The “P” that resides on Poly Hill has become a popular legacy at Cal Poly, but it may come as a surprise that it began as a prank pulled off by high school students in 1919.
A group of Cal Poly students living in the dorms first noticed an “H” written on the mountain with whitewashed rocks, presumably by San Luis Obispo High School students, and rushed up to reclaim their mountain, according to Cal Poly Land’s Web site. The Poly “P” has remained on the hillside, in many different forms, since that day in 1919.
The rocks from the “P” eventually washed away in the rain and the Block “P” Club formed to rebuild it with white barn doors. When the wooden “P” was smashed and burned, also an alleged prank by high school students, the Block “P” Club began asking for donations from students to fund a sturdier concrete “P,” according to the accompanying article from the Polytechnic Californian.
Caring for the new concrete “P,” which was five feet longer and wider than its predecessors, was determined by a competition between freshman and sophomore students, with the loser earning maintenance duties. But by 1956, the Poly “P” was in shambles, so the social fraternity Delta Sigma Pi and a group of agricultural engineering majors took over repairing and maintaining the “P.”
On May 3, 1957, construction on the newly refurbished 50 foot by 35 foot concrete “P” was completed and can still be seen on Poly Hill today. The same year, the Rally Club formed and became the keepers of the Poly “P.”
As interest in the Rally Club declined in the late 1970’s, the group disbanded and the “P” was left abandoned on the hillside as the victim of frequent vandalism, even becoming a swastika at one point, according to Cal Poly Land’s Web site. Delta Sigma Pi stepped in again trying to save the university’s landmark, but their care eventually ceased and the “P” was again abandoned, this time for nearly 13 years.
In 1994 the spirit club Running Thunder, now dubbed Mustang Maniacs since 2005, formed and took over caring for the “P” and are still maintaining it today.
The “P” has since been formed into numerous different words and painted in a variety of ways, most controversially as a rainbow for CommUNITY Pride Week. The rainbow “P” was painted over in protest in 2004 and twice during Pride Week 2002.
The Poly “P” has started sliding down the slope of Poly Hill and is suffering from stress fractures because of its descent, according to the Mustang Maniacs Web site. However, it has been accepted into the National Register of Historic Places, which gives it legal protection from demolition and will ensure its legacy in Cal Poly history for years to come.