The Belle Isle Bicycle Pavilion

Detroit bicycle pavilion on Belle IsleYou’ve probably ridden past it many times without realizing it is among the oldest and most significant historic structures still remaining from America’s Golden Era of Bicycling.  It’s the Bicycle Pavilion, now called the Athletic Pavilion/Shelter on Belle Isle.

In 1898, the League of American Wheelmen (LAW) Michigan Division secured $10,000 from the city of Detroit to build a bicycle pavilion on Belle Isle.

Then Detroit Park Commission Secretary and Manager M. P. Hurlbut explained its purpose:

It is to be a two-story building and the first or ground floor ‘will be used by bicycle riders in case of stormy weather to store their wheels in, and undoubtedly some time in the future there will be a privilege for renting bicycles leased from this building, and possibly a temporary repair shop.

“Wheels” was another term for bicycles.

Detroit Parks Annual Report 1899The building was designed by architect Edward A. Schilling. The lower floor was designed to store 400 to 500 bicycles. The upper floor was an open-air gallery with a broad balcony across the building’s length. According to the Free Press, it offered “a beautiful view down the park.” There were also rooms for retiring and refreshments.

In 1899 they got another $2,500 to “furnish up bicycle pavilion with pump, repair outfit, racks, and other conveniences” according to Edward Hines, one of Detroit’s most famous bicycle advocates. (Yes, Hines Drive is named after him.)

The city also leased 1,000 square feet of the pavilion for $1,000 to be used as a bicycle rental concession.

According to the City of Detroit’s Parks Annual Report, the Bicycle Pavilion opened on August 4th of 1899 with 6,000 to 8,000 people in attendance.

Athletic Pavilion on Belle IsleWhile Hines was largely responsible for getting the funding, it helped that Detroit Mayor William Maybury was a member of the LAW and Detroit Wheelmen bicycle clubs. A statue of Mayor Maybury is in Grand Circus Park, sitting in a chair opposite of Mayor/Governor Hazen Pingree, who was also a member of the Detroit Wheelmen.

The size and grandness of this pavilion is a testament to the strength and importance of bicyclists in the city of Detroit in the late 1890s. We’re very fortunate to have this historic bicycle landmark in Detroit though we need to do a better job of telling its story. Perhaps a historic marker would be a good start.

Also, given it’s significance, we’ve suggested that the Iron Belle Trail from Belle Isle to Wisconsin begin at the Pavilion. Certainly Hines, Maybury, Hurlbut would approve.

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