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Monday, 6 February, 2012 7:20 PM

The future of Detroit's Belle Isle Aquarium is very bright

Renovations on America's Oldest Aquarium will begin in May

PHOTO BY GLORIA RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

The Belle Isle Aquarium is at the intersection of Inselruhe Avenue and Loiter Way on Detroit's Belle Isle.

 

by Gloria Rzucidlo
gloria1025@yahoo.com

 

|

DETROIT -- On Saturday, Feb. 4, the Friends of the Detroit River hosted their 13th Annual Shiver on the River. Inside the Casino on Belle Isle were exhibits about the Detroit River, a rain barrel demonstration, Magic John Children's Magician, Bob Cat Caricatures and musical entertainment. Tours of Detroit Yacht Club was also offered. At the Coast Guard station was a rescue demonstration along with a helicopter fly by and all the buildings on the island were open and free of charge.

The casino is a magnificent piece of architecture, which was built in 1907. The first original casino was designed by Van Leyen & Schilling in 1887, but it was razed by fire. Then, in 1907, Albert Kahn (who also designed the General Motors and Fisher Buildings) re-designed and enlarged a new building, which is the one that is standing today. It was said to be the finest casino in the United States. However, it never was a gambling casino to begin with. Instead, it had lunch counters, beverage service and a formal dining room. Casino means "cute little house" in Italian.

Back then, it was designed to provide views of the Detroit River and Canada, and to be an eating place where patrons would be cooled by breezes in an era where there was no air conditioning. It was surrounded by a large porch where people can enjoy the day. Since then, it has been a site of public entertainment, gathering and dining. As of this date, you can rent it out for weddings, etc.

On Saturday, the Belle Isle Aquarium was open for one day only. The aquarium was formally opened on Aug. 18, 1904 and became the most popular attraction on Belle Isle. In 1904, the head curator of the New York Aquarium, James Conway was recruited to take charge of operations. In 1954, the aquarium underwent a complete renovation. The whole interior was updated and the cypress wood frames around the tanks were replaced with shiny polished aluminum. This building was also designed by Albert Kahn.

In 1982, an act of vandalism resulted in the death of a beloved Alligator Gar who had delighted visitors since 1955. The outcry and outrage prompted Channel 7 news reporter Jerry Stanecki to locate a replacement. His quest was successful and a new Alligator Gar was added to the aquarium. In January 2005, the City of Detroit announced the Belle Isle Aquarium would close its doors due to a lack of funding during difficult economic times. At that time, the aquarium was the oldest, continuously operated public aquarium in North America.

On April 3, 2005, the aquarium closed and its exhibits were dispersed to other aquariums and institutions. Hal, the Alligator Gar, a 23-year resident by this time, died enroute to the Denver Aquarium. Mr. Stanecki believed that he died of a broken heart.

As I strolled through the Aquarium, I was amazed at how beautiful it was. Back in the 50' and 60's, I'm sure my parents took me there, however I do not remember it very well.

Today, the future of the Belle Isle Aquarium is bright. The newly formed Belle Isle Conservancy has secured state and federal grants to begin needed repairs to the roof and windows. Renovations will begin in May 2012. Please consider donating and supporting the Belle Isle Conservancy so that this aquarium can be reopened to promote education, scientific research and the preservation of aquatic life.

For more information on the Shiver on the River, visit www.DetroitRiver.org.

 

 

PHOTO BY GLORIA RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

The green-tile curved ceiling is meant to evoke an underwater feeling.

 

PHOTO BY GLORIA RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

The Belle Isle Conservancy has secured state and federal funds to make renovations to the aquarium.

 

PHOTO BY GLORIA RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Renovations will begin in May and the aquarium could be reopened to the public by the end of the year.

 

 
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Unauthorized duplication or use of Text, Photos, Videos, Site Template, Graphics and or Site Design is Prohibited by Federal and International laws. See our Notice/Disclaimer and Privacy Policy.

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