Ginger Roots: The Baker Hotel

January 24, 2019

The Peacock Terrace at the Baker Hotel, from my collection.


In my series Ginger Roots, I will be covering Ginger's life pre-Hollywood, and putting a focus on the history of many buildings that she lived in, frequented or performed at during this time. 

The Baker Hotel stood tall in downtown Dallas, Texas from October 9, 1925 until its demolition on June 29, 1980. It is disheartening to type the word "demolition," as my extensive research of these historic buildings tend to create some kind of sentimental attachment to them, especially being that they were in some way part of Ginger's personal history, no matter how minor.

Belonging to a chain of successful hotels developed by hotel magnate T.B. Baker (1875-1972), the Baker Hotel had its grand opening in the fall of 1925. It was built on a site that was once occupied by the glamorous Oriental Hotel, which was built in 1895. For photos and more information on the Oriental Hotel, check out this informative post at the blog Ephemeral Dallas.


How does the Baker Hotel play into Ginger's story?

Ginger's connection to this convention headquarters may have been brief, but it sure was significant in both the hotel's history and Ginger's own history as well. In fact, she can be associated with a portion of the opening of the hotel. Just two months after its opening, the Texas State Charleston Championship was held to symbolize the inauguration of the famous Peacock Terrace, a ballroom on the rooftop level.  Once an unknown little girl from Fort Worth, Ginger found herself booked on the Texas Interstate Circuit after winning the contest with a thundering round of applause.

From there, Ginger formed a successful vaudeville act called "Ginger Rogers and Her Redheads," traveling across the country by train during the later 1920s, and gaining more and more experience and recognition before eventually landing a role in the Broadway Gershwin show "Girl Crazy," and the rest is history.

The Baker Hotel from 1930 to 1980

In late 1934, the Baker Hotel was sold to the National Hotel Company for $1.6 million, and again in 1949 to Dallas Rupe & Son. Throughout several decades, it became a popular space for annual meetings, conventions, and extravagant galas. However, while the hotel was a hot spot for parties, it also harbored some dark history.

On June 21, 1946, an massive explosion ripped through the basement below the kitchen. The cause of the blast is explained by Fire Marshal B.C. Hilton in this article from the Waco Tribune-Herald, 1946:

                                

11 died and several more were injured. A bellboy recalls, "I was taking a suit up to the sixth floor, and was just walking down the corridor of the basement when there was a sudden terrific explosion. Everything went black, and when I came to, I was flat on my back." It was an enormously tragic event. Streets were blocked off and ambulances struggled to reach the scene among the frantic crowds. But this was not the only time that the Baker Hotel would see flames.

In October of 1971, a fire broke out on the Peacock Terrace, heavily damaging much of the upper floors.  The lobby of the hotel was used as a first aid station where many were suffered from smoke inhalation, but no deaths were reported.

from The Eagle, 1971

Despite the expensive damages that the building endured, it was always being remodeled and it continued to be the site for many important conventions, festivals and various social events before finally closing its doors in 1979. Governor Bill Clements stated, "Time marches on, and these things happen, and generally they happen for the best." During the fall of 1979, the Crystal Ballroom served as a public salesroom for much of the hotel's furniture, silverware and chandeliers.

Site of the Baker Hotel today, from Google Earth

The Baker Hotel was demolished on June 29, 1980. An AT&T office tower currently resides in its place today. You can find Frank Booth's collection of photos from the demolition here. The physical building may be gone, but it will always remain an important part of Dallas' history as well as leaving its mark in the beginning of Ginger's stage career. Here are a few of the postcards that I recently collected from the hotel:


V-J Day, 1945
undated
The Peacock Terrace, 1927.
Outside the Baker Hotel, 1927.



           
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