Belle Isle: Aquarium



First of all let me apologize for not posting something yesterday – it was an exceptionally busy day! My evening was spent at the Mackenzie House with the Preservation Wayne Board of Directors finalizing our Membership Event that will be held next Thursday, February 9, 2012 from 6-9pm at the former SS Kresge Headquarters on Second Ave. All are welcome.


Glass tiles in the interior dome

Now onto the Aquarium!

Although we should be thankful to Albert Kahn for the design of the structure, we should be equally thankful for David Heineman for bringing the aquarium to Detroit. Heineman was a Michigan legislator who was so fascinated with an aquarium he saw while traveling in Italy he brought it home. Well kind of.


SHARK! She's a beauty, huh? She's a Bamboo Shark, and she'd love for you to stop by tomorrow from 10-3pm

The volunteers of Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium have been working diligently in getting the aquarium cleaned up and all spanking new just for you! Remember the aquarium is only open TOMORROW. *sniff* But my friends when you stop by tomorrow – which I know you will – drop whatever donation you can in their box. Show them some Shiver or aquarium or just plain Detroit love. Whatever you wanna call it. We NEED to help the Belle Isle Conservatory (the foundation, not the plant place) reopen the aquarium! Tell them you want it open all year. Tell them you want to be able to visit the aquarium with your children or grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Tell them you want to spend your first date there with your soul mate. Tell them.


Gramps the Gourami is back! First tank on the right. See him tomorrow. Give him a little $$ so he can stay in his tank. 🙂


Painting, polishing, perfecting. Just for you. Won't you help their efforts with a little $$ to keep the aquarium open? Maybe you'd like t-shirt to show your love all year 'round?


This turtle belongs to a boy in Pinckney and he has brought him to the aquarium to make some friends - both fish and human alike! Prior to this, he's never been in a tank so large!

Don’t forget to stop by the Casino at the Preservation Wayne table to say hello! Unless, of course, your conservation with the shark runs over. I’ll understand.

Photographs (c) 2012 Jennifer Baross


Belle Isle: Dossin Great Lakes Museum



The Dossin Museum is one of my favorite places to spend a few hours on Belle Isle.

Dossin Museum

The Museum has many great things to see, including the S.S. William Clay Ford Pilot House which cantilevers over the river. I LOVE seeing this part of the ship and the feeling that you are really on the river. Below deck, you can see models of the Edmund Fitzgerald which sank in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975. The William Clay Ford was a bulk freighter and one of the ships involved in the search for the Fitzgerald the night it sank.

Edmund Fitzgerald (from NOAA - taken by Bob Campbell, Grand Ledge, Michigan)

The Ford freighter was given a plaque in honor of the bravery to save the ship, which reads: “On the night of November 10–11, 1975, these men voluntarily left a safe harbor to face the dangers of gale force winds and vicious seas, in the blackness of a storm which had already claimed as a victim the steamer Edmund Fitzgerald, to search for possible survivors of that disaster, exemplifying the finest traditions of the maritime profession.”

Lighthouse lens

Another cool thing to see at the museum are the collection of lighthouse lenses. Above is one example.

Ship controls

Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved to watch freighters on the river. My paternal grandparents would take me camping every summer at Algonac State Park, and I was always mesmerized by the combination of the massive ship and it’s gracefulness effortlessly and almost silently gliding through the water.

There’s more to see at the museum that just what I showed here. The beautiful Gothic room from the S.S. City of Detroit – the Great Lake cruise ship from the Golden Era of steam ships, artifacts from Bob-Lo, model ships, and if you’re lucky, you can watch a freighter glide past you on the river from the pilot house of the S.S. William Clay Ford.

Stop by the Casino and say hello during Shiver on the River. I’ll be there with Preservation Wayne. Cheers.

Photographs (c) 2011 – 2012 Jennifer Baross

Belle Isle: sculpture


There is quite a bit of sculpture and monuments on Belle Isle in addition to many contemporary art works. Here are just a few…

Spanish American War Monument, Allen G. Newman (1932)

This monument is a tribute to the soliders and sailors who served in the Spanish American war of 1898. The dark green patina of the figures is a striking contrast with the white granite structure.

Levi L. Barbour Fountain, Marshall Fredericks (1936)

Levi Barbour was a wealthy attorney and was one of the leaders who fought for the purchase of Belle Isle. Marshall Fredericks won the competition for the design of bronze and granite which showcases a graceful leaping gazelle. There are two basins, and in the lower basin Fredericks sculpted a rabbit, hawk, otter and grouse – all animals that one would find native to the island.

James Scott Statue, Herbert Adams (1925)

This is a continuation from our last Scott Fountain post – Cass Gilbert designed the marble fountain, and recommended Adams for the bronze statue of James Scott. Adams chose to sculpt Scott in formal attire, and is seated in a chair similar to a throne. In his book, Art in Detroit Public Places, author Dennis Nawrocki draws the conclusion that Scott has come to appear like a kind of patriarch of Detroit – which might remember that his gift caused controversy when Scott left $500,000 to the city for a fountain and statue of him. The bronze statue sits on a marble base and has winged details on the sides of the chair.

Belle Isle: Detroit Boat Club



View of club from MacArthur Bridge

The Detroit Boat Club is the oldest and continuously operated rowing club in the world, the oldest boat club in the US AND, the oldest social club in the state of Michigan. This building was built in 1902 after several other locations were destroyed due to fires. It has hosted the Detroit Boat Club Regatta since 1899.

Interior of rowing practice area

I only have a little bit of information for you on the club, but I wanted to show you some great images that Jack Johnson has taken of the interior. GO TO THE SHIVER and see the boat club. This is endangered structure and in much disrepair. You may not get the chance to see it again.

Detail of stairway balusters

Lobby from second level

Parlor - note the detail of the faces above the fireplace


Photos (c) 2009-2011 Jack Johnson and Jennifer Baross

Belle Isle: Scott Fountain


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James Scott Fountain

The Scott Fountain on Belle Isle was built in 1925 as a memorial to Detroiter James Scott who was a real estate investor. The AIA Guide to Detroit tells us that Scott “delighted in lawsuits and other disputes”. So when Scott died in 1910 and left $500,000 of his estate for the city to build a fountain with his bronze statue in the center – this of course caused quite the controversy. The city filled and expanded the western end of the island as a home for the fountain.

Detail of fountain sculpture

New York based architect Cass Gilbert designed this fountain made of marble and features sculpture of lions, turtles, frogs, goats and angels riding fish.

Additional detail of sculpture - notice the water stains which will be cleaned during the restoration process.

At one time, the pool base held decorative Pewabic tile however the tile was removed as a part of the restoration the fountain is currently undergoing. This was due to the base of the fountain leaking and in bad shape. But folks, don’t get too upset here, the tiles are going back – brand spanking new from the Pottery. I wish I had images of those tiles, but alas, I have none. I will post images of the new tiles when available.

Photograph of the lower fountain. Note the sculptural seaweed on the back walls. We see this seaweed in a similar fashion on the Aquarium.

Oh, and there was a bronze statue of Scott… he sits off to the side of the fountain. I’ll include him in upcoming post about the monuments on the island. Next up, Detroit Boat Club.

Photographs (c) 2005-2011 Jack P. Johnson and Jennifer Baross

Belle Isle: Livingston Lighthouse


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The Livingtson Lighthouse was designed by Albert Kahn in 1929 and built the following year in 1930 as a tribute to William Livingstone who was president of the Lake Carriers Association. Livingston was a prominent Detroiter and owned lake freighters.

William Livingston Lighthouse

Located on the East end of Belle Isle, it is the only marble lighthouse in the nation and some say even on the continent. It is sheathed in white Georgia marble and features the work of Hungarian artist Geza Maroti.

Lighthouse facade

The fluted shaft of the lighthouse features eagles at the top and relief panels both the front and rear. This is the only Art Deco lighthouse and the light can be seen from the East for 16 miles.

Detail of sculpture above door

The star, wind and water all relate to being at sea on the Great Lakes and this allegorical figure seems to move effortlessly across the stylized zig-zag water.

Door detail

Maroti uses a favorite motif here on the lighthouse door. We see this design repeated at the Fisher Building, and also at Cranbrook where he worked with Saarinen. More to come on Maroti – promise!

Detail of rear sculpture

Photos (c) 2005-2011 Jack P. Johnson and Jennifer Baross

Belle Isle: Nancy Brown Peace Carillon



Today is day two of our eleven day countdown to Belle Isles’ Shiver on the River, and today I bring to you the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon.

Nancy Brown Peace Carillon

Nancy Brown was the pen name of a Detroit News columnist who wrote the Experience Column from 1919 to January of 1942. Her real name was Annie Louise Brown. She was extremely influential in her 23 years of her column – in 1930 she suggested that her readers come to the DIA to see some art she had written about… and it’s estimated that about 35,000 to 100,000 people showed up. In a 1995 article in the Detroit News, writer Kay Houston commented, “It was the greatest party Detroit ever had.”  Following this flood of interest at the DIA, a fund was created by her readers for future art purchases. 

Entry to Carillon

The concept of the Peace Carillon was born from a reader who suggested that a sunrise service be held on the island. In 1934, Nancy promoted this idea, again drawing a huge crowd. This time there was a crowd of about 30,000-50,000 people. It was built by dedicated readers who sent in nickels and dimes through her fundraiser and dedicated in 1940.

The architect who designed the Carillon, Clarence Day, was a member of Harley, Ellington and Day. The architectural firm still operates today under the name Harley Ellis Devereaux and is located in Southfield, Michigan. Day designed this beautiful neo-Gothic structure with some hints of Art Deco ornamentation, with some great sculptural panels. There were two on each side until vandals stole a panel from the backside.

Detail of panels

From her final column:

Dear Column Folks:

For nearly 23 years now you and I have worked and played shoulder to shoulder. We have sat by Column fireside together and discussed every subject under the sun–gay, lively discussions oftimes–oftimes grave and serious–sometimes sad–but always, whatever the discussion, in friendly spirit.

We have had our activities too. We have planted our forests, jammed the Art Institute at our historic party, presented our paintings, shared concerts with our symphony orchestra, given our Sunrise Services, publicized our books, held our bazaars, helped our Civic Opera, shared relief work with the Red Cross, shared food funds, Goodfellow funds, and carried on our own considerable fund through all the years for needy Column children. And last and greatest of all, have completed the construction and payment of our Carillon Peace Tower. All these we have shared together with equal, loyal effort. Neither could have accomplished them alone. My years have been happy years, happy for me and I hope for you.



Additional panel detail

In reading part of Nancy’s final column in the News, it makes me think that her readers were dedicated to what they believe in. Let me propose this: if Nancy Brown’s readers donated $.10 in 1940 that would be the equivalent of $1.55 in today’s dollars. What would be worth $1.55 to you? Would you be willing to send the Aquarium $1.55 to help raise funds and reopen it? In thinking of Starbuck’s terms… that’s one tall coffee… If 50,000 of you donated $1.55 to the Aquarium we could raise $775,000. Hmmmm…

Carillon top - note the Art Deco and Gothic influence

For more information on Nancy Brown’s Carillon, please visit my friend Dan Austin’s website where he covers all the details. He has some cool artifacts to see as well, including a pennant from the 1940 dedication of the Carillon.  Nancy’s final column was copied from Kay Houston’s 1995 article from the Detroit News and can be found here:

Photographs © 2009-2011 Jack P. Johnson and Jennifer Baross

Belle Isle: Conservatory



I heard on the radio this morning, that we have 11 days until the Shiver on the River which takes place on February 4th. In honor of the Shiver, we’ll have 11 days of architecture and ornamentation of Belle Isle. What might you say is the Shiver on the River? Well only Detroit’s best winter event! Exhibits, displays, refreshments! Live entertainment at the Casino! Boat House open! DYC tours! Ice Rescue Demonstrations! Aquarium! (repeat AQUARIUM!) Dossin Museum! Conservatory! Oh, yeah, conservatory…. Let me tell you about that…


Conservatory exterior

The conservatory located on Belle Isle was designed by Albert Kahn in 1904 and was built as apart of the City Beautiful Movement popular at the turn of the century. (More to come on City Beautiful Movement…) It’s built on a 13 acre parcel and at one time, shared a passageway with the aquarium. The Koi normally found in the lilly pond on the north exterior spend their winter in the aquarium. (Be sure to watch the aquarium’s facebook page for their annual fall koi wrangling event if your want to volunteer.)


Palm trees in dome

At 85 feet high, it’s dome provides 100,600 cubic feet for large palm trees. Other plants include banana trees, orange trees, coffee and sugar cane trees, ferns and cacti.





In 1950, the conservatory under went a renovation where the original 1904 wooden structure was replaced by aluminum and steel. In 1955, it was renamed the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory after Mrs. Whitcomb bequeathed her 600 plant orchid collection.


Workroom at the Conservatory


Koi pond between Conservatory and Aquarium

The conservatory is a beautiful place for photographers… and a nice place to warm up in the winter! If you get to the Shiver, be sure to stop by at the Casino at the Preservation Wayne table and say hello!

Photographs (c) 2011 Jennifer Baross

Detroit News Building



Detroit News from Lafayette Ave.

In 1916 Albert Kahn designed the Detroit News Building with his associate, Ernest Wiliby for George Booth. Kahn and Booth had worked together before when Kahn built the home for Booth and his wife, Ellen, in the Arts and Crafts Style of their Cranbrook Estate. Surely they had known each other not only as prominent businessmen in Detroit’s circles, but also from the Society of Arts and Crafts in which both Booth and Kahn were founding members in 1906.

The pioneers of printing: Gutenberg, Plantin, Caxton & Franklin

The structure of the Detroit News Building was made of reinforced concrete and footprint takes up a full block at Lafayette and Second Avenues. The symbolism of the ornamentation lends itself to an Arts and Crafts influence – specifically with the printers marks and the figures of the pioneers in printing: Gutenberg, Plantin, Caxton, and Franklin. Additionally we see carved arch moldings and ironwork detail above the first floor windows.

Lamp detail

Detail of printers marks

My historic postcard of the news room shows us the beautiful interior wainscoted in oak with flat coffered ceilings.

Postcard of the Detroit News newsroom

The January 1918 edition of the Architectural Forum ran a four page article on the building, and closed with this comment, “The Detroit News Building, aside from being a success as the home of a large manufacturing enterprise, is also of significant value in being the source of keen satisfaction to the employees of the news paper, and the inspiration of countless people who pass it by in the course of their daily life.”

The postcard caption: The work of the large editorial staff of The Detroit News is a supplemented by the three greatest new gathering agencies hundreds of special and staff correspondents in America and abroad, five photographic services and 15 “featured syndicates.” The News has 17,000 volumes in it’s private library. 

Symbolism: bee hives


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One of the things that fascinates me so much about architectural ornamentation how sculptors and artists put so much symbolism into their designs. My favorite symbol to find on buildings is the bee hive – and in Detroit we have quite a few structures. The hive is a symbol of organization and structure and buzzes like a factory or workshop of tireless activity. Bees produced honey which some say is the food of the gods. Combined they are symbols of industry, regeneration and obedience.

Temple of Odd Fellows Building

Here is the first – in chronological order – building we see with a hive. This is the Temple of Odd Fellows Building built in 1874 on the edge of Greektown on Randolph and Monroe. It’s of late Victorian commercial design with red brick and cream colored terra cotta.

Masonic Temple exterior ornamentation

Secondly, we see the bee hive several times – both exterior and interior – at Detroit’s Masonic Temple. Built in 1926 by the Dean of architecture himself, George D. Mason at 500 Temple, formerly Bagg Street. Below, is an interior image of some decoration of a lodge room.

Interior of Masonic Lodge Room


Guardian bee hive

In the window jambs of the Art Deco Guardian Building of 1928, we see Mary Chase Perry Stratton’s Pewabic version of the bee and it’s hive. This is above the Congress Street entrance.

Fisher Building bee hive Grand Boulevard entrance

My most favorite bee hive of them all… this graceful allegorical figure on the Fisher Building holds a beautiful platter with her hive for all to see. The Fisher Building was built in 1929 by Albert Kahn for the Fisher Brothers.

Bee hive at base of door hinge on Fisher Building

There is even a bee hive on the base of the door hinge on the main entrance on Grand Boulevard. Here, this version has stylized art deco flowers coming from it’s top.

The interior of the Fisher has beautiful lunettes designed by Geza Marotti and can be seen from the third floor balcony.

Photos (c) 2005 – 2011 Jack P. Johnson and Jennifer Baross