MILLCREEK A small group of buildings set off from 2300 East will soon regain its position as the heart of East Millcreek.
Originally the buildings were home to the Baldwin Radio Factory, employing 150 people in 1922 at high wages and building the world's most sensitive radio receivers and advanced sound amplifiers. Simultaneously, it was becoming the heart of post-manifesto polygamy as certain employees were laying out plans for what would become the Fundamentalist LDS Church movement in Hildale, Ariz.
Today, current owner Kevin Flynn is examining ways to incorporate the buildings he's leased to artists and performers into plans for a new East Millcreek Community Center. Rita Lund, East Millcreek Township's representative for the county, said the new community center could become "Main Street" or "downtown" for the township. By tearing down a fence, Flynn could make his property a major artery to the community center and Evergreen Park.
Flynn said he bought the property in 1996 and decided to convert one building into an office for his work as an electrical engineer and lease out the others to artists. The result is what he's named The Flynn Artipelago because the string of buildings resemble an archipelago.
"There's a real need for this kind of space," he said. "I have a waiting list."
Tenant Zach Hixson, a painter, said he's waiting to see what effect the community center will have on his work. On the one hand, he likes the seclusion of the Artipelago, but he also recognizes that more foot traffic could bring more recognition of his work.
The new community center is still "a ways out" but has been "fast tracked," said Leslie Riddle, chairwoman of the East Millcreek Community Council.
Riddle said she's excited to see the Artipelago incorporated into the larger vision of the community center because the council is interested in historical preservation. The flow of foot traffic could be a "win-win on all sides," said Lund.
Even though Flynn's vision for the project is only about a decade old, longtime tenant Craig Timm said that as far as he knows, artisans have always been in the old factory buildings. Soon after the radio factory closed, potters moved in, he said.
Hixson prefers the word "tinkerers" to artisans and said original owner Nathaniel Baldwin was certainly a tinkerer. Born in 1878 to his father's number two wife, he built his own bicycle and a steam engine as a child. After attending Brigham Young Academy, Utah State University and Stanford University, he returned to Utah to teach physics and theology at BYU. Fellow professor John Tanner Clark convinced him that ending polygamy had been a mistake touching off a lifetime of sympathy and support for post-manifesto practitioners.
In 1905, Clark was excommunicated from the LDS Church and Baldwin was fired. Baldwin got a job as an electrician and air compressor operator at a mine and continued to tinker. He invented a way to amplify sound with compressed air but couldn't get it to work on a telephone because the receivers were too weak to trigger the valves. He next invented a more sensitive receiver, which he converted into a headset and eventually sold to the Navy. In the fall of 1914, he quit his day job and opened the radio factory along Millcreek at 3477 S. 2300 East. Using his experience working at hydroelectric dams, he built one of his own on Millcreek to power his factory. Using a paddle wheel design he'd seen his father make to grind flour in Fillmore, he fitted paddles to bicycle tires and used piano wire as a belt. It would be several years before he'd succumb and sign up to the grid.
Despite his genius, he wasn't a good businessman in a few crucial ways. He was remembered as being trusting and generous to a fault. He turned down a highly profitable buy-out to protect his friends' jobs. He wasted $50,000 looking for gold in Farmington Canyon. He spent large sums bailing his polygamous friends out of debt. Finally, in a plan to sell stock shares for his investment corporation, the sales company in Montana committed mail fraud, sending Baldwin to federal prison for two years. When he returned his company had folded and he finished his life in relative obscurity, dying in his son's home in 1961.
Author Merrill Singer wrote that a list of individuals and directors associated with Baldwin's investment company "read like a who's who of the early fundamentalist movements in Utah." Author Marianne T. Watson explained that factory employees Lorin C. Woolley and his father John W. Woolley of Centerville claimed to have heard former LDS Church President John Taylor announce that polygamy could never be done away with. The Woolleys planted the seeds that were germinated in the radio factory and eventually grew in Hildale.Kevin Flynn said he is still trying to decide what role his property will play in the blossoming of Evergreen Avenue. He's been invited to open a snack bar or ice cream parlor to service people visiting the park or community center but hasn't decided. He said he'd like to see a Millcreek trail run past his buildings and through the park. Final decisions will be made by the county in a couple of months and then architects will begin making designs, Lund said.