Reaching all the way back to November of 2007 for a sweet shot from one of my favorite photographers & Michigan in Pictures fans, Cave Canem. He no longer lives in Michigan, but regularly shares photos from other photographers in our Facebook group. Check out more in his My Belle Isle gallery & have a great weekend!
The James Scott Memorial Fountain on Detroit’s Belle Isle is a masterpiece in marble. It was completed in 1925 & designed by Cass Gilbert who also designed the US Supreme Court. I definitely encourage you to read the Michpics post on the construction & controversy surrounding the fountain & honoree about whom J.L. Hudson opined: “Mr. Scott never did anything for Detroit in his lifetime and he never had a thought that was good for the city.”
Scott took this photo in October at a fortuitous moment. See more in his Belle Isle gallery on Flickr!
I hope everyone is ready for the launch of summer 2017. Given the tension in the world, I’ve got a feeling it will be memorable. Hopefully not in a bad way but I admit, I worry.
If you’re looking for a new and fun way to kick off the summer, consider the Movement Electronic Music Festival this Saturday – Monday (May 27-29) in downtown Detroit. It takes place every Memorial Day weekend in the birthplace of Techno music with 6 stages and over 100 acts.
Here’s a fun pair of pics. Tom went back to where this family photo was taken in the early 30s and got a picture of the scene. You can see the one above background big, the one below right here and see more including another shot from the Belle Isle Conservatory in his Wonderful Michigan slideshow.
Dan Austin of Historic Detroit has an excellent article on the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle that begins:
If Belle Isle is Detroit’s crown, then the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is its brightest emerald, full of brilliant green ferns, palms and cacti and plant life from all over the world.
The conservatory, opened in the center of the island on Aug. 18, 1904, the same day as its next door neighbor, the Belle Isle Aquarium. Both were designed by Albert Kahn, who for the conservatory turned to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello for inspiration. It sits on 13 acres and features a lily pond on its north side and is fronted by formal perennial gardens on the west. These gardens are home to theLevi L. Barbour Memorial Fountain. For the first 51 years of its existence, the building was known as simply the Conservatory or the Horticulture Building. Today, the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is the oldest, continually operating conservatory in the United States.
The building covers about an acre and has five areas, each housing a different climate, and features a north wing and a south wing and a 100,600 cubic feet dome 85 feet high to accommodate soaring palms and other tropical plants. The north wing houses hundreds of cacti and desert plants, and just beyond that is a room packed with ferns from floor to ceiling. The south is home to hundreds of tropical plants and the Children’s Christian Temperance Fountain. The collection also includes perennial gardens and displays of annuals. The show house, remodeled in 1980, features a continuous display of blooming plants.
Definitely read on at Historic Detroit on for how the Conservatory got its name and became home to the largest municipally owned orchid collection in the country. There’s also a great historic photo gallery.
Here’s the official site for Belle Isle Conservatory. The hours are Wednesday-Sunday, 10 AM – 5 PM and the Belle Isle Aquarium is open Saturdays and Sundays as well.
More spring wallpaper on Michigan in Pictures.
“Mr. Scott never did anything for Detroit in his lifetime and he never had a thought that was good for the city.”
~ J.L. Hudson
Sometimes when you peer into history, you see things you didn’t expect, and that’s definitely the case with today’s subject. The Cass Gilbert Society’s page on the James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle explains that the fountain was completed in 1925, designed by noted architect Cass Gilbert (designer of the US Supreme Court Building in DC), and executed by sculptor Herbert Adams
The fountain was the result of a bequest from millionaire playboy James Scott, a figure of much controversy in Detroit at the turn of the century. Detroit’s fountain of mirth from the excellent Rearview Mirror series in the Detroit News (removed, but see The Wayback Machine) tells of the opposition from prominent citizens and clergy like J.L. Hudson and Bishop Williams that a playboy, loafer, gambler and vindictive practical joker like Scott be memorialized solely because he was able to plunk down a vast sum for his own monument. While public opinion kept the project scuttled for years after Scott’s death, influential Alderman David Heineman and others took up the charge, likely seeing how a vastly expensive fountain could enhance Detroit’s island park.
Speaking to reporters gathered in the office of Mayor Philip Breitmeyer, Heineman said: “I can look around this office and see pictures of men who played poker with Jim Scott. I say the bequest should be accepted.” He also recalled that “Jim always liked Belle Isle and loved to see the children there.”
The mayor agreed with Heineman. “I don’t believe the city has a right to insult any of her citizens by refusing a gift for such a good cause,” he said.
In the end, their view prevailed. It took more than 15 years, but Breitmeyer lived to attend the fountain’s dedication in 1925. Cass Gilbert, the New York architect who planned the Detroit Public Library, won a competition for design of the glistening white memorial at the lower end of the city’s pleasure island.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post previously appeared but sadly the photo was deleted by the owner. It’s one of my favorites so I re-blogged it!
Sherri Welch has a great feature (with video) in Crain’s Detroit entitled Underneath Belle Isle with the Wizard of Scott Fountain:
Far, far below Belle Isle, in a domed-ceiling building few know exist, Robert Carpenter keeps watch, switching levers, hitting buttons and adjusting valves like a modern-day Wizard of Oz.
But his motions aren’t designed to produce an apparition.
They’re focused on producing a plume of water that jets 20, 30, 40, 50 feet or higher into the air, along with countless other smaller bursts of water.
Carpenter is the unofficial caretaker of Belle Isle’s massive, antique James Scott Memorial Fountain.
It’s not a paying gig for him, but, truly, a labor of love.
Carpenter and his team did, restoring the pearly sheen to its marble basin, sculpted faces, animals and all five tiers.
Being the engineer he is, Carpenter couldn’t stop there.
He began scrutinizing the antique valves, pipes and drains, practically living in the domed structure under the fountain as he prepared it for operation through maintenance that included gingerly flushing its corroded, cast iron pipes and rushing to clean the resulting red water from the fountain’s marble bowl.
Read on for more at Crain’s and definitely check out the video – very cool to see what’s below this beautiful Michigan landmark!
Derek is one of my favorite Detroit photographers, and if you like his photos you can head over to his Flickr page for information about how to get them. In addition to taking great pictures, he often includes a brief story of the subject as is the case with this photo:
A Cheat, A Liar, a Cad, But A Damn Fine Fountain
Not exactly loved by all during his time on this planet, James Scott inherited a fortune from his real-estate-baron Father. He attempted to spend the majority of it during his lifetime, Building a large house ( it wasn’t large enough, he wanted his neighbors house as well. The neighbor declined so James built a huge addition to the front and top of his house, blocking out the sun for 3/4 of the day to get back at him ) , throwing large Gambling Parties oblivious to the amount he may have lost, suing any business partners ( or competitors ) that attempted to move in on what James thought should be his. He was described even by his friends as vindictive.
When he died in 1910 he left his sizeable fortune to the city under the specification that a memorial be created to honor him. It took 10 years for the city to agree to use the money for this purpose, and another 5 to complete this fountain – located on Belle Isle in Detroit. It was designed by Cass Gilbert and completed in 1925.
Dan Austin of HistoricDetroit.org has an incredibly comprehensive history of the Belle Isle Aquarium. He writes, in part:
Clarence M. Burton, in his history on the city of Detroit, attributes the idea of an aquarium to Rep. David E. Heineman, who had visited Naples, Italy, and studied that city’s Anton Dorhn Aquarium.
…The firm of Nettleton & Kahn drew up the plans for the buildings. The building’s price tag: $165,000 (about $4.06 million today). At the time of its opening, the aquarium was among the six largest in the world. Its high-tech equipment allowed for the keeping of both seawater and fresh-water marine life and the keeping of the right water temperatures in the tanks. The water was recycled through the tanks because, it was said, that fish survive better in water they’ve been in before. Originally, a 8,531-gallon center tank with a railing around it occupied the center of the building. It was topped off with filtered water that snaked through 5 miles of pipes.
Kahn outfitted the interior with sea-green glass tiles to give visitors the feeling that they were in an underwater cavern. Forty-four tanks filled with critters from the Great Lakes and the world’s oceans line the walls. Combined, the tanks contained 5,780 gallons of water. Magnificent pillars and other details compliment the soaring arched ceilings, as high as three stories in the center of the building. A classroom sits near the main entrance.
The front of the slender, brick building features an elaborate Baroque entrance with carvings of dolphins and a grotesque of Neptune, the Roman god of water. In the center is the city’s seal showing the two maidens and the Detroit motto, “Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus” — “We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.” Below that, the word “aquarium” is carved in capitalized, bold letters. The intricate details are sometimes masked by robust ivy that covers the front of the building.
When opening day finally came on Aug. 18, 1904, Detroiters were champing at the bit to take a peek. By the time dawn rolled around, the line numbered into the thousands and stretched from the aquarium’s front door all the way, across the bridge, back to East Jefferson Avenue. More than 5,000 people visited on the attraction’s first day. Some half a million would gaze into its tanks its first year.
Read on for much more that takes you through nearly a century of operation as one of the largest freshwater collections, decline in the latter part of the 20th century, shuttering in 2005 and re-opening in 2012. Definitely check out his gallery of Belle Isle Aquarium photos too!
Today the aquarium is run by the Belle Isle Conservancy and open on Saturdays from 10 AM – 3 PM with free admission and parking.
The Detroit News reports that Governor Rick Snyder has made a deal with Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr for the State of Michigan to lease Belle Isle for 30-60 years:
Under the deal, Detroit will not receive any direct monetary payment for the lease, but state operation of Belle Isle is expected to save the cash-strapped city $4 million to $6 million annually, officials said. The state also plans to apply for grants to invest $10 million to $20 million in the park’s aging infrastructure.
The deal also gives the council, which was largely sidelined when Orr took over City Hall in March, the chance to approve the lease or offer an alternative plan that would save the same amount of money.
Starting Jan. 1, Detroiters and other state residents would be required to have Michigan’s $11-a-year Recreation Passport on their vehicles to enter the park. Pedestrians, bicyclists and individuals using public transportation could get onto the island for free.
The president of the Belle Isle Conservancy said the lease agreement is “a very important step” toward keeping the park in the public’s hands at a time when city assets are being targeted for liquidation in Detroit’s historic bankruptcy.
Under Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law, the Detroit City Council has 10 days to approve the lease or propose an alternative that would save the same amount of money or more. Read on for more.
About his photo Derek writes:
Taken from a few miles away ( 3.4 miles I believe ) on the 63rd floor of the Rencen, Detroit’s Belle Isle Park is one of the most popular summer destinations in the city. The land was purchased in 1879 and opened to the public 10 years later – the park itself was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of New York City’s Central Park. Admission is free but on a hot summer day get there early or all the best spots on this 982 acre island will be taken. It is America’s largest City-Owned Island Park.
PS: Go back in time at Belle Isle on Michigan in Pictures.