A few weeks ago we brought up the notion of whether or not Eastern Oregon University’s Grand Staircase might be a one of a kind or at the very least significant in grandeur among outdoor (Renaissance) staircases in the U.S.
Our exploration of this idea lead us to discover a number of impressive outdoor staircase examples and put us in touch with some very kind and very helpful experts.
Richard Guy Wilson, who holds the Commonwealth Professor’s Chair in Architectural History at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia wrote us that the staircase…
“…certainly is grand. I don’t think I have ever seen one quite this elaborate in the US… it is really the grandest I think I have ever seen.”
He went on to mention that there are similar, but smaller staircases that were “inspired by Italian gardens and several books written and published here in the US in the 1890s and early 1900s”.
Examples he gave were the steps at Edith Wharton’s The Mount in Lenox, Ma seen in the photo below…
and the stairs and waterfall from the Italian garden at Maymont in Richmond. The steps themselves are a bit difficult to see in the photo below, but are on either side of the waterfall.
Gibson Worsham, an architectural historian based in Petersburg, Virginia, wrote us that…
“Lynchburg, Virginia has a grand urban stair that climbs to the courthouse, but the courthouse at the top doesn’t look like a Renaissance villa like the one in Oregon!”
The Renaissance villa he was referring to, of course, is Inlow Hall!
Monument Terrace and old courthouse in Lynchburg, Virginia
Another internationally renowned urban planner and architect believes only one comparable staircase exists in the U.S. – at the University of Virginia (see photo below).
University of Virginia steps at the Rotunda
Erik Bootsma, an architect and planner, also in Richmond wrote us that “the biggest and best Renaissance stairway in the US is the now also closed mall side steps of the US Capitol”.
The mall side steps of the US Capital
Of course, it’s nice to even be mentioned in the same conversation as the U.S. Capital! And, we’ve been told that the two staircases can be actually be differentiated by the fact that one is an “architectural extension” while the other is a “supporting landscape feature”. Who knew?
And finally, Calder Loth, Senior Architectural Historian at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Member: Advisory Council, Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, Member: Advisory Council, Virginia Center for Architecture wrote us that the staircase is …
“A supreme example of an American Renaissance monumental landscape staircase…”
“…and an outstanding one at that.”
In his generous and extensive comments he also included the paragraph below…
“Thank you for asking me to comment on the grand staircase at Eastern Oregon University; I’m glad to offer some random observations. Indeed, I appreciate your bringing this extraordinary work to my attention. I had no previous knowledge of its existence. You’ve asked if comparable monumental exterior staircases exist elsewhere in America. I have searched my memory as well as various published and online sources and can find none so ambitious or of comparable scale and complexity. We might consider some state capitols but their grand stairs are more in the nature of architectural extensions than supporting landscape features. The Oregon stair is a highly informed design echoing the Italian Renaissance tradition, recalling such schemes as the Spanish Steps in Rome and the gardens of the Villa Farnese at Caprarola. We have a more modest example in Lynchburg, Virginia with Monument Terrace, a war memorial also from the 1920s, but not nearly so ambitious…”
Rome’s Spanish Steps
So, how do you think “our” Grand Staircase stacks up against these other suburb examples?
We think it stacks up pretty well!
Is it the largest, the grandest, or one of a kind? Absolutes are difficult and we may never know. But we can rest assured that it is indeed something very special.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.