Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory reopens Wednesday, nearly one month ahead of schedule

Contact: Amanda Treadwell, 313-264-6359
Agency: Natural Resources

June 18, 2019

Yellow tulips in foreground, conservatory exterior in backgroundThe Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory has more to celebrate this year than the 115thbirthday it shares with the Belle Isle Aquarium. On Wednesday, the conservatory will reopen for the public to enjoy its collection of exotic plants from around the world after the completion of the first phase of much-needed structural repairs.


Water damage had severely compromised the original 21-foot steel trusses in the lower dome that supported the conservatory’s 85-foot upper dome. Thanks to the renovation project, the original trusses from 1904 have been replaced with galvanized steel and will support the Palm House dome well into the next century. The design and construction team took great care to ensure the new steel elements are complimentary to one of Belle Isle’s most significant historic structures. Construction was scheduled to be completed in July but finished nearly a month ahead of the original completion date.

Significant structural replacement and repairs have been finalized, painting of the repaired steel has been completed and scaffolding no longer circles the interior of the Palm House. The $2.5 million project was funded by $1.5 million from DNR Parks and Recreation funds and a $1 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation Grant, of which the Belle Isle Conservancy acted as fiduciary. This generous support has helped maintain an important Detroit landmark.

“We are pleased to have the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation assist in funding this critical project,” said Ron Olson, DNR chief of Parks and Recreation.

Palm trees growing within the conservatoryThe Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is one of the most visited and recognizable historic structures in Belle Isle Park, and both the conservatory and the aquarium are contributing elements to Belle Isle Park’s listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The conservatory is one of the oldest in the United states. Construction began in 1902 on the Aquarium and Horticultural Building, as it was called then. The two buildings, designed by Albert Kahn, opened on Aug. 18, 1904. On April 6, 1955, the conservatory was dedicated to Anna Scripps Whitcomb, who donated her 600-plant orchid collection to the City of Detroit.


Engineering for the second phase of repairs is currently underway and construction documents will be finalized by the end of this year. The construction schedule for the second phase of structural repairs has yet to be determined. These necessary renovations will ensure that the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory can continue to provide memorable experiences to Belle Isle Park visitors for years (or even centuries) to come.

Questions? Contact Amanda Treadwell, DNR urban area field planner, at 313-264-6359 or treadwella@michigan.gov.