DAYS GONE BY: It began with one woman

By Jill Engelman

Lake County Historical Society

It all began one evening in 1926 when Baldwin resident Florence Homer was sitting at home worrying about her children driving back and forth to Chase. You see, Rose and Jinny Homer had boyfriends who played on the high school basketball team, and of course they wanted to watch their games. But the Baldwin school did not have a gym so games in the mid-1920s were played either at Carrs or at the Chase Township Hall. The family’s first car, a Model T, performed less than desirable in cold weather. Jinny’s memories include going out at half time to start the car, whose radiator had been kept warm under a blanket to ward off the winter temperatures of minus 40 degrees. After every ten minutes of driving, the kids had to stop and nurse the radiator to keep it from freezing and therefore boiling over. Once home, they had to face their mother who had been pacing nervously, concerned over their wellbeing.

The schoolboard had no interest in providing a local gym so Florence took matters into her own hands. As president of the Women’s Club, she began to promote the cause to the Pleasant Plains Township Board to construct a building which would house a basketball court. During the next three years, this group of women made a change which would benefit the township and the Village of Baldwin for the next four decades.

The Lake County Star reported March 15, 1929, "BUILD TOWN HALL AT ONCE, SAYS CAUCUS." The 57 Republican Caucus voters went on record as favoring the immediate construction of the building beginning in the spring of 1929.

Judge Trucks set the ball rolling. He and banker Robert J. Smith conferred with architect Frank Allen of Grand Rapids, a Grand Old Fisherman of the Pere Marquette River, who volunteered to make the plans and specifications for free because of his love for the country where he had enjoyed the summer sport for so many years.

Smith was greeted with applause at the meeting when he stated there was enough money to build, and how the Lake County State Bank would donate the site between its own building and the Baldwin Theatre on the east side of Michigan Avenue, if agreeable to the Township. He added that through negotiations with the federal government, there were assurances the front portion of the building would be leased for a post office, thus insuring an earning of four to five percent rental over the next twenty years.

Plans called for a brick and cement building 117 by 40 feet, one story high with basement under each end. The front thirty feet would be divided into the post office, a lobby and restrooms. The main assembly room of 40 by 65 feet was specified to have a hardwood floor, suitable for dancing, basketball, dinners and public functions. A stage, kitchen, board room and a room for showers was planned for the rear of the building. The 17 foot wide stage was to be large enough to accommodate any theatrical occasion. A room over the post office and lobby would provide for moving picture projection and balcony seats, making the front elevation two stories high. A dual heating plant was to be installed to avoid the expense of heating the entire building when it was not needed.

The building could generate revenue for the township, not only from the rental of the post office, but from parties, banquets, shows, entertainment and private affairs.

The Aug. 2, 1929, edition of the Lake County Star carried a front page article which heralded the ground breaking by the Ben H. Koenig Construction Company for the new Township Hall and Community Building. It was noted in the paper how lines were laid out and teams with scrappers were excavating for the cellar. The contract for the construction was signed for $15,615. This included a change in the lobby and restroom floors from concrete to terrazzo, and the addition of a parapet wall along the side of the Theatre for better fire protection. Bids for plumbing, heating and wiring were to be opened Aug. 6. The auditorium was be floored first so as to permit its use for basketball practices. Contractor Koenig committed to having the building completed by Nov. 15.

The building did indeed open by year’s end. No longer were the long drives to and from Chase necessary for students. Practices and basketball games now took place within the Village of Baldwin.

For four decades, the Pleasant Plains Auditorium was the destination for a multitude of events. Dances benefitting local firemen, fisherman and hunters, as well as holiday dances, concerts and band programs took place there. Polio clinics, conservation seminars and other informative presentations were also hosted in the building. W.L.S., out of Chicago, sponsored a home talent show, The Prairie Farmer, in 1937 elevating the venue to national status. The building was the home of local activities and events until the mid-1960s. Baldwin High School had constructed a school gym by this time, and the auditorium proved larger than needed for its remaining uses. Lake-Osceola State Bank and the Wenger Insurance Office took over the building during this time and then later expanded it. The building currently serves the community as the Baldwin Business Center, providing offices for various businesses, Michigan State University Extension and is the temporary home of the Lake County Historical Society.