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.
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.”
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.
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…
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If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .