This past Sunday, the temperature in Detroit was in the 80’s and I took advantage by biking 30 miles or so. The day’s journey took me downtown where I jumped on the RiverWalk and joined other bicyclists and walkers in a leisurely ride along the Detroit River. I did a quick pass through the Dequindre Cut Greenway and from there, made my way over to Comerica Park where the Tigers were playing an early afternoon game. I circled the stadium and afterward, headed down Michigan Avenue past the Historic Michigan Central Station into Southwest Detroit.
The best part of the afternoon ride was Belle Isle, that gem of a park sitting smack dab in the middle of the Detroit River. As I was about to finish a lap around the park, I noticed quite a bit of activity at the Belle Isle Boat Club, that beautiful early 1900’s historic structure that has been vacant since 1996. The full parking lot and people everywhere raised my curiosity, so I decided to zip in through the open gate and poke around. I struck up a conversation with a woman near the parking lot and was told there was a high school rowing event underway. Since I haven’t been in the club house for at least 20 years, I asked her questions on the condition of the building’s interior: how bad is the plaster work, are there water leaks, that sort of thing (hoping to get a look inside). Low and be hold, it worked. She invited me in!
Upon entering, I was struck with how good of shape it was in. The old place wasn’t too bad, although major restoration work is badly needed. Structurally, the interior is in better condition than the deteriorating stucco exterior. Despite water damage to the ceiling, the integrity of the crown moldings I saw had not been affected by leaking water. Nor were many of the ornamental plaster moldings found throughout. Many of the light fixtures appeared to be original and working.
The building is home to series of ballrooms, meeting spaces and bar areas and all needed scraping, painting, etc. But overall, they looked good. There is also a beautiful hardwood staircase, with a railing featuring seahorse balusters and spiral columns. I took it to the second floor and there, I saw gorgeous arches trimmed in dark hardwood that matched the staircase and the ceiling panels of the uppermost reaches of the three-story ceiling. The woodwork I saw, including the panels in various meeting rooms, was in fine shape.
I really liked the craftsmanship and attention to detail found within. There are what appeared to be hand painted nautical scenes on many walls, interesting padded doors with intricate designs made from furniture tacks and other subtle design elements. It would be a shame if this historic landmark, the first concrete structure in the U.S., was lost through neglect.
Update to this entry – It recently came to my attention that the Detroit Boat Club Rowing Crew is currently using the building for rowing events and have been for the past few years. They are also doing what they can to maintained the building.