July 10, 2015

Contact: Jay Thompson
805-756-5186; jthomp04@calpoly.edu

Renovation Project Revitalizes Cal Poly P Landmark

Concrete icon has adorned hillside overlooking university and city for nearly a century

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Work has begun to renovate the Cal Poly P, a hilltop landmark that has overlooked the campus and city of San Luis Obispo for nearly a century.

“The area around the P has deteriorated over the years and is in need of repair,” said Leigh Ramirez, Cal Poly’s interim executive director of Facilities Management. “The project will correct some erosion issues and restore the P to a safe condition for students to continue the tradition of decorating the monument to commemorate campus activities and displays of school spirit.”

Late last year, the university temporarily stopped that decades-old tradition over safety concerns that erosion had made footing around the concrete structure unsafe for students toting 5-gallon buckets of paint, brooms, brushes and paint rollers.

The commitment to improving and maintaining this iconic Cal Poly landmark and its tradition of decorating the P was so great that members of the student-run University Union Advisory Board of Associated Students Inc. OK’d funding for the project — the first major overhaul of Poly P since 1997.

In addition, students propose managing the day-to-day operating policies and scheduling of activities related to the hilltop letter.

Work includes rerouting 900 feet of trail and corrective measures at the base of the P, as well as erosion control and protection, and steps to improve access and movement around the P that has looked down on the campus since the fall of 1919.

“We’re fortunate to have the California Conservation Corps come in and develop a new trail up to the P, create a retaining-type wall at the base of the P, and divert water from the upper portion of the hillside around the side of the P to prevent future erosion down the face of the hillside,” Ramirez said. “The CCC has done this type of work for us before and does an outstanding job.”

The Cal Poly P is one of the oldest hillside initials in the West. There are several versions of its origins, but the first mention of it occurred in the Oct. 22, 1919, issue of The Polygram, the first edition of the school year for the student newspaper.

Rivalry between Cal Poly, then a four-year polytechnic co-educational high school, and San Luis Obispo High was always intense. But one fall morning of 1919, the campus awoke to see several large stone H (for High) letters on the hills surrounding the city.

Cal Poly students responded by changing each H to a P; San Luis High students battled back. Cal Poly students then concentrated on preserving the hillside P overlooking their campus, and the P has remained there ever since.

It has been on the same unnamed hill on the eastern edge of campus but in varying locations. The outline of whitewashed rocks filled with powdered lime gave way from a wood structure made of recycled barn doors (later destroyed by fire) to the first concrete iteration, 40 by 30 feet in size, which required 500 gallons of white paint, that was erected in the spring of 1939.

The P was enlarged to its permanent 50- by-35-foot size in May of 1957, with supplies donated by local businesses and tractors driven by agricultural engineering majors.

Through the years, students have decorated the P to celebrate cultural diversity, holidays and Mustang athletic teams.

The P is also frequently altered to the names of fraternities, sororities and campus clubs, with white bed sheets twisted into letters as the favorite temporary means of expression. In 1964, the P was modified to GOP and in the 1980s an ambitious group of music fans spelled out SPRINGSTEEN.

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