One of the first structures built on Belle Isle after it became a park was the first Belle Isle Casino, opening in June 1887.
There was no gambling in this type of casino, which relies more on the traditional definition of the word, meaning a building used for meetings, entertainment, dancing and the like. The city’s first stab at a casino was designed by the firm Donaldson & Meier, and offered Detroiters a place to rest, grab a bite to eat or seek shelter from nasty weather. However, it was made entirely of wood, and after only two decades, was already showing its age. With the city’s fortunes and population both swelling, a decision was made to build a new, larger casino nearby.
When the current structure opened in May 1908, the old one was demolished.
The current Casino, designed by Van Leyen & Schilling — not Albert Kahn, as often misattributed — continues the tradition of serving as a meeting place and event spot, hosting everything from fairs to weddings. The casino was one of the most popular attractions on the island. Its centerpiece was a beautiful marble soda counter, which was tragically pounded to pieces in 1972 during a misguided attempt at modernizing the historic structure.