The post-World War I era was a very prosperous one for the booming city of Detroit. Comfort stations are necessary for lovely parks that entertain many thousands of visitors every summer day. Detroit, in that era, had funds to commission well-known architects to design comfort stations for Belle Isle. This one, toward the southern end of the island, has a certain appeal. It offers sheltered space for picnics at the eastern end of the building and lavatory facilities at the western end. The architect paid attention to designing a building that was compatible with its sylvan environment.
I do not know if Phillip McDonnell specialized in comfort stations nor do I know if he designed the several other such facilities that still stand on Belle Isle. Comfort Station Number 8 on Riverbank Drive was designed by architect Roland C. Gies in 1914. McDonell designed, in 1925, the large 250-room Majestic Hotel that once stood—but no longer stands—at the intersection of West Montcalm and Clifford near the site of present-day Comerica Park. He also designed the very stately and impressive LaSalle Gardens Apartment complex that once graced the corner of LaSalle Gardens South and Fourteenth Street in the LaSalle Gardens neighborhood near New Center area of Detroit. I wonder why the LaSalle Gardens neighborhood with its collection of many architect-designed homes has not been designated as an Historic District.
As the city of Detroit ran out of funds and approached bankruptcy, their financial status did not allow them to make capital improvements to preserve the buildings on Belle Isle or even keep all of the comfort stations open. Gradually, comfort stations were closed and, in some cases, portable plastic facilities were located at a few sites, presumably to save money. The State of Michigan rented Belle Isle for twenty years in the summer of 2013, a decision hastened by the Emergency Financial Manager, Kevyn Orr. By the summer of 2014, the State was making investments to repair and reopen some of the picnic shelters and comfort station. The Shadynook station was reopened at some point during the summer of 2014.
Architect: J. Phillip McDonnell
Year of Construction: 1920
Architectural Style: Vernacular
Use in 2016: Comfort station picnic shelter
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: This comfort station is located on Belle Isle; listed on the state registry on September 10, 1979
National Register of Historic Places: This comfort station is located on Belle Isle; listed on the state registry on
February 25, 1974.
Photograph: Ren Farley; July, 2014
Description updated: January, 2016
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