Architectural Reconstructions: A Respectable Tradition

Remember Calder Loth?  He is one of the architectural historians who so kindly helped us determine the significance of the Grand Staircase.

We were fascinated by everything he had to tell us, but the excerpt below really struck a chord.

“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.” 

Balusters

Photo Courtesy EOU Pierce Library

In light of the recent decision to pursue funding for reconstruction rather than restoration of the staircase, we thought you might find Calder’s article Architectural Reconstructions: A Respectable Tradition interesting.  We certainly did!

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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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Carousels and depots and staircases! Oh my!

It was just over a year ago that Restore Oregon announced that the Grand Staircase at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande was one of seven properties chosen to be included on their Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List – 2015.  Throughout the last year their enthusiasm, support, insight, and sage advice have contributed greatly to the efforts to save our beloved “college steps”.

And, at their November 13 Restoration Celebration at the Historic Sentinel Hotel in Portland, guess what happened?

When Restore Oregon announced their 2016 list, seven of the 15 places included were ones that had been named in previous years and they will continue to receive support.  And, the Grand Staircase is one of those seven!

And, once again it is in good company.  This year’s list includes a carousel, a depot, a museum, a theater and more. You can see the complete list here.

Carousel

Jantzen Beach carousel – on this year’s Most Endangered Places list

Thank you Restore Oregon!

 

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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.

In November of 2014 it was chosen for inclusion on Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List.

We started this blog and the accompanying Facebook page that same month.  Our intent is 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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Concrete next steps…

Big things were happening on the Grand Staircase this past week.

Gregg Sanders and Carin Carlson from Hennebery Eddy Architects worked with John Garlitz of J-U-B Engineers, Inc. to begin the process of determining the condition of the staircase, the cause of its deterioration, what needs to happen next, and the approximate costs involved.

This work is being funded by grants the EOU Foundation received from Restore Oregon, The Kinsman Foundation, and The National Trust for Historic Preservation.  You can read more about the grants here.

Gregg is an Associate Principal at Hennebery Eddy and Carin is a Historic Preservation Architect for the firm.  John is a Civil Engineer for J-U-B Engineers in La Grande.

In the photo below Carin is investigating the existing condition of the cast-in-place concrete stair piers. Cast-in-place concrete is transported in an unhardened state, primarily as ready-mix, and placed in forms.

Carin

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We are a group of passionate individuals dedicated to saving and restoring the Grand Staircase at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Oregon.

The staircase was designed by Oregon architect John Bennes and completed in 1929.  Sadly, the staircase has deteriorated over the decades and was closed to public use in 2004.

In November of 2014 it was chosen for inclusion on Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List.

We started this blog and the accompanying Facebook page that same month.  Our intent is 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 and learn more about why it needs saving, 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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Good news… and more good news…

We are excited to report that the Eastern Oregon University Foundation has recently been awarded an $8,000 grant from the Kinsman Foundation and a $5,000 grant from The National Trust for Historic Preservation to be used in efforts to save and restore the Grand Staircase.

In combination with the seed grant already received from Restore Oregon, these funds will go toward hiring an architect and civil and structural engineers to determine what has caused the deterioration of the staircase, what needs to be done to address the problems and restore the staircase, and an estimate of the cost to do so. This work will start in the near future and is scheduled to be completed by late fall. These are critical next steps and set the stage for pursuing additional funding. Stay tuned!

Yay

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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Why you should take your children to see the Grand Staircase – right now…

You should take your children to see the Grand Staircase – right now.

Now, with its crumbling balustrades and cracked balusters.  Now, with its missing pieces. Now, with its barricaded steps.

Why? Because it is still beautiful and it is still a magical place.  Why? Because it is still an exquisite example of American Renaissance architecture.  Why? Because it is a golden opportunity to teach your kids about historic preservation.

A friend of ours remembers visiting the wreck of the Peter Iredale at Fort Stevens State Park as a child.  Her parents told her “Remember what it looks like now, because when you bring your own children back to see it one day it will look different”.

Peter Iredale 1960

 The wreck of the Peter Iredale – 1960

Peter Iredale today

The wreck of the Peter Iredale – today

When you take your children to see the Grand Staircase you can tell them the same thing. “Remember what it looks like now, because when you bring your own children back to see it one day it will look different”.

In the case of the Grand Staircase, of course, we hope your children’s children will see a staircase that has been saved and fully restored, an architectural treasure that is a beloved and functional part of the community, a staircase that contributes to heritage tourism in La Grande and eastern Oregon, and a sterling example of historic preservation at its best.

 

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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A step toward restoration…

In November of 2014, Restore Oregon selected the Grand Staircase to be on Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List – 2015.  Recently, Peggy Moretti and Brandon Spencer-Hartle of Restore Oregon spent part of a morning with Eastern Oregon University key decision makers exploring options for saving and restoring this architectural treasure.

Brandon and Peggy

Brandon and Peggy at the top of the now closed Grand Staircase

With the expertise, historical perspective, and commitment of the folks at EOU and the invaluable ability of Restore Oregon to provide technical support in the area of historic preservation, it is no surprise that the meeting was productive.

As a result, the wheels have now been set in motion to apply for spring cycle historic preservation grants.  These types of grants provide funding to help preserve, conserve and protect places of historical significance – places that tell the stories of our past.  We’ll be providing further details as the process unfolds.

Restore Oregon Staircase visit

During their visit Peggy took the photo above – a picture that captures both the beauty and the deteriorated condition of the Grand Staircase. 

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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Cracks and crumbles…

As much as we’d like all our posts to be sentimental and nostalgic, we, at least on occasion, also need to underscore the reality that the reason this blog exists is because the Grand Staircase is in a severely deteriorated state and its condition continues to decline.  The damage is the result of ground movement, pressure from an underground stream, and (although beautiful) harsh La Grande winters.  In addition (and sadly), acts of vandalism have taken their toll on the structure.

 In Memory of Gary Richard Olson
August 20, 1948 – March 26, 2014
The photos in this post were taken by Gary on March 25, 2014

CRACKS

Cracks

CRUMBLING

Crumbling

BROKEN…

Broken

AND MISSING PIECES

Missing pieces

 

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The Grand Staircase by any other name…

BalusterAlthough we hear the term “Grand Staircase” often enough, growing up in La Grande we simply called it “the college steps”.

BalusterA Geocaching link we found also used that term when they referenced finding the “treasure” in La Grande by the “college steps”.

BalusterA Facebook page we ran across echoed the words when the owner suggested to a group that they meet by “the college steps”.

BalusterThe many of you who have shared memories with us refer to the Grand Staircase as “the steps”, “the stairs”, and “the staircase”.

BalusterThe National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form calls it a “formal grand stair”.

The bottom line?  The Grand Staircase by any other name would be just as grand, just as magical, just as meaningful, just as significant, just as valuable, and just as much worth saving.

 

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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In good company…

What do a bell tower, a former storefront, a home built in 1865, a barn, another barn, and a laundry all have in common?

In good company 1 In good company 2 In good company 3 In good company 4  In good company 5 In good company 6

They are all places sharing Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List 2015 with the Grand Staircase.  Nominated by people from across the state, they were chosen for their value as “cultural and economic assets”.  All, including the Grand Staircase, are in danger of falling down/being torn down if not saved in the fairly near future.

You can read more about each one of them here.

We are honored to be in such good company and wish them well is their restoration and preservation efforts.

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 .

“How will we know it’s us without our past?” ~ John Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath

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