William Livingstone of Detroit served as president of the Lake Carriers Association from 1909 until his death in July, 1925. This is the association of the owners of the large Great Lakes ships, most of them freight vessels today, but this was not the situation in Livingstone’ era. His term coincided with many developments that improved the safety of Great Lakes shipping, including the replacement of wooden hulled vessels with steel ones, the disappearance of Whalebacks and other unusually designed ships, improvements in meteorology and, perhaps, most important, the use of radios to communicate about weather and water conditions.
As you fly into or away from Detrot Metropolitan Area, if you look at the Detroit River south of Grosse Ile, you will see clearly demarked channels for ships to take as they sail from Lake Erie to Lake St. Clair. These were developed by Livingstone to improve the safety and efficiency of the shipping on the Lakes. Subsequently, the Coast Guard names this channel in his honor.
After his death, the Lake Carriers Association and Detroit residents raised funds to create a memorial in his honor. What better idea than a lighthouse in his city? There was a small light on Belle Isle near the present Coast Guard depot, but nothing as magnificent as what his friends and associates had in mind.
Albert Kahn was commissioned to design an appropriate lighthouse. Upon an attractive octagonal base, he placed a 58-foot tall shaft of white Georgia marble that was fluted as you can see in the picture. At the top of the shaft is a sizable gilt bronze lantern bringing the height of the light up to 84 feet. Within the lantern is an 11,500 candlepower occulting light that may be visible from as far as 16 miles away on Lake St. Clair.
This is, so far as I know, the only lighthouse in the city of Detroit. It is only one of two in Michigan erected as a memorial, rather than as a navigational aid built by the Corp of Army Engineers or the Coast Guard. It is, apparently, the only lighthouse in the United States constructed of marble. So far as I know, it is Albert Kahn’s only lighthouse. The Detroit Area Art Deco Society points out that this is the only Art Deco lighthouse in the United States
Architect: Albert Kahn
Architectural Style: Art Deco touches.
City of Detroit Local Historic District:
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites. Belle Isle is State of Michigan Historic
National Register of Historic Places: Belle Isle; Listed February 25, 1974
Description provided by the Detroit Area Art Deco Society:
Use in 2005: Memorial light for Great Lakes shipping
Photograph: Andrew Chandler, July, 2004
Description updated: February, 2012