In the years before its closure in 2004, the Grand Staircase connected Eastern Oregon University to neighborhoods to the north by providing pedestrian access to the campus. Among those who made the climb were some of the children who attended J.H. Ackerman Elementary School. Ackerman was located on the EOU campus and designed to train teachers in working classrooms. The photo of Ackerman below (courtesy of the EOU Pierce Library) is from April of 1937. Note the similarity in design of the details under the windows to the balusters on the Grand Staircase. Both structures were designed by John Bennes.
Children who walked to school by way of the “college steps” could also have climbed the steep 8th Street hill or zigzagged up and down the “Billy Goat Path“ that rambled down the hillside below what is now Badgley Hall. However, ascending and descending the staircase was arguably just a lot more fun.
The sheer size, combined with the fanciful architectural style, served as a launching pad for a child’s imagination. On the way up you could be scaling the walls of a fortress or eluding the bad guys with the Lone Ranger. And from the top, looking out over La Grande and the Grande Ronde Valley, you were the Prince or Princess of Everything.
Some of the “staircase” memories of Ackerman students include:
- Crawling over the balustrades and trying to squeeze between the balusters to play and hide under the spiraea that dotted the hillside surrounding the steps.
- Acting out scenes from Romeo and Juliet on the staircase landings.
- Walking along the balustrades as if they were a balance beam (please don’t tell our parents).
- Calling friends before leaving the house in order to arrive at the bottom of the staircase at exactly the same moment and then racing each other up the steps.
- Impatiently waiting for our legs to grow long enough to be able to take the stairs “two at a time”.
- Posing on the staircase for a class picture as in the photo below (courtesy of the EOU Pierce Library) from the mid-30’s.
There are innumerable Ackerman and EOU alum and current and former La Grande residents who have an emotional attachment to the Grand Staircase and what it meant to them at some point in their lives. Restoration would not only benefit and delight them, but would give future generations the possibility of creating their own special staircase-related memories.
Endnote: In 1996, after 60 years of providing thousands of students with an extraordinary education, J. H. Ackerman Elementary School closed its doors. It is now known as Ackerman Hall and houses faculty offices and classrooms.
To read more about the staircase and why it needs saving go to our About page here.