Built in 1904, the Bell Isle Boat House has stood as a landmark for generations. A fundraiser to support repair and preservation efforts will take place March 10.

Built in 1904, the Bell Isle Boat House has stood as a landmark for generations. A fundraiser to support repair and preservation efforts will take place March 10.

Photo provided by Ryan Abney


Belle Isle landmark seeks support from fundraising event

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published February 16, 2018

 The boathouse is 114 years old, and its current caretakers, the Friends of Detroit Rowing, are searching for additional support to maintain the historic building.

The boathouse is 114 years old, and its current caretakers, the Friends of Detroit Rowing, are searching for additional support to maintain the historic building.

Photo provided by Ryan Abney

 The March 10 fundraiser for the Belle Isle Boat House will include attractions such as a jazz quartet, 1920s-themed cocktails and roving culinary stations.

The March 10 fundraiser for the Belle Isle Boat House will include attractions such as a jazz quartet, 1920s-themed cocktails and roving culinary stations.

Photo provided by Ryan Abney

DETROIT — The Belle Isle Boat House is asking for support to maintain the historic building and inviting the public to check out what the Belle Isle landmark can offer.

Formerly known as the Detroit Boat Club, the site will host a fundraising dinner at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 10. It is open to those ages 21 and older.

“We are doing a Monte Carlo night,” explained Ryan Abney, the event manager. “It’s the second year we’re doing this, because it is 115 years old. It was a social club until the mid-1990s, and now the Friends of Detroit Rowing operates the boathouse, and they are hosting this event since they are responsible for renovations.”

The Friends of Detroit Rowing are seeking to make several repairs and maintenance efforts over the course of several years. They are hoping this fundraiser will allow them to continue these efforts of preservation.

“The goal here is to maintain the building. Many people have come forward and promised to match up to $100,000 raised at this Monte Carlo night. It will make this night a major fundraiser for the boathouse,” said Henry Goitz, president of the Friends of Detroit Rowing. “With the revitalization of the city and Belle Isle going on, we want to make sure we don’t lose this building.”

The restoration efforts are part of a multiyear plan to keep the boathouse beautiful and in operation.

“We just launched a major donor program to fix the exterior repairs like roof work and gutter work,” said Abney. “After the exterior work is done, we will move into the interior work. We project a five-year, $5 million project to do everything. This is the second year of that plan.”

Those in charge of the fundraiser stressed the historic nature of the boathouse as well as its use for visitors and the community.

“It was the first fireproof, reinforced concrete building in Michigan, because prior boathouses had burned down,” said Goitz. “A lot of the inside has been remodeled, and we’ve had city events, weddings, corporate meetings and rowing activities happening out of the building. It’s become a venue people want to be at. Now we really need some renovations on the outside.”

The fundraiser itself will have a 1920s theme and will be filled with attractions for those who take part.

“We will have a variety of gaming tables; we will have a jazz quartet, 1920s-themed cocktails, a silent auction/raffle and roving culinary stations,” Abney said. “We will be giving away Southwest airline tickets, hotel tickets, a Shinola watch and a trip to Traverse City.”

The boathouse is on a path to improve its involvement in the community, and spread its message that it has transitioned into an institution open to everyone.

“This particular boathouse is 115 years old, and rowing and sailing has operated here since 1839,” said Abney. “The other boathouses all burned years ago, which is why this building was constructed the way it was. It used to be a members-only institution, but it is now a story of inclusion and not exclusion. We are trying to have these community events to welcome people in, and we are currently trying to launch a community youth rowing program.”

More than 400 rowers operated out of the building in the last year. This included two international masters champions.

“Part of this is that you have a building that represents the oldest contiguous rowing organization in the country,” said Goitz. “It was the first competitive rowing organization in the country. Despite different financial issues, the rowing never stopped. The building itself really needs repair, though. With the state getting involved with Belle Isle, there were new opportunities to find support for the site.”

Abney said they are hoping for all the support they can get, and she hopes to see people from all over the metro Detroit area taking in the historic site.

“They can visit www.belle isleboathouse.com, and there is a link to the event where you can purchase tickets. Tickets are $125,” said Abney. “Also on the website, there is a link to donations, which is great for people who can’t attend the event but still want to support the boathouse.”