The patter of little feet…

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.

J H Ackerman Elementary School

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.

Ackerman school picture

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.

Ackerman children

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


Pictures say it all…

Welcome to the Save the Grand Staircase blog.  Whether you came here by intent or by happenstance, we are glad that you found us.

The Grand Staircase is located on the Eastern Oregon University campus at the intersection of L Avenue and 9th Street in La Grande, Oregon and could easily be called an architectural treasure.

 It is a five tiered concrete structure of ornamental balustrades and balusters built in the Italian Renaissance Revival style.

balusters and balustrades 2

The Grand Staircase was designed by John Bennes and completed in 1929.

Staircase construction

For decades it served the campus…

Served the campus

…and the community.

and the community

Unfortunately, over time, ground movement, pressure from an underground stream, harsh   La Grande winters, and vandalism started to take their toll on the structure.

harsh winters

This photo was taken in 1979, the same year the staircase was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1979 photo

In 2004, the Grand Staircase was closed to public use.

Staircase profile pic

In 2008 a study found that approximately 60% of the staircase was in need of significant repair…

significant repair

…or reconstruction.

or reconstruction

Its condition continues to deteriorate.

continues to deteriorate

In November of 2014, the Grand Staircase was chosen for inclusion on Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List – 2015. Development of a strategy for preservation and funding is underway.

How you  can help save and restore the Grand Staircase:

  • Like us on Facebook here and invite your friends to like us too.
  • Tell others about the Grand Staircase and how its restoration would be of historical and cultural significance, not just to EOU, the city of La Grande, and the state of Oregon, but to all of us


All black and white photos in this post are from the EOU Pierce Library.  Color photos were taken by Gary Olson.