Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Belle Isle Aquarium

First opened on August 18, 1904, the Belle Isle Aquarium is the oldest public aquarium in the continental United States. A carving of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, greets visitors above the entryway, inviting guests into the long, domed-ceiling structure that houses over fifty tanks of fresh and salt-water aquatic life. Designed by architect Albert Kahn, glass sea-green tiles line its walls and ceiling to give it an “underwater” feeling.  A renovation in the 1950s added an 8,531-gallon tank to the center of the building, covering over a large pool in the original structure.

The aquarium was shuttered by the city in 2005 due to budgetary constraints. Dedicated Friends of the Belle Isle Aquarium volunteers maintained the building until its much-anticipated reopening in 2012. Since then, fundraising efforts by the non-profit Belle Isle Conservancy have continuously worked to improve and restock exhibits; two of the building’s skylights were restored and opened in 2014; and a new weathervane (depicting a gar fish; the aquarium has all seven species) will be installed in 2016.

The Belle Isle Aquarium lies adjacent to the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, and these historic treasures continue to play a large role in family visits to Belle Isle Park, as they have for over 100 years.


Postcard of Belle Isle Aquarium, c. 1955


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