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Belle Isle Conservatory reopens after $2.5M structural renovation

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Crews completed repairs a month earlier than expected

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Belle Isle’s historic Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory reopened to the public Wednesday following a $2.5 million renovation project started last fall.

The work focused on swapping the 21-foot-tall water-damaged steel trusses that support the dome of the building’s impressive palm house with galvanized steel replacements. Construction was scheduled to be completed in July, but finished nearly a month early, according to a statement from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Designed by architect Albert Kahn and completed in 1904, the 115-year-old structure is one of the oldest conservatories in the United States and contains exotic plants from around the world in its five distinct greenhouses. The renovation was funded by $1.5 million from the DNR and a $1 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.

The interior of the conservatory’s Palm House.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Though the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is once again open to the public, the DNR is planning additional structural repairs to the upper portion of the dome. The phase two work is in the engineering stage, and a construction timeline has yet to be announced.

“These are but the first steps in the restorative journey which will return the conservatory to her original glory,” the conservatory recently posted on Facebook. “We thank you for your patience and patronage both now and in the years to come.”

Elsewhere on the island, efforts are also underway to repair and restore the historic Aquarium and James Scott Fountain. Earlier this month, work began on a new Piet Oudolf-designed garden next to the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon Tower.