SAVE THE NEWSBOY!
ONE OF BELLE ISLE’S OLDEST SHELTERS DESPERATELY NEEDS YOUR HELP!
Lori Feret & Katy Wyerman
Standing proudly with its turrets and columns, Shelter #1 whispers stories of days long past. Affectionately named, “The Newsboy Shelter,” for its proximity to the newsboy sculpture presented to Detroit by James E. Scripps in 1897, this historic place represents laughter, family, hot dogs and sack races. For a century, the Newsboy has been a guest at Belle Isle Park’s greatest parties - yours. If the Newsboy could speak, it would recount for us stories of hot summer days around the BBQ, scores of children racing across its fields, families coming together under its roof, the excited laughter and pitter-patter of tiny feet across its foundation. But the end of its storytelling days is imminent. So much time has past since it has felt the loving presence of
a family or heard a child’s joyous giggles bounce through its turrets. Old friends now give the Newsboy a wide berth, turned away by falling pieces of its battered roof, deep cracks rooted in its foundation, and signs screaming that this once well-loved structure is now unsafe. If we do not act now, the ruins of the once proud, Victorian Newsboy Shelter will soon fade away into distant memory.
Being one of Belle Isle’s oldest shelters, some discrepancy exists as to when the Newsboy Shelter was constructed. There are references to a structure as early as 1891. The Second Annual Report of the Commissioners of Parks and Boulevards for 1890-91 states that, “a music pavilion, which answers for a shelter in case of storms, was erected near the loop canal and Central Avenue.” A picture collage from the Tenth Annual Commissioners of Park and Boulevards Report shows a Band Stand that resembles our shelter, but it shows an additional upper raised roof section which does not exist today. Portions of this structure also appear in old photos of Central Avenue and the Newsboy’s Fountain. In 1911, reports state that $5,000 was allotted to construct a rain shelter, as they were called at that time, north of Central Avenue and west of Inselruhe. This may have been a reconstruction of this original 1891 structure.
This is not the first time that the Newsboy Shelter has been in need of repair. In the fall of 1982, a picnicker carelessly placed a candle too close to a waste receptacle and started a fire, severely damaging a section of the roof. The city allocated $16,000 for its repair. There was also a renovation of the structure in 1992. These past renovations never achieved the necessary level of restoration or historic preservation, and so the Newsboy commands our attention once again. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources contracted an assessment to be done of the structure. This assessment estimated the cost for a full historic restoration to be around $650,000. The Belle Isle Conservancy has committed to supporting a fundraising campaign, led by the BIC’s Historic Preservation Committee, to achieve this goal and fully restore the Newsboy. Fundraising avenues are currently being researched and the Conservancy has initiated talks with Patronicity, a civic crowdfunding and crowd-granting platform that brings local citizens and sponsors together to support community initiatives, with the hopes to receive a Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) match on any crowd-funding total.
We are standing at an historic precipice. This beautiful shelter and all of its stories, all of its history is in danger of being lost. The Newsboy has held a roof over our heads during torrential summer rainstorms, provided a place to picnic and play with our families, granted us a moment of rest during a run through the park. The Newsboy Shelter has given so much to us and our families, to this park, and to this city. Now, it is our turn to give.
We must save this essential piece of our historic park while we have the chance - before our old friend is gone.