The experts weigh in…

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…

Edith Wharton's

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

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 rotunda

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”.

US Capital steps

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

Rome’s Spanish Steps

So, how do you think “our” Grand Staircase stacks up against these other suburb examples?

Grand Staircase color photo

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




4 thoughts on “The experts weigh in…

  1. Having grown up with daily visits to the staircase, I took it for granted, never realizing there are so few as grand as it is in the world! Great research!

  2. Growing up in the area, counting the steps became a game, or a challenge to who could get to the top first. Other games were imagined too. A recent visit there, I was disappointed that it was in disrepair and we could not use it. Young and naïve that we had such wonderful thing not knowing how special it really is.

  3. Like Linda – The College Steps – as we called them – these stirs were part of every school day for me for all of the years. This was the route I took to school – Ackerman Elementary, from 1963 through 1966. Because our family home was on M street, two blocks away – the stairs and hillside were where we played – ran wild, is more like it. Running up and down – I counted them so many times – but memory fades. Is it… are there 101 or 103 steps from bottom to top? Same from top to bottom, I suppose. But more often than not, I took the grassy hillside coming home.

    I’m curious – would like to know who is heading up this information gathering / restoration effort?

    • Hi Tom. This is Marcia (Hanford) Loney. I also went to Ackerman and was in the same class as Robert Carroll who I imagine is your brother. I have done most of the historical research on the staircase and I also write the posts for this blog and take care of the Facebook page.
      Re: the restoration efforts – a small group of “passionate” individuals, of which I am one, were the catalyst for the restoration effort. My sister, Anne Hanford Olson, Anne’s late husband Gary, and Linda Bishop Hartig and her husband Hugo were the others who got this started. We worked with the university to nominate the staircase as one of Oregon’s Most Endangered Places 2015 and achieved that designation.
      The university and Restore Oregon with help along the way from some of the passionate individuals are now working on next steps for saving the staircase. Stay tuned for more information in the weeks ahead!

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