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Step Right Up!

Stairs are so ordinary and prosaic that we rarely think of them as tourist destinations. Oh sure, we’ll stand in awe before a magnificent stained-glass window. We’ll wander for a wall mural or travel for a turret. But it’s about time that we pay tribute to an often overlooked, exceedingly everyday structure. So here’s a list of the nation’s best steps:

Loretto Chapel staircase.It is said that a mysterious carpenter built the spiraling staircase at the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The oft-told tale is that of discouraged nuns who were stuck with a choir loft with a puzzling lack of access (a conventional staircase would not fit). After a bout of devout prayer, a mysterious donkey-toting carpenter arrived and built a corkscrew-style staircase with “no discernible means of support”. And the biggest miracle of all is that he disappeared without even charging them! (If only there were such charitable contractors around today.) Some say he was really Saint Joseph. Of course, those entertaining party-poopers over at Snopes beg to differ.

There’s no mystery as to who designed the Fontainebleau Hotel’s famously glitzy “Staircase to Nowhere” in Miami Beach, Florida. Architect Morris Lapidus — famous for soaring and swooping flights of post-war architectural fancy and Swiss cheese-inspired exteriors — designed the now entirely useless lobby feature (originally there was a small coat check room at the summit). The divinely dated element leads nowhere, but who cares? It’s fancy shmancy. (Lapidus loved lobbies; he once installed a terrarium full of live alligators in the lobby of the Americana.) This is one staircase that could use a miracle, as the hotel owners are on the verge of bankruptcy.

(The loony labyrinth that is the Winchester Mystery House also boasts a set of stairs that go nowhere — they actually hit the ceiling!)

The seemingly endless Santa Monica Stairs in California — 170 steps at 4th Street and Adelaide Drive — often host sweaty celebrities and attract a constant coed traffic jam of ascending fitness fanatics. Famous for its pick-up scene, eye-popping eye candy, and ear-splitting early morning exercise-induced grunting, this parade of pulchritude regularly pits the interests of rich residents against those of the high-energy, low-body-fat set.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers steps.And of course there are the movie stairs: Laurel and Hardy’s Music Box steps in the Silverlake section of Los Angeles; the steep and dire Exorcist staircase in Georgetown, Washington, DC; the Invasion of the Body Snatchers steps (original 1956 version) in Los Angeles; and the hop-happy Rocky steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Reenactments at the first three are discouraged. But it’s considered safe to recreate Balboa’s classic scene of everyman determination.  What visitor can resist the urge to jog boldly heavenward and repetitively leap around upon reaching the summit, while attempting to hum the Rocky theme in a breathless, panting manner? [Post by Anne d. Bernstein]

Sections: Places 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Step Right Up!”

  1. ADalton Says:
    September 25th, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    I climbed those Santa Monica steps and wow did they feel endless. There are also some staircases near where my Mom lives in Beachwood Canyon, by the Hollywood Sign.

  2. jfslenes Says:
    September 28th, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    If you haven’t visited Santa Fe and seen the Loretto Chapel spiral staircase, STOP what you’re doing and book your trip soon! All kinds of adjectives can be used to describe this amazing feat of engineering. Originally, it did NOT have a railing. Climbing 720 degrees of rotation without railing would be just a bit unnerving!

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