic” after Palo Pinto County, is “approachable luxury.” The floor plan has changed some and most rooms have doubled in size to meet modern travelers’ needs (except for fourteen historic rooms set aside for history buffs or guests on a budget). The hotel pool, reportedly the first Olympic-sized pool in Texas, will once again be pumped full of the crazy water that put the town on the map.

It remains to be seen whether the social media hype will translate into actual paying customers. One follower recently lamented what the hotel’s opening could mean: “I’m almost sad thinking of the day The Baker is complete and we no longer get Mark videos,” they wrote. The hotel has come a long way, but Rawlings estimates there’s still about 80 percent left to go. Fairchild plans to hand over the TikTok keys to a professional marketing firm as the opening approaches, but Rawlings isn’t going anywhere. Since starting the project, he’s created his own TikTok account, met his fiancée, a “local Mineral Wells girl,” and bought a historic home that’s only a few blocks from the Baker.

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