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Fishbowl: 1908

Fishbowl: 1908

The Belle Isle Park Aquarium in Detroit circa 1908. Its cavernous spaces and glass viewports afforded aquatic life a fascinating peek at the bipedal terrestrial creatures known as homo sapiens. 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Love it!!

Re-posted to Michigan in Pictures with links to more historical information on Belle Isle Aquarium!

Eero Saarinen

I too thought it was a modern building. Very prescient design.

Fate of the fish

The fish were loaned out to various aquariums across the country. Come visit the aquarium again. Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium care for the koi that overwinter in the basement. They are usually there on Saturdays, late morning, caring for the fish. Check out their website, for more information or to get involved.

The original aquarium frames were constructed from cypress, a wood particularly resistant to damage from moisture, and were gilded. The frames were carved in an egg and dart motif to frame the exhibits as if they were canvases. The frames were removed during the 1955 renovation and replaced with stainless steel.

The lovely tiles are green glass. They were not made by Pewabic pottery ... a common misconception.


I really like the frames surrounding the wall tanks, presenting the displayed sea-life like works of art. I wonder if the frames were painted gold or silver to look like gilding.

Yes, thanks Kwame

Thank you Kwame for closing our wonderful aquarium just so you could spend all the money on your criminal activity. What a shame. Recent pictures that I have seen show that the former aquarium is now full of crap and is being used for storage. Nice.

Life Aquatic

I've got relatives in Detroit of long standing, but I've never heard of this delight until now.

There are a few more present-day pictures (how dazzling that green tile is!) on the tour here:

But what did they do with the fish?

I visited the aquarium with my first grade class in the spring of 1957, the high point of the school year.

And it was foreign travel from Windsor Ontario. Back then, we only needed notes from our mothers to cross the border!

Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow

This photo is really ... eerie. It just looks so different from modern times that I can hardly believe it ever happened.

And how in the world did they clean the tanks on those ornate stands jutting out into the middle? Is that an optical illusion, or does the round railing keep one from falling down to another story below?

Thank you for posting the modern photo showing the green tile. I never would have guessed the color. I hope Detroit does better this year, and I hope they can keep this place open in the future.

Really SciFi

After the "Lady in the Lake," this image is the most striking I have ever seen on Shorpy (and that's saying something!) Thank you Dave!

Pewabic Tiles

Another Detroit treasure with tiles made by Pewabic Pottery, which is still in business.

The Shocking Truth

I remember the electric eel that would swim around in its tank and periodically light up a neon sign.

Gone, almost

The building is still there on Belle Isle, but the city closed the aquarium last year due to Detroit's disastrous financial situation. Sigh.

--Ray in Henderson, NV

League of Extraordinary Museum-Goers

Wow, the first thing I thought was "steam-punk." Those brass railings and the radiator and the projecting stands for the aquariums are all very cool!

The forward look

Brass expectoration appurtenances notwithstanding (say that fast five times), this photo has a distinct contemporary feel to it - the lighting, natural yet at the same time seeming to be carefully arranged, plus the composition. I can see it on slick paper in an upscale lifestyle-type magazine, advertising fashions, perfumes or other snazzy stuff. Come to think of it, the visual aesthetic, if not the architecture, reminds me of that of the Case Study homes photographs. The pixelation-like effect of the brickwork is also eerily arresting.

In Swimming Color

The aquarium today, in all its green glory.


It's interesting how the brickwork resembles pixels in a digital photo.

[Or a TV. Which was my impression, too -- "These tiles are tiling!" - Dave]

A Sign of Civilization

I await the return of spittoons to all public buildings.

Hey, what's in that vase?


Those spittoons just disappeared over the years. And leaving our local museums spit-free except for the occasional cobra or llama. Bet there were some great echo effects bouncing off all the tile work. As a wee bipedaling homo sapien I remember testing out such places with gleeful boy noises. That is one magnificent barrel arch beyond the equally grand dome ceiling.

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