Was the Staircase an “Aha” Moment? – Part Three

When we left off last time we had just discovered the first mention of the Grand Staircase in the La Grande Observer archives.  In that article (September of 1928) what would become the staircase was simply referred to as “many steps”.

It left us wondering if the plans for the Grand Staircase were complete by then, or if the final design was still being formulated in John Bennes’ mind.

Articles for the rest of 1928 and early 1929 continue to report on the progress being made on the construction of what would later be named Inlow Hall (the first president of the school was H.E. Inlow).  There were (understandably) concerns about concrete and cold weather and a question of whether or not the red tile roof would be on before Christmas.  The granite for the entrances and buttresses arrived from Helena, Montana and steel beams for the auditorium were at the ready.

There was no mention of steps or stairs.

That is until March 11, 1929.  In an article out of Portland, the Observer announced that the steps leading up to Eastern Oregon Normal’s main building would be “most imposing” and the stairway would quite likely be “the largest and most impressive” in the state of Oregon.

Imposing staircase

Then, in late April we find out just how many steps there would be (100) and a May 10th article provides the most detailed description yet…

“An impressive architectural feature of the Eastern Oregon Normal school campus is the wide concrete stairway leading to the north entrance of the building from the street below.  This stairway is 150 feet in length and rises 42 feet with low, broad treads that provide an easy ascent.  Construction is buff-colored concrete with cast stone trim to match the main building.”

Impressive staircase

And, a June 5th article goes on to say…

“These steps are the largest and most impressive in the entire state.”

Of course a staircase of this significance was not built in a day and when dedication ceremonies for Eastern Oregon Normal School were held June 5, 1929, the steps were not yet finished.  It was anticipated that they would be before the opening of summer term on June 17 or the beginning of fall term (reports varied).

All available information we have does indicate that the Grand Staircase was indeed completed in 1929.

Grand Staircase 1929

1929 – Photo source – EOU Pierce Library

However, we perused old editions of the Observer through October 31, 1929 and did not find an article announcing the staircase’s completion.

That means one of three things…

  • There had been so much coverage of the architectural details of the main building, the dedication ceremonies and laying of the cornerstone (by members of the Masonic Lodge), and the beginning of the first term that the eventual completion of the staircase was not especially newsworthy.
  • After viewing microfilm for a number of hours we missed the article.
  • Completion occurred sometime after the end of October.

It won’t be for a while, but we will go back to the archives again one day and hopefully find the missing article (if it’s there).  If we do, you’ll all be the first to know!

So, did we answer our question?  Was the Grand Staircase an “aha” moment?   Results of our research: probably.

According to the National Historic Registry nomination for Inlow, the View Terrace, and the Grand Staircase, Bennes felt the dry climate of La Grande was similar to that of northern Italy and the location of the Eastern Oregon Normal School campus echoed the concept of a Renaissance palace on a hill and from that, we can assume, came the inspiration for the Grand Staircase.

The question remains – when did the inspiration/aha moment take place?  And that we may never know.

Since it was almost a year and a half after the location was chosen before the first Observer article with even a hint about the steps was written and another six months before they were revealed to be as significant and impressive as they are, our guess is that the creative process that led up to the initial inspiration and to their final design may have taken a long time.  Perhaps it was a matter of concept or of stability of the hill or of money.  We’re just glad it happened.

For now we’ll leave you with our original theory that architect John Bennes sat straight up in bed one night and exclaimed loudly…

Conversation bubble 2


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 .





Was the Staircase an “Aha” Moment? – Part Two

In our last post we raised the question of how the Grand Staircase came to be.  After “Courthouse Hill” was chosen in April of 1927 as the location for the new Eastern Oregon Normal School (now EOU), how, when, and why did architect John Bennes decide to fill the hillside below what is now Inlow Hall with this architectural treasure?

To answer this question we perused 1927 – 1929 microfilm copies of the La Grande Observer.  Here is what we found….

  • The Grand Staircase may or may not have been a part of the original plans. None of the 1927 and early 1928 articles we read make any mention of steps or stairs of any kind.
  •  Instead, they speak of constructing a boulevard (approximately 16 feet wide) that would run around the brow of the hill from Eighth Street to a point to be determined.
  •  They talk in detail about the main building and mention a library, an athletic field, tennis courts, and a shallow lake south of the hill.  (We wonder what happened to this lake!)
  •  A March 19, 1928 article reports that Prof Peck, Oregon State College landscaping artist calls the site “beautiful” with “remarkable possibilities”. He does not seem to have brought up the topic of steps.
  •  A July 19, 1928 article reveals that the center of the building (now Inlow) would face directly down Ninth Street and it was expected that “the main approach for pedestrians will be on Ninth Street to the foot of the hill”. There is no mention of how these pedestrians might get from the bottom of the hill to the top!

The structure

  • Finally, in an article published September 21, 1928 (a year and a half after the site had been chosen) we found the first hint of a staircase.  The story details the progress that had been made on construction and includes the following paragraph…

 “It (Inlow Hall) will be a splendid addition to the city from a scenic standpoint, for it is situated on a bluff with a magnificent view of town and surrounding country.  It is to be finished in cream stucco with a red tile roof.  Many steps will lead up to its front door from the street below.”

 Of course some would consider “many steps” as a somewhat vague description of what would eventually be the Grand Staircase.  Did Bennes have a completed design of the staircase by then, or was it still just an idea on his drawing board?

Perhaps his initial thought was something resembling the historic (and lovely) 77 Steps at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas…

77 steps

…or perhaps he already knew just how grand the staircase would be.

We’ll tell you more next time…

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.


Was the Staircase an “Aha” Moment? – Part One…

We’ve always found it intriguing that Inlow Hall at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande has a twin – Churchill Hall at Southern Oregon University in Ashland…

Inlow Hall

Churchill Hall

… a twin except for a few minor differences, including, of course, the fact that Inlow Hall has a Grand Staircase and Churchill Hall does not.

The obvious reason for building a staircase at EOU (and not at SOU) is the terrain on which the campus in La Grande was built.  EOU is sited on an alluvial bench which overlooks the city.  Inlow Hall sits on the edge of this bench, some 42 feet above the street below.

When the campus buildings were being designed and the landscaping was being considered, the question “What should we do with the slope on the north side of Inlow Hall?” was no doubt a part of the conversation.

For some time we’ve entertained the notion that one night architect John Bennes sat straight up in bed (awakening his poor wife from a deep sleep) and exclaimed loudly…

Conversation bubble 1

And then, just after his wife had gotten him calmed down and rolled over to try and go back to sleep, Bennes sat upright again and announced in an even louder voice…

Conversation bubble 2 Conversation bubble 3

Of course probably none of that really happened, but it left us wondering just how Bennes (and perhaps others) did decide to include the Grand Staircase in the design.  So, off we went to the archives of the La Grande Observer.

Next week we’ll tell you what we found.


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 .




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 .


A child dreams about attending Eastern Oregon University…

Every time someone “likes” our Facebook page a child dreams about attending Eastern Oregon University…

Dreaming of EOU

And, do you blame them?  Not only does EOU have a GRAND STAIRCASE, they also just recently launched a pretty amazing new initiative called the Eastern Oregon University Advantage.

EOU advantage

This program is intended to provide students with stable, fixed tuition, guaranteed four-year graduation, and career placement assistance upon graduation.

Any new student from Oregon, Idaho, or Washington who applies as a freshman and enrolls on EOU’s main La Grande campus for fall 2015 is eligible to participate. You can read more by visiting eou.edu/advantage, or by calling the Admissions Office at 800-452-8639.

If you would like to help send a student to EOU you can donate to fund student scholarships through the EOU Foundation here.  And, while you’re at it consider giving a little more to help save and restore the Grand Staircase. The link is the same, just designate that portion of your donation for “Grand Staircase Restoration Fund”.