A view from the top…

The view from the terrace at the top of the Grand Staircase is worthy of a picture postcard.

“Discovered this wonderful town in eastern Oregon, wish you were here.”

View from the top 3

Of course, it doesn’t look quite the same now…

View from the top 4

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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Before and after…

Before…

Before

After…

After

If only we could thank these men…

thank these men

All photos in this post are courtesy of the EOU Pierce Library.  The “after” and construction photos were taken in 1927/28.  The staircase was completed in 1929.

 

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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Halfway down the staircase…

We so enjoy hearing the memories that people have of the Grand Staircase.  Interestingly, the subject of sitting on the steps has been mentioned more than once – alone or with friends, during the day or during the evening, contemplating life or enjoying the beauty of the mountains, people fondly recall time spent just sitting on the staircase.

Halfway down Photo – Gary Olson

It reminded us of A.A. Milnes’ poem Halfway Down which has been said to catch “the mood of suspended action” one experiences on a staircase.  So, in honor of those hours spent sitting on the steps and with thanks to A.A. Milne for the inspiration, here is our version of that lovely verse.

Halfway down the staircase

was a stair

where I sat.

There wasn’t any

other stair

quite like that.

It wasn’t in the classroom,

It wasn’t in the town;

But from my lofty perch on it

I could see all around.

Mt. Emily in the distance,

rooftops nearer by,

and sometimes when I closed my eyes,

it felt like I could fly!

 

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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One part functional, two parts charming…

After we shared the photo of the Grand Staircase in winter we heard from several of you who remembered that when it snowed, 8th Street hill was often too slick to climb up or down so the staircase was the route (albeit also a bit slippery) that you took to class.

The “college steps” and the “college hill” seem irrevocably linked in many people’s minds.  Both a part of the Eastern Oregon University campus, they share the same slope and are just a short block apart.  In the past they provided an entrance to the university – as one EOU alum put it “one part functional, two parts charming”.

The photo below (courtesy of EOU Pierce Library) was taken in January of 1978 at the bottom of the hill before the college became Eastern Oregon University.  You can see the staircase in the background.

EOU entrance

 

Our post reminded many others of what fun it was to sled down 8th Street using everything from traditional sleds to cafeteria trays to cookie sheets to make the run.

8th Street hill

This photo (courtesy of the EOU Pierce Library) was taken in 1977 during the “8th Street Carnival” sponsored by the Campus Charismatics.

 

 

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John V. Bennes – the man behind the Grand Staircase

In recent blog posts reference has been made to John Bennes, the architect who designed EOU’s Grand Staircase as well as Inlow and Ackerman halls.  But what is his backstory?

John Virginius Bennes was born on August 23, 1867 in rural Illinois to parents who had immigrated to the United States from what is now the Czech Republic. His family moved to Chicago when he was a young child. Benes was likely the spelling of his surname at that time. His father possibly designed the Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago. Details of John Bennes’ early years are sparse, but we do know that he studied architecture at Prague University, graduating in 1890.

After completing his architectural studies, Bennes returned to Chicago and worked as an architect in that city until 1900. He certainly knew of and may have been acquainted with Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact, Bennes and Wright were contemporaries — born just months apart in 1867.

Bennes married in 1899, and in 1900 relocated with his new wife to Baker City, Oregon. Some accounts indicate that Bennes was drawn to Baker by the gold boom at the time. One of his early design projects in Baker City was a makeover of the interior of the Geiser Grand Hotel. Bennes designed many residences in the city, as well as its 1903 City Hall and the hotel at the nearby Hot Lake resort.

Bennes and his family moved to Portland in 1906, most likely because he felt there were better opportunities there than in Baker. He and two partners formed the architectural firm Bennes, Hendricks & Tobey. Bennes is credited with introducing the Prairie School of design to Portland residential architecture, though his designs covered virtually all styles.  He also designed many commercial and retail buildings, including Portland’s Broadway Hotel, Pacific Hardware & Steel Company Warehouse, and Hollywood Theater, and Astoria’s Liberty Theater.

The portrait of John Bennes below (ca. 1916) is from the Photographic Business and Professional Directory, Portland, Oregon, 1916.

Bennes

In 1907 Bennes was hired by Oregon Agricultural College to design a number of buildings, including a new cattle stable (dairy barn) and engineering shops facilities. This was the beginning of a relationship that lasted until 1941 and included the design of more than thirty-five new buildings and more than a dozen building expansions or renovations for the Oregon State campus.  Many of the Bennes designed buildings form the core of OSU’s National Register Historic District.

Bennes Glassow 2

Bennes also designed five buildings or building additions for Western Oregon University, the administration building at Southern Oregon University, and the three design projects mentioned above for Eastern Oregon University.

Bennes 1941 2

Bennes retired in 1941 and moved to California. He died on November 29, 1943.  In all, Bennes designed hundreds of residences and buildings during his forty-plus years in Oregon. More than fifty-five of the structures he designed are on the National Register of Historic places, either as individually designated resources or as contributing resources in historic districts. Bennes’ Oregon roots are in the eastern part of the state, which makes saving EOU’s Grand Staircase all the more important.

 

Special thanks to Larry Landis, our guest blogger this week.  Larry is the director of the Special Collections & Archives Research Center of the Oregon State University Libraries and Press. He has been at OSU since early 1991, and for many years served as University Archivist. His research interests are the history of OSU, especially its built environment, and architect John V. Bennes. He has done numerous presentations on Bennes, including talks for the Architectural Heritage Center in Portland and the Oregon Encyclopedia. Landis is currently writing a pictorial history of OSU, to be published by the OSU Press in Fall 2015.

 

 

 

 

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