Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Belle Isle Bath House (second)

The first Belle Isle Bath House opened near the west end ferry dock on June 30, 1894, but quickly proved to be inadequate for the masses descending on the park. When this second bath house opened in early July 1909, it was the largest such structure in the country. It housed 800 dressing rooms and could handle 20,000 people a day.

The building was designed by Marcus R. Burrowes of the firm Stratton & Baldwin.

Amidst such fancy features as marble columns, visitors could rent bathing suits and towels before hitting the beach. Hundreds of thousands of Detroiters poured through the turnstiles each year. So many, in fact, that the park had to immediately reopen the old bath house to handle overcrowding. In 1921, beach and bath house attendance topped more than 533,000 people.

But by 1940, the number of people plunging into the river each year had plunged to just 110,000. The bath house became rundown, and after it was used as a temporary jail for hundreds of people arrested during the 1967 unrest, its days were numbered. With a newer facility on the way, the old one was torn down in early 1973, though a wall from it still survives today on Riverbank Road