Photo: Marty Boyatt
BEYOND THE GLASS
The Belle Isle Aquarium was designed by famed Detroit architect, Albert Kahn, and opened on August 18, 1904. It is the oldest aquarium in the country and has served the Detroit community as a beloved attraction for generations. In 2005, the city of Detroit announced that the Aquarium was to be closed due to lean economic times for the city. The building remained closed to the public until the Belle Isle Conservancy reopened it on September 15, 2012.
"Momentum" is truly the best term for what is happening in this historic building! A work-in-progress, the aquarium continues to grow and flourish as new exhibits and fish are added, tanks are restored, and history is preserved for generations to come.
The closure of the aquarium in March of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic presented an opportunity to significantly renovate the facility. Over the last 16 months, the Belle Isle Conservancy has invested $1.2M in improvements to the aquarium. The improvements include enhancing the quality of the visitor experience, upgrading exhibits, stabilizing critical life support systems, and modernizing behind the scenes infrastructure.
Friday - Sunday
10am - 4pm
3 Inselruhe Ave
Detroit, MI 48207
Free | Donations accepted
Belle Isle Conservancy
(313) 331-7760 (BIC Office)
When the Belle Isle Aquarium opened it was the third-largest Aquarium in the world with salt water being shipped directly in from the ocean. Today, it is home to a unique collection of fish. With one of the largest collections of air-breathing fish in the world, they house the only known collection of all 7 species of gar in North America. Walking through the aquarium, you will travel all over the globe exploring the Great Lakes and Waters of the world. From Africa to South American from rocky shores to sandy depths all different environments are on display.
Designed by Albert Kahn, the Belle Isle Aquarium has a Beaux Art-style entrance that is decorated with an ornate arch incorporating two spitting dolphins and the emblem of Detroit. The Aquarium's interior features rare, green opaline glass tiles lining its vaulted ceiling. Kahn’s original design was to display the fish-like art hanging on the wall in a gallery. In 1954, the aquarium underwent major renovations including structural repairs and updates in lighting and water filtration systems. The original wood and glue tanks were replaced with concrete tanks and three-floor pool exhibits were removed.
One of the Belle Isle Conservancy's goals since assuming the responsibility of the aquarium has been restoring much of the historical aspects of this amazing building. Repairing and stabilizing the envelope of the Aquarium with roof repairs and window tuckpointing was a priority to reopening and expanding hours. The facility's skylights have been reopened and pendant lighting has been added to reflect the original lighting design.
WHAT WE DO
In 2005, the aquarium closed due to lean economic times for the city. The Belle Isle Conservancy
reopened it on September 15, 2012. After 16 months of closure due to the pandemic, the Belle Isle Conservancy plans to open a new and improved aquarium to the public on Saturday, July 16th.
The Belle Isle Conservancy funds the roughly $500,000 annual cost to operate the aquarium and raises money for capital improvements to the facility. Since reopening the Aquarium in 2012, the Belle Isle Conservancy has invested over $6M in the aquarium through contributions, grants, and fundraising events. The Belle Isle Conservancy is working towards a long-term goal of achieving accreditation through the Association for Zoos and Aquariums.
If you are interested in volunteering at the Belle Isle Aquarium, please visit this page.