When people find out we moved back to Detroit, this is how it usually sounds: You mean actually in the city, not Metro Detroit? Is it safe? Is Detroit really coming back?
For many, it’s hard to see. But I grew up on the East side, so for me it’s a no brainer. Detroit is the quintessential comeback city. In the 60’s we had the riots one year, a World Series pennant the next. I still remember the curfews in 1967. My uncle Harry died during that time (not from the violence) and our funeral procession was turned away at the cemetery. Gatherings of three or more, even in God’s name, were strictly prohibited.
Public safety is still a concern. But returning the city to its former glory happens one day at a time. In 1958 my parents had their wedding photos taken, like many newlyweds, at the fountain on Belle Isle.
Nowadays, after the state’s cleanup efforts, families are returning in droves with their kids to hang out and barbecue.
If Detroit ever has a shot at being a resort town or a tourist destination again, Belle Isle and the DYC will no doubt fit prominently into that plan. For Detroiters like my grandma Vicki or Joyce Carol Oates, Detroit was THE American city in the first part of the 20th century, the Paris or New York of the Midwest. The oldest operating yacht club in America, the DYC first opened its doors 3 years after the Civil War in 1868. The current building is actually our third residence on Belle Isle, and was constructed in 1922. For any Detroiters from the 60’s or so, think of Belle Isle as more than Detroit’s iconic island gem, it was our playground. The fountains, statues and buildings all speak to Detroit as one of the wealthiest cities in the first quarter of the 20th century. At its peak the DYC hosted 3,000 members. Words like “Yacht club” and “commodore” makes it sound so hoity toity. It’s really just a cool place to hang with your neighbors, especially cool aboard a bunch of good old boats like ours. Don’t think fancy, just fun. The DYC became a vacation destination for us when Tres Joli was moored in Lake Erie, and it drew us into Detroit like a siren.
Then when you add the aquarium, the Conservatory, the myriad bike paths and the Dossins Great Lakes Museum, it’s certainly a special destination. Yes there’s the creepy stretch of roadway from the abandoned children’s zoo through the “enchanted forest.” But like Rome, the city isn’t going to be rebuilt in a day. A solid start.