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The beautiful and surreal boathouse of Detroit Boat Club

Resurget Cineribus

Oxford University Boat Club was established in 1839.  In the same year, nearly four thousand miles away, one of the New World's first rowing clubs was established in Detroit.

Detroit Boat Club's first four boathouses fell victim to fire, but the current structure - built in 1902 - perseveres on Detroit's Belle Isle.  The home club of Olympians and national champions, and one of the motor city's premier social clubs in its day, the boathouse fell into a state of disrepair as social membership dwindled and after the City of Detroit raised the club's annual rent from $1 to $100,000 in 1992.

The physical structure is in need of some $20 million of restoration work.  Stucco is crumbling; paint is chipping; and the once-bustling dining room and glamorous ballroom are now workout spaces for the thriving junior and masters' rowing program that now inhabits the building, Detroit Boat Club Crew, while repairs are slowly made.  But the hand-carved wooden seahorses that serve as balusters throughout the club are still there; so are the national championship and Canadian Henley trophies; the wood paneling; the grotesques above the fireplace mantles; the murals and anchor-studded leather doors of the bar room; and the hand-painted gold decoration on the ballroom's exposed beams.

I had the good fortune to meet legendary coach Dr. Dick Bell at the club. Dr. Bell is virtually synonymous with Detroit Boat Club Crew. A former national champion oarsman for the club himself, Bell has coached at every level, including serving as a coach for the 1980 Olympic team.  Today he oversees a growing and successful youth and adult rowing program while leading the daunting effort to restore the boathouse.

An architectural gem, the boathouse deserves to be restored.  Those interested in making a donation should visit the Friends of Detroit Rowing's website, here.

Photographs of this incredible space below, plus a few other snaps from Detroit including an old version of the city's flag emblazoned with its motto: Resurget Cineribus, "It will rise from the ashes."

 

Thanks again to Dr. Dick Bell and Detroit Boat Club Crew.