The historic Detroit Yacht Club was founded shortly after the Civil War in 1868 and has served as host to over 100 years of U.S. Presidents, local Statesmen, Royalty and the Hollywood elite. It has remained viable through the Great Depression while serving five generations of members and families. The health and vitality of the DYC is evident in the beautifully maintained 1920s Mediterranean-style villa that continues to be the largest yacht club in the United States while being the twelfth oldest.
A small clubhouse and sailing shed were built at the foot of McDougall Street, just south of Jefferson Avenue in the late 1870's. In the early 1880's, dissension tore the Club apart concerning the expansion of the Club's social activities. A faction formed the Michigan Yacht Club in 1882. This caused the membership to revitalize the DYC and elect James Skiffington as the Commodore in 1884. A sail racing schedule was introduced and the DYC was here to stay.
The first clubhouse was erected on Belle Isle in 1891 at a cost of $10,000, with an additional $2,000 spent on furnishings. It was destroyed by fire in 1904. A new clubhouse was erected immediately on the ashes of the old clubhouse.
A concrete bridge to Belle Isle opened in 1923, the same year our present $1,000,000 Clubhouse was dedicated. The DYC's newest home was designed by architect George Mason whose vision was also responsible for Detroit's Masonic Temple, Gem Theatre and the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.
The 1920s were golden days for the Detroit Yacht Club. By the end of 1924, membership had reached 3000. Gar Wood brought world class attention to the Club with his world speed records in a hydroplane and his Gold Cup victories. Beginning in 1921, the DYC started sponsoring the hydroplane races. During the Great Depression, membership severely dropped and some services were discontinued. The DYC survived this difficult period and began to grow again.
By 1946 the Club became debt free with the bonds being paid in full. The women of the Club formed the first women's sailing organization in the country and raced the Club's catboats. During the 1950s, the Grill and River Vista were enlarged. Movie equipment was installed in the Ballroom so that theatre quality films could be shown every Sunday evening.
An outdoor Olympic size swimming pool was added in the 1960s along with Club Front and West End Docks. The new docks increased the number of boat wells to over 350. What began as a sailing club in the 1860s has evolved into the Jewel of the City. The Detroit Yacht Club continues to thrive and is a fun, friendly, affordable and family-oriented Club.
In 2011, the Detroit Yacht Club Foundation was established to support the preservation and restoration of the historic DYC clubhouse and facilitate educational opportunities that celebrate the historic nature of the Detroit Yacht Club. Learn more about the Foundation and its work by clicking the logo above.
The Detroit Yacht Club’s Clubhouse was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. This recognition reflects the historic and architectural significance of this magnificent structure. The current Clubhouse is fifth in series of structures dating back the DYC’s initial organization in 1868. The first two Clubhouses were located on the north side of the Detroit River west of the current Belle Isle Bridge. The next three Clubhouses, including the current structure, were constructed on Belle Isle. Construction of the current historic Clubhouse began in 1921 with its dedication by Commodore Gar Wood on August 30, 1923. At 93,000 sq. ft., our Clubhouse is the largest yacht club Clubhouse in the United States.
Our historic clubhouse is filled with interesting details. Past Commodore, Commodore Edwin C. Theisen, Jr., is our DYC Historian and has chronicled much of the detail of our club. If you are interested in scheduling an historic tour, please see below;
Visiting our Club
The Detroit Yacht Club regularly hosts tours of its nationally-recognized Clubhouse for individuals and groups. Guided by member docents, these tours highlight the architectural and historic features of Clubhouse spaces and their contents, such as paintings, tapestries, sculptures and trophies. Anecdotes about notable members, guests, and dignitaries who have spent time in the Clubhouse are included.
Several times per year, the Detroit Yacht Club schedules open tours to members of the public. Dates for the 2017 public tour schedule are the following:
May 3, 2017
June 13, 2017
July 5, 2017
August 2, 2017
September 12, 2017
Tours begin at 6:30 p.m., and there is no charge to attend. Space is limited, so you must register for the tour in advance. To register, please visit www.dycfoundation.com and click to "register for public times of the DYC clubhouse." If you have further questions upon booking, please feel free to call the DYC at (313) 824-1200 and ask for Membership. Your registration will be confirmed by email.
For Groups: Professional, community and historical interest groups are also welcome to arrange for historic tours. Examples of recent groups attending our tours include The Detroit Historical Society and the University of Detroit-Mercy School of Architecture.
To arrange for a group tour, please call or email Lena Angott at (313) 824-1200 ext. 233, or [email protected]
Main (Second) Floor:
Main Lobby: The upper or Main Lobby is on the 2nd floor and faces the Detroit River. The staircase banister is one of the most spectacular in the city. Housed between two pillars is one of the largest ship models in the country. The model is of one of the last clipper ships built. Its name is “Sovereign of the Seas” complete in every detail including the cabin interiors. There are also three spectacular silver trophies. One trophy is a Georgian silver tea urn. The 2nd trophy is the O. J. Mulford Silver Cup presented to the winner of the challenge class at the Gold Cup Hydroplane Regatta each year. The 3rd trophy is the James Scripts Cruiser Reliability Race. James Scripts was the son of the founder of the Detroit News. He commissioned Louis Comfort Tiffany to create the trophy.
Library: The library originally housed the library of 1930 Com. Charles Kotcher. As you enter the library please note the gold leaf table top. Set in the table top are 14 plaques a bowl representing the “Facets of Love” made by Sevres Porcelain as an ablution table for the bedroom of Louis XIV at Versailles. The portrait is a miniature of Mrs. Horace Dodge wearing a court dress of Marie Antionette. The original hangs at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The yacht was the Mamie O, a 103 ft. steam yacht owned by Robert Oakman 100 years ago.
River Vista Bar: The River Vista Bar was originally an outside porch enclosed in 1925. It was converted to a bar to service the Dining Room in 1952. Please note the portrait of a 70 year old Gar Wood as painted by Fred Rypsam, a Scarab Club member and DYC member.
Fountain Room – Coffee Shop: Originally named the Main Dining Room, the Fountain Room was divided into two rooms. The front part is the Coffee Shop. The arches were solid with double doors to the main area of the Fountain Room. The arches were installed in 1952. On the left is a large painting of three young ladies in Italy. The painting was donated by Mrs. Roy Dossin (Pepsi Bottling of Detroit) who donated it after her husband’s death saying Roy would want his girls at the Club. There are several other paintings from the Club’s collection in these rooms.
Fountain Room: Originally the Fountain room had two 8 ft. marble pillars with urn on top. You can see the placement of one in the newly restored terrazzo floor. The columns were hollow with a ventilation system to remove smoke from the room. The original fountain was removed in 1952 to make more space for diners. The back of the fountain was discovered during renovations and restored in 1993.
Fountain Room Lobby: Col. A. Victora Seymour, MD was a member of the Club and Surgeon. She was one of the few females who served with the American Expeditionary Force in World War One. General Henri Petain awarded her the Legion of Merit and she was awarded the Bronze Star by General William G. Haan, Commander of the 32nd Red Arrow Division. She donated 5 bronzes from the collection of the Count de Fresange of the Chateau de le Ville de Bois, France which had been destroyed by artillery fire from the German Army. The 1st is entitled “Le Recompense” (The Reward) by Racoult. The 2nd is the “Rape of the Sabines” by Jacques Louis David. The 3rd is Roman Victory with a winged female figure poised over a black marble globe and pedestal. The 4th is a young “David with a Sling”. It is a bronze copy of the life size Bernini marble statue. Tradition says that this statue was commissioned by Duke Lorenzo de Medici as a gift for French King Francis I. It was later given to an ancestor of the Count de Fresange. However, all documentation was destroyed in fire resulting from the artillery barrage. The 5th bronze is of Joan of Arc located in the lower lobby.
Trophy Room: The Trophy Room was originally called the Men’s Lounge, restricted to men only over 21 years of age. The wall with the entry door was moved one beam into the room in 1952 to provide a hallway for food service from the kitchen to the Ballroom. There are many well known trophies in the room. The best known are the Robert Oakman Trophy commissioned from Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1919, the Grosbeck Trophy presented by Governor Grosbeck in 1892, the Edsel B. Ford Trophy and the Hazen B. Pingree Punchbowl donated by Hazen B. Pingree simultaneously Mayor of Detroit and Governor of the State of Michigan in 1884. The portrait on the wall is Robert Oakman.
Peacock Alley: Peacock Alley is named after the Peacock Alley in the Waldorf Astoria where society ladies in the 1890s gathered for tea. In the 1920s women gathered here to play cards. The chandeliers were from “Rose Terrace” where Mrs. Horace Dodge used them for lighting tent parties on her lawn. Please note the many paintings on the walls. At one time this was called the DYC Art Gallery. The door at the end of Peacock Alley is the entrance to the former Manager’s Apartment which is now the 2-bedroom Gar Wood Suite.
Ballroom: The Ballroom is the largest room in the Clubhouse. It is over three stories high with a wooden ceiling copied from an Elizabethan manor house.
East Lounge: The East Lounge was originally the Gymnasium. The arches were originally a solid wall with doors matching the three doors at the other end. Originally, there was a Balcony above the center door for the orchestra to play during parties. Access was by a ladder attached to the wall. There is a door in the paneling in the back corner that opens on the stairway to the Men’s Locker Room. In 1925, the room was converted to the East Lounge to provide more social space for the 3,000 members. Paneling was added and plaster beamed ceilings as seen in the other rooms in the building were added in addition to the fireplace. To the left of the fireplace is a 300 year old tapestry from the Royal Tapestry Works at Versailles. The porch on the west end was enclosed and a Pewabic tile fountain was installed. The three arches were added in 1952 permitting a 35mm projection booth to shown current movie productions. The portrait over the bar is Com. Gus Schantz who built this Clubhouse.
Indoor Pool: The pool is the only pool inside a private club in Detroit except for the Detroit Athletic Club. The pool is Olympic size and made of Pewabic Tile. Both Johnny Weismuller in 1928 and Buster Crabb in 1932 swam here competitively as they trained for their Olympic medals. In 1932, Jane Caldwell, a DYC member, won the gold medal for the 100 meter breaststroke during the first Olympiad with a complete schedule of women’s swimming events.
Harmsworth Room: This was the original Board Room. The elevator was added on the outside of the Clubhouse and a new wall was installed creating a hallway to the elevator and reducing the size of the Harmsworth Room. The prints on the walls were taken of the Clubhouse in 1925.
Sweepstakes Room: Originally this was the Billiard Room with 4 Pool tables and 2 Billiard tables. The tables were sold in 1960 and the room converted to a meeting room. The Power Squadron Room is attached to the Sweepstakes Room and was originally used as the publication office for the Main Sheet Power Squadron office. The doors open on the spectator balcony overlooking the Ballroom.
Silver Cup Room: This was originally two rooms. The room on the right was a store room and the room on the left was the Nursery. A licensed attendant was on duty to care for small children of members. The rest rooms had child size fixtures to accommodate the children. The room was converted by Com. Robert Cousino in 1976 for use as the Board Room.
Fourth Floor access: The door on the left provides access to the fourth floor where 2 regulation handball – squash courts are located. There is also access to the attics where a pistol range was located.
Entry Lobby: The custom made revolving door was installed in 1925. The painting over the antique breakfront is by Robert Hopkin a nationally renowned artist and member of the Club who brought it to the Club one day when he came for lunch. He gave it to the Club with instructions to hang it where it is currently displayed. We have 4 other paintings which Mr. Hopkin had displayed at the Club which he donated to the Detroit Historical Society and have their identifying plates. The painting of Gar Wood is from 1922 and was painted by Fred Rypsam. The painting on the other side of the door is of the current Commodore and is displayed while the Annual Meeting is in process. The Trophy behind glass is the Milt Cross Trophy. It is hand carved Sterling Silver on a Cararra Marble base. It was created by Louis Comfort Tiffany. On the wall by the staircase, is an aqua Pewabic Plaque of a Seagull. It was created by Mary Chase Stratton who founded Pewabic Pottery and presented to the Sea Gulls when they were formed. Mrs. Stratton was a member of the Club and agreed to provide all the tile when the Clubhouse was built. She retained control of all design and placement of tile within the building. The Reception Counter is also located in the Lobby as well as the blue tiled Commodores Companionway. The Commodores Companionway leads to the harbor side entrance to the Clubhouse. The elevator was added in 1960 on the outside of the club and a jog was placed in the Companionway. The ladies and men’s room have their entrance by the elevator.
Ladies Locker Room: The entry to the Ladies Locker Room is through the coat check off the Lobby. The original locker room was below the pool. In 1962 the outdoor pool was installed and an addition was made to the ladies locker room on the end of the building. There is also a sauna located in the ladies locker room.
Men’s Locker Room: The entrance to Men’s Locker Room is through the men’s room. If you look at the ceiling of the locker room you will see pad eyes which were installed when the building was constructed so that wet cotton sails could be hung to dry. The Exercise Room was added at the front of the locker to provide access for both men and women. At the back of the locker room are the men’s sauna.
Bitter End Lounge: Access located through the Men's Locker Room and also entrance from Islander Café Patio. An informal lounge for members to relax near the pool. Enjoy a game of pool or relax and watch TV.
Binnacle Room: The left turn of the Commodores Companionway leads to the Grill. On the right is the Binnacle Room provided for young people. It was originally the carpenter shop which was moved to a separate building in 1952.
Grill: The grill bar and grill extension were added to the building. The grill bar was originally 2 private dining rooms, Port and Starboard Haven. Notice the pictures of the Past Commodores in the custom frames as you enter the Grill. The Port Haven is a private dining room at the back of the grill. This was a store room that was converted to the grill bar in 1952. Please note the pictures of club history and historical boats on the walls of the grill.
Starlight Circle: Starlight Circle is an outside dance floor added in June, 1941. This permitted members and guests to enjoy events in the warm summer breezes.
Outdoor Pool: The original outdoor pool was installed in 1962 replacing a 1 ft wading pool install in 1952. The present pool was installed in 1999. It more than doubled the size of the original pool and meets regulation depth and length for competitive swimming. A hot tub was also installed at the same time. The sandwich grill was also enlarged to provide better service to the members at the pool.
Tennis Courts: There are 4 professional sized tennis courts on the east end of the island for the use of the members. Lessons are available to members for a fee.
Bocce Ball Courts: There are 2 bocce ball courts on the west end of the island for the use of the members.
Volleyball Court: There is 1 volleyball court on the west end of the island for the use of the members.
Com. Edward F. Zerbe Sailing Center: Com. Zerbe was a strong supporter of all sailing at DYC for over 50 years. When the current structure was built in 1985, it was named in his honor. It houses sails, equipment and supplies for our adult and junior sailing fleets. The 2nd floor houses class space for the junior sailing program. The Club currently maintains a fleet of Flying Scots for adults and 420s, Lasers and Optimist Dingy for the juniors. Instruction classes are provided for a fee to members.