Grant to improve Belle Isle, Scarab Club

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

The City of Detroit is receiving a $57,000 grant for two projects: creating a plan to reopen a pass-through on Belle Isle between its aquarium and conservatory, and renovations to the Scarab Club.

The grant money, from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, will be used to hire a contractor to provide plans detailing the reopening of the pass-through between the Belle Isle Aquarium and Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory.

Kemba Braynon, with the Historic Designation Advisory Board for the city of Detroit, said the grant will fund an investigation into how the central connection can be restored and will provide architectural drawings and specifications to guide the restoration.

The aquarium and conservatory were designed by Albert Kahn and constructed in 1904 as a recreational complex on Belle Isle. The complex was originally designed as one building with a glass barrel-vaulted hall with a central grand stairway that ran along the central axis of the building, according to the grant application.

The H-shaped building has two parallel wings: the eastern wing clad in brick, limestone and terra cotta houses one of the nation's oldest fresh-water aquariums, while the western wing is a light-filled glass conservatory with domes and projecting pavilions.

During the years following its construction, the connection between the aquarium and the conservatory was lost, the application stated. The grand stairway was converted into a passageway with wood doors, and then replaced with a high balcony on the wall of the Show House.

In 1981, the vestibule was completely closed off and a shark tank was installed at the precise location where visitors could once circulate throughout both facilities without leaving the building.

Officials said grant money will also be used to rehabilitate the Scarab Club roof and skylight, tear off the existing roof system to the structural deck and replace a damaged deck.

Both projects are expected to start in mid to late June of this year and will be completed by the summer of 2016.

Braynon said the City of Detroit will be the fiduciary for both the Belle Isle Aquarium and Scarab Club grants. The Belle Isle Conservancy will provide a cash match for the Belle Isle Aquarium grant and the Scarab Club will provide a cash match for the Scarab Club re-roofing grant.