Best architectural component in a supporting role

In several of our previous posts we’ve mentioned the balustrades and balusters of the Grand Staircase.  After all, it’s hard not to fall in love with the gentle, repetitive curves and rosy hue of the balusters and how many of us have sat on, leaned on or (don’t try this at home) walked along the staircase railings (AKA the baluster caps)?

Photo – courtesy EOU Pierce Library

But balusters and baluster caps alone do not a Grand Staircase make.  Among the other components needed are piers and pier caps.

You’ll find the piers at landings, changes in direction and at periodic intervals on long stair runs.  They serve as terminations and bookends for the balustrade sections.

Two examples of piers – photos courtesy of Hennebery Eddy

Pier caps sit on top of the piers (tied into balustrade caps with steel anchors and pins).  They add character and a finishing touch, but also serve a function as well. They are designed to shed water and this protects the integrity of the piers.

The piers are predominately in fair condition.  This can be attributed to several factors one of which is likely the protection they have received from the pier caps.

Today we nominate the Grand Staircase pier caps for “best architectural component in a supporting role”. 

There are six different style of pier caps (shown below) – photos courtesy of Hennebery Eddy…

Pier cap – rectangular

Pier cap – curved landing

Pier cap – square

Pier cap – top of stairs

Pier cap – L shaped

Pier cap – L shaped at curved landing

Below, 1957 Evensong queen Roberta Miller sits atop a pier cap between balustrade sections…

photo courtesy of EOU Pierce Library

Here, 1962 Evensong queen Gail Fisher rests a gloved hand on a pier cap on one of the landings…

photo courtesy of EOU Pierce Library

And, 1968 Evensong queen Elissa Phipps Stites in front of a two pier cap at the top of the staircase…

photo courtesy of EOU Pierce Library

Finally, snow topped pier caps in 1949…

photo courtesy of EOU Pierce Library

The Grand Staircase at Eastern Oregon University was designed by Oregon architect John Bennes and completed in 1929.  Sadly, it has deteriorated over the decades and was closed to public use in 2004.

The staircase is currently included on Restore Oregon’s Most Endangered Places List.  In November of 2015 it was determined that the staircase was too far deteriorated for restoration to be a viable option, however efforts are underway to fund reconstruction.

We believe that the Grand Staircase has great potential as a cultural heritage tourism attraction and, as a result, could help boost the economy of La Grande and eastern Oregon.  Even now, deteriorating and no longer opened to the public, it is an architectural treasure worth seeing.  Reconstructed it could offer even more.

We started this blog and the accompanying Facebook page to raise awareness of the Grand Staircase and its architectural significance, post photographs and information of historical interest about the staircase, provide updates on the efforts to save our beloved “college steps” and share the stories and memories of those who love the staircase as much as we do.

To see a pictorial history of the staircase please visit our About page.

If you have any questions or have Grand Staircase memories, stories, or photos you would like to share please contact us at