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Restoring the "Grand Staircase" Connecting Belle Isle's Aquarium and Conservatory

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This wall dividing fish from fauna used to be a stairway
This wall dividing fish from fauna used to be a stairway
Chris and Michelle Gerard

It's no coincidence that the Belle Isle Aquarium and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory were built side-by-side. According to the Belle Isle Conservancy, they were originally one giant structure connected by a "grand staircase," which "allowed guests to transition from the underwater-like world of the aquarium to the bright floral displays of the conservatory."

[Belle Isle Conservancy]

As shown in the blueprints above, the conservatory and aquarium opened in 1904 with a connecting stairway, which was apparently "a masterpiece of beauty and functionality." The stairs were eventually converted into a balcony, which looked out into the conservatory. Finally, a shark tank was installed in the 1970s that completely obscured the overlook, separating the two halves entirely.

The two buildings connect behind the lily ponds. [Burton Collection]

The Belle Isle Conservancy (which runs the aquarium) has been raising funds to restore the connection, but an RFP issued in December also lays out more urgent needs. The conservatory and aquarium share ancient heating and electrical systems, and repair is needed. Restoring the old stairway still has "significant interest," but making it happen anytime soon could be tough.
· TOUR: Belle Isle Aquarium [Curbed]
· TOUR: Belle Isle Conservatory [Curbed]
· RFP: Assessment of Operations and Strategic Recommendations [Belle Isle Con.]

Belle Isle Aquarium

900 Inselruhe Avenue, , MI 48207 Visit Website