The Detroit Yacht Club: Restoring a Belle Isle gem


The Detroit Yacht Club building turns 95 this year, and although this historic building hosts many events and activities with its members throughout the year, it still shows its age. We recently toured the building with the Detroit Yacht Club Foundation – a nonprofit that is helping to restore the building – to see what efforts have been made over the past five years and what work remains to be done.

The 93,000-square-foot building was designed by George Mason and has one of the largest ballrooms in Detroit, as well as an indoor pool, gym, dining options, porches and patio, outdoor pool, and of course, boat docks. The DYC Foundation was formed to preserve and maintain the building after the DYC was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Over the past five years, the DYC has completed approximately $ 1.2 million in restoration work. There are many more items on the list before the DYC turns 100 in 2023.

Mark Lifter, President of the DYC Foundation, told Curbed that they prioritize improvements based on security and structural requirements, and weigh tasks based on what members can see. Many improvements are necessary but invisible. He describes it as “sealing the envelope” or preventing water from entering the building. This includes extensive roof work and window restorations.

In the 1950s a projector was added to show movies in the ballroom. But the area they built the projector in was always leaking, and they had to remove it and redo that area of ​​the roof.

Much of the exterior work also includes replacing the stucco, masonry, painting, and pinning the porches, which are constantly exposed to the elements.

Inside, work continues with plumbing, plaster and painting. The main ballroom is reportedly the largest remaining wooden ballroom floor in Detroit. Impressive wooden beams line this room and the careful repainting is one of the foundation’s next goals. All over the room you’ll see incredible medallions, massive chandeliers, a pewabic tile fountain on the side (Mary Chase Perry Stratton was a member), and that fireplace.

Another gem is located in the former dining room. A tiled fountain where you can see the sunset and the rise of the stars was once covered in drywall. Can you imagine mistakenly finding this?

Another target for restoration is the indoor pool area. This area has many challenges with the ceiling being the largest. There is currently a net hanging under the ceiling to protect the swimmers. Corrosion, moisture, and chlorine have eroded the above areas and work will be underway to fix this soon. The pool itself has been laid out with hundreds of small tiles, and beautiful handcrafted tiles line the walls surrounding it.

The DYC Foundation runs fundraising events throughout the year that are open to the public. The next, the sixth anniversary gala, is scheduled for Friday May 4th. The proceeds will benefit the ongoing restoration work on this historic building. Here’s a look around.


Dusty Kennedy