Symmetrical beauty…

This recent photo of the Grand Staircase (courtesy Dan Everhart Restore Oregon) shows that even though the steps are a little worse for wear, there is still beauty in their symmetry.  And, what a wonderful view/walk down 9th Street towards downtown.

The Grand Staircase at Eastern Oregon University was designed by Oregon architect John Bennes and completed in 1929.  Sadly, it has deteriorated over the decades and was closed to public use in 2004.

The staircase is currently included on Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List.  In November of 2015 it was determined that the staircase was too far deteriorated for restoration to be a viable option, however efforts are underway to fund reconstruction.

We believe that the Grand Staircase has great potential as a cultural heritage tourism attraction and, as a result, could help boost the economy of La Grande and eastern Oregon.  Even now, deteriorating and no longer opened to the public, it is an architectural treasure worth seeing.  Reconstructed it could offer even more.

We started this blog and the accompanying Facebook page to raise awareness of the Grand Staircase and its architectural significance, post photographs and information of historical interest about the staircase, provide updates on the efforts to save our beloved “college steps” and share the stories and memories of those who love the staircase as much as we do.

To see a pictorial history of the staircase please visit our About page.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at savethegrandstaircase@gmail.com.

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A thing of beauty is a joy forever…

We found this “sister” to our Grand Staircase on Pinterest, reposted from jellysundae.tumblr.com.  Don’t you just wonder what’s around the corner?

As with our staircase, the steps, balusters and balustrades are a little down on their luck – crumbling and in this case moss covered.   Yet, as with our staircase, the structure retains its architectural beauty and is surely still loved by many.

In the words of Keats, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

The Grand Staircase at Eastern Oregon University was designed by Oregon architect John Bennes and completed in 1929.  Sadly, it has deteriorated over the decades and was closed to public use in 2004.

The staircase is currently included on Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List.  In November of 2015 it was determined that the staircase was too far deteriorated for restoration to be a viable option, however efforts are underway to fund reconstruction.

We believe that the Grand Staircase has great potential as a cultural heritage tourism attraction and, as a result, could help boost the economy of La Grande and eastern Oregon.  Even now, deteriorating and no longer opened to the public, it is an architectural treasure worth seeing.  Reconstructed it could offer even more.

We started this blog and the accompanying Facebook page to raise awareness of the Grand Staircase and its architectural significance, post photographs and information of historical interest about the staircase, provide updates on the efforts to save our beloved “college steps” and share the stories and memories of those who love the staircase as much as we do.

To see a pictorial history of the staircase please visit our About page.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at savethegrandstaircase@gmail.com.

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It’s all in the details…

We often post photos of the Grand Staircase in its entirety – pictures that show the full grandeur of this architectural treasure.

Today, however, we chose the photo below to showcase some of the staircase’s architectural detail – the gentle curve of the baluster caps, the simple, but elegant design of a pier connecting two balustrade sections, the familiar design of the balusters (beautiful in their repetition), the cast-in-place retaining wall articulated by horizontal banding, and the rise and tread of the final steps leading up to the view terrace.

Note: the same baluster design on the window balconies of Inlow Hall.

1974 photo (courtesy EOU Pierce Library) of an unidentified young woman on the Grand Staircase

 

The Grand Staircase at Eastern Oregon University was designed by Oregon architect John Bennes and completed in 1929.  Sadly, it has deteriorated over the decades and was closed to public use in 2004.

The staircase is currently included on Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List.  In November of 2015 it was determined that the staircase was too far deteriorated for restoration to be a viable option, however efforts are underway to fund reconstruction.

We believe that the Grand Staircase has great potential as a cultural heritage tourism attraction and, as a result, could help boost the economy of La Grande and eastern Oregon.  Even now, deteriorating and no longer opened to the public, it is an architectural treasure worth seeing.  Reconstructed it could offer even more.

We started this blog and the accompanying Facebook page to raise awareness of the Grand Staircase and its architectural significance, post photographs and information of historical interest about the staircase, provide updates on the efforts to save our beloved “college steps” and share the stories and memories of those who love the staircase as much as we do.

To see a pictorial history of the staircase please visit our About page.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at savethegrandstaircase@gmail.com.

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Tall Inlow Hall

One of the best definitions we’ve found for the word “staircase” is from a fictional account of the history of stairs where it is loosely defined as a method of going to “a tall place…” – perhaps not straight out of Webster’s, but poetic nonetheless.

As you can see from the Grand Staircase architectural drawing below (courtesy of Hennebery Eddy Architects), from street level (at the intersection of 9th and “L”) the staircase at EOU climbs 37 feet 2 ½ inches before reaching the View Terrace and Inlow Hall.

Or, perhaps we should say Tall Inlow Hall.

The Grand Staircase at Eastern Oregon University was designed by Oregon architect John Bennes and completed in 1929.  Sadly, it has deteriorated over the decades and was closed to public use in 2004.

The staircase is currently included on Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List.  In November of 2015 it was determined that the staircase was too far deteriorated for restoration to be a viable option, however efforts are underway to fund reconstruction.

We believe that the Grand Staircase has great potential as a cultural heritage tourism attraction and, as a result, could help boost the economy of La Grande and eastern Oregon.  Even now, deteriorating and no longer opened to the public, it is an architectural treasure worth seeing.  Reconstructed it could offer even more.

We started this blog and the accompanying Facebook page to raise awareness of the Grand Staircase and its architectural significance, post photographs and information of historical interest about the staircase, provide updates on the efforts to save our beloved “college steps” and share the stories and memories of those who love the staircase as much as we do.

To see a pictorial history of the staircase please visit our About page.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at savethegrandstaircase@gmail.com.

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Best architectural component in a supporting role

In several of our previous posts we’ve mentioned the balustrades and balusters of the Grand Staircase.  After all, it’s hard not to fall in love with the gentle, repetitive curves and rosy hue of the balusters and how many of us have sat on, leaned on or (don’t try this at home) walked along the staircase railings (AKA the baluster caps)?

Photo – courtesy EOU Pierce Library

But balusters and baluster caps alone do not a Grand Staircase make.  Among the other components needed are piers and pier caps.

You’ll find the piers at landings, changes in direction and at periodic intervals on long stair runs.  They serve as terminations and bookends for the balustrade sections.

Two examples of piers – photos courtesy of Hennebery Eddy

Pier caps sit on top of the piers (tied into balustrade caps with steel anchors and pins).  They add character and a finishing touch, but also serve a function as well. They are designed to shed water and this protects the integrity of the piers.

The piers are predominately in fair condition.  This can be attributed to several factors one of which is likely the protection they have received from the pier caps.

Today we nominate the Grand Staircase pier caps for “best architectural component in a supporting role”. 

There are six different style of pier caps (shown below) – photos courtesy of Hennebery Eddy…

Pier cap – rectangular

Pier cap – curved landing

Pier cap – square

Pier cap – top of stairs

Pier cap – L shaped

Pier cap – L shaped at curved landing

Below, 1957 Evensong queen Roberta Miller sits atop a pier cap between balustrade sections…

photo courtesy of EOU Pierce Library

Here, 1962 Evensong queen Gail Fisher rests a gloved hand on a pier cap on one of the landings…

photo courtesy of EOU Pierce Library

And, 1968 Evensong queen Elissa Phipps Stites in front of a two pier cap at the top of the staircase…

photo courtesy of EOU Pierce Library

Finally, snow topped pier caps in 1949…

photo courtesy of EOU Pierce Library

The Grand Staircase at Eastern Oregon University was designed by Oregon architect John Bennes and completed in 1929.  Sadly, it has deteriorated over the decades and was closed to public use in 2004.

The staircase is currently included on Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List.  In November of 2015 it was determined that the staircase was too far deteriorated for restoration to be a viable option, however efforts are underway to fund reconstruction.

We believe that the Grand Staircase has great potential as a cultural heritage tourism attraction and, as a result, could help boost the economy of La Grande and eastern Oregon.  Even now, deteriorating and no longer opened to the public, it is an architectural treasure worth seeing.  Reconstructed it could offer even more.

We started this blog and the accompanying Facebook page to raise awareness of the Grand Staircase and its architectural significance, post photographs and information of historical interest about the staircase, provide updates on the efforts to save our beloved “college steps” and share the stories and memories of those who love the staircase as much as we do.

To see a pictorial history of the staircase please visit our About page.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at savethegrandstaircase@gmail.com.

 

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The Grand Staircase and the Spanish Steps

On more than one occasion architectural historians have compared EOU’s Grand Staircase to the Spanish Steps in Rome.  You know, THOSE Spanish Steps – the ones that caught America’s eye in the 1953 movie Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

With just 30 some more steps than our Grand Staircase, the staircase in Rome is a mix of curves, straight flights, vistas, and terraces that blend with the surrounding architecture.  Sound familiar?

Spanish Steps

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on the Spanish Steps

The unique design and elegance of the Spanish Steps have long made it a popular place for artists, painters, and poets.  Tourists and others use it as a designated meeting places and it is one of Rome’s most popular places to gather – a place to sit, chat, rest and dream.  In addition, the steps have continued to make appearances in film, TV and song.

La Grande and Rome are worlds apart, yet both boast elegant monumental exterior staircases.  Comparing La Grande’s Grand Staircase to Rome’s iconic Spanish Steps illustrates how truly significant the Grand Staircase is and gives a hint at its hidden potential.

Note: The Spanish Steps have needed to be restored many times over the years.

Baluster smallBaluster smallBaluster small

The Grand Staircase at Eastern Oregon University was designed by Oregon architect John Bennes and completed in 1929.  Sadly, it has deteriorated over the decades and was closed to public use in 2004.

The staircase is currently included on Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List.  In November of 2015 it was determined that the staircase was too far deteriorated for restoration to be a viable option, however efforts are underway to fund reconstruction.

We started this blog and the accompanying Facebook page to raise awareness of the Grand Staircase and its architectural significance, post photographs and information of historical interest about the staircase, and share the stories and memories of those who love the staircase as much as we do.

To see a pictorial history of the staircase please visit our About page.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at savethegrandstaircase@gmail.com.

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Three ways, three functions…

Remember the 418 balusters we talked about in our last post?  Did you know that there are three different ways of installing them in the staircase – each meeting a different architectural need?

148 of them are horizontal.

Horizonal baluster Horizontal baluster cap

212 of them are angled.

Angled baluster Angled baluster cap

And 58 of them are curved.

Curved balusters Curved baluster cap

Now you know.

Baluster smallBaluster smallBaluster small

The Grand Staircase at Eastern Oregon University was designed by Oregon architect John Bennes and completed in 1929.  Sadly, it has deteriorated over the decades and was closed to public use in 2004.

The staircase is currently included on Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List.  In November of 2015 it was determined that the staircase was too far deteriorated for restoration to be a viable option, however efforts are underway to fund reconstruction.

 

We started this blog and the accompanying Facebook page to raise awareness of the Grand Staircase and its architectural significance, post photographs and information of historical interest about the staircase, and share the stories and memories of those who love the staircase as much as we do.

To see a pictorial history of the staircase please visit our About page.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at savethegrandstaircase@gmail.com.

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Pretty in pink…

We love each and every one of the Grand Staircase balusters – all 418 of them (even the ones that are now missing).

Made of cast stone, they were created (we’re sure lovingly) using a dry tamp process – two layers with an inner concrete core and a more refined outer finish.

It’s that finish layer we’re writing about today – a rosy beige fine grain aggregate mixed with quartz – a finish that changes color with the light and time of day and creates a marble-like (as in this could be in Rome) appearance.  Yep – we love our pink toned balusters.

Pink Baluster 1 Pink Baluster 2 Pink Baluester 3

The Grand Staircase at Eastern Oregon University was designed by Oregon architect John Bennes and completed in 1929.  Sadly, it has deteriorated over the decades and was closed to public use in 2004.

The staircase is currently included on Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List.  In November of 2015 it was determined that the staircase was too far deteriorated for restoration to be a viable option, however efforts are underway to fund reconstruction

We started this blog and the accompanying Facebook page to raise awareness of the Grand Staircase and its architectural significance, post photographs and information of historical interest about the staircase, and share the stories and memories of those who love the staircase as much as we do.

To see a pictorial history of the staircase please visit our About page.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at savethegrandstaircase@gmail.com.

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The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia – inspiration of coincidence?

When architectural historian Calder Loth sent us his thoughts on and impressions of Eastern Oregon University’s Grand Staircase he included information about The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia and noted the “striking similarities” between the conjectural drawing for this structure and the steps at EOU.

We thought his observations were fascinating and thought you might too…

 “It’s probably coincidental, but the Eastern Oregon University stair has striking similarities to Palladio’s conjectural drawing for the ancient Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina… This drawing (below) was housed in the collections of the Royal Institute of British Architects at the time the Oregon stair was designed. It’s a stretch to think that John Virginius Bennes may have seen either the original or a published version of it. Nonetheless, even though he worked mainly in the Prairie School tradition, Bennes’ stair design shows that he was well-versed in the High Renaissance idiom and could execute a remarkably competent composition.”

 

Drawing

Palladio’s conjectural drawing for the ancient Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina

To read more about the staircase and why it needs saving go to our About page here.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at savethegrandstaircase@gmail.com.

 

 

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The experts weigh in…

A few weeks ago we brought up the notion of whether or not Eastern Oregon University’s Grand Staircase might be a one of a kind or at the very least significant in grandeur among outdoor (Renaissance) staircases in the U.S.

Our exploration of this idea lead us to discover a number of impressive outdoor staircase examples and put us in touch with some very kind and very helpful experts.

Richard Guy Wilson, who holds the Commonwealth Professor’s Chair in Architectural History at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia wrote us that the staircase…

“…certainly is grand. I don’t think I have ever seen one quite this elaborate in the US… it is really the grandest I think I have ever seen.”

He went on to mention that there are similar, but smaller staircases that were “inspired by Italian gardens and several books written and published here in the US in the 1890s and early 1900s”.

Examples he gave were the steps at Edith Wharton’s The Mount in Lenox, Ma seen in the photo below…

Edith Wharton's

and the stairs and waterfall from the Italian garden at Maymont in Richmond.  The steps themselves are a bit difficult to see in the photo below, but are on either side of the waterfall.

Maymont

Gibson Worsham, an architectural historian based in Petersburg, Virginia, wrote us that…

“Lynchburg, Virginia has a grand urban stair that climbs to the courthouse, but the courthouse at the top doesn’t look like a Renaissance villa like the one in Oregon!”

The Renaissance villa he was referring to, of course, is Inlow Hall!

Monument Terrace

Monument Terrace and old courthouse in Lynchburg, Virginia

Another internationally renowned urban planner and architect believes only one comparable staircase exists in the U.S. – at the University of Virginia (see photo below).

University of Virginia rotunda

University of Virginia steps at the Rotunda

Erik Bootsma, an architect and planner, also in Richmond wrote us that “the biggest and best Renaissance stairway in the US is the now also closed mall side steps of the US Capitol”.

US Capital steps

The mall side steps of the US Capital

Of course, it’s nice to even be mentioned in the same conversation as the U.S. Capital!  And, we’ve been told that the two staircases can be actually be differentiated by the fact that one is an “architectural extension” while the other is a “supporting landscape feature”.   Who knew?

And finally, Calder Loth, Senior Architectural Historian at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Member: Advisory Council, Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, Member: Advisory Council, Virginia Center for Architecture wrote us that the staircase is …

“A supreme example of an American Renaissance monumental landscape staircase…”

 “…and an outstanding one at that.”

In his generous and extensive comments he also included the paragraph below…

 “Thank you for asking me to comment on the grand staircase at Eastern Oregon University; I’m glad to offer some random observations. Indeed, I appreciate your bringing this extraordinary work to my attention. I had no previous knowledge of its existence. You’ve asked if comparable monumental exterior staircases exist elsewhere in America. I have searched my memory as well as various published and online sources and can find none so ambitious or of comparable scale and complexity.  We might consider some state capitols but their grand stairs are more in the nature of architectural extensions than supporting landscape features. The Oregon stair is a highly informed design echoing the Italian Renaissance tradition, recalling such schemes as the Spanish Steps in Rome and the gardens of the Villa Farnese at Caprarola. We have a more modest example in Lynchburg, Virginia with Monument Terrace, a war memorial also from the 1920s, but not nearly so ambitious…”

Rome's Spanish Steps

Rome’s Spanish Steps

So, how do you think “our” Grand Staircase stacks up against these other suburb examples?

Grand Staircase color photo

We think it stacks up pretty well!

Is it the largest, the grandest, or one of a kind?  Absolutes are difficult and we may never know.  But we can rest assured that it is indeed something very special.

 

To read more about the staircase and why it needs saving go to our About page here.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at savethegrandstaircase@gmail.com.

 

 

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