After months of being kept off-limits from artistic alterations, the Cal Poly “P” can be decorated once again.
The historic hilltop landmark on the eastern side of campus has been off-limits to themed decorations for more than a year because of an eroded hillside.
But over the past several months, the California Conservation Corps has coordinated trail upgrades and erosion control, and now the “P” is safe for painting and adornment by school groups and others — a longstanding tradition for the university.
The Conservation Corp rerouted about 900 feet of trail, installed steps and took corrective measures at the base of the letter, said Jay Thompson, a Cal Poly spokesman.
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The university’s Associated Students Inc. celebrated the renovations by coloring the “P” yellow and green in honor of the school’s colors, and an unveiling of the new look took place Jan. 25 in front of about 50 Cal Poly faculty, administrators and students. The “P” was later repainted white.
The ASI allocated $80,000 from its reserves for the restoration.
50 by 35 feet Dimensions of Cal Poly’s “P”
Students from various clubs, Greek organizations and athletic teams historically have hiked up the hill to paint the “P” with thematic colors multiple times during the year. Past paintings have included heart shapes for Valentine’s Day and winter green around the holidays.
Starting Feb. 8, students and others in the Cal Poly community may reserve the “P” for the display of their choosing for six days — Sunday through Friday.
As a group’s reserved time for decoration expires, they’re responsible for painting the landmark white so the next group may start with a blank canvas.
The lore of the historic “P” dates back to 1919, when the letter was referenced in the Oct. 22, 1919, issue of The Polygram, the first edition of the student newspaper for that school year. At the time, Cal Poly was a four-year, polytechnic, coeducational high school.
1919 Year the Cal Poly “P” was first mentioned in Cal Poly’s student newspaper
Students at Cal Poly and their rival San Luis Obispo High pranked each other by altering their respective letters — “P” and “H” — on community hillsides to reflect school pride.
In later years, the “P” near Cal Poly was used for marriage proposals. In the ’60s, it was modified to spell “GOP” to honor the Republican party, while in the ’70s the word “POT” was formed. In the ’80s, an ardent fan group of The Boss spelled out “SPRINGSTEEN.”
Over the decades, the letter has survived vandalism and neglect — and the materials used to form it have evolved.
Stones whitewashed with lime powdered initially were used to create the letter, then wood from recycled barn doors, and finally concrete. The landmark now spans 50 by 35 feet.
It has been on the same unnamed hill on the eastern edge of campus, but in varying locations, according to the archives.