The Cal Poly “P” is one of the school’s most noticeable landmarks. Whether it is green for Earth Day or rainbow-colored for Pride Week, the “P” stands proudly on the hill, even though few know much about it.
Present and recent

“One day I was asked why the ‘P’ had changed, and even though I’ve been here for so long, I didn’t really know how that process was done,” said interim vice president of university advancement, and executive housing director Preston Allen (who has been at Cal Poly for 19 years). “I decided to post the reason for the changes and to share a bit of history about the ‘P’ on the student affairs website.”

Along with the school mascot , “Musty” the mustang, the “P” is the school’s top hallmark, Allen said.

Every time a change to the “P” is approved, Allen posts who got approved and includes the dates their design will be up.

“It’s bigger than most people think, and it’s real costly to paint back,” Allen said. “That’s part of the reason they have the procedures.”

The “P” tab on the student affairs website with all information relating to the “P” is above the sexual assault report and recommendations tab.

Cal Poly custodial and events manager Don Popham said getting permission to decorate the “P” during a certain time is based on a first-come, first-serve basis.

He said the Pride Center most recently obtained permission and decorated the “P.”

Psychology alumnus and Americorps member who serves with the Pride Center, Brittni Kiick, was the supervisor while students representing the Pride Center painted the “P” rainbow colors. The “P” is painted rainbow colors every year during pride month, Kiick said.

Kiick said it took approximately three hours for eight students working with the Pride Center to paint it.

“It’s something that the students look forward to as a volunteer opportunity with us,” Kiick said. “The weather was hot that day but it was definitely something that they enjoyed, and it was fun.”

Though the students had fun painting the “P,” there were some minor setbacks that made it so they had to spend extra time painting it.

“I think the students were amused by the fact that the ‘P’ had been painted and repainted so many times,” Kiick said. “You’re no longer painting on the concrete, you’re just painting on the paint. You’d paint on a section, and it would just sort of fall off. It was more amusing than a burden. It just shows how often people use the ‘P’ to advertise to the campus community.”

Kiick said it took approximately three hours to paint the landmark back to white as well.

Popham said Associated Students, Inc. presidential candidates, such as Katie Morrow, have requested the “P” during their campaign.

Cal Poly Athletics Director Don Oberhelman said approximately a year ago, the Mustang Maniacs brought a generator up to the “P” and put lights around it after there was a school victory in athletics. He said when Cal Poly won a game, the whole town knew even if they weren’t there because they could see the glow around the “P.” He said he doesn’t know why they stopped doing it, but hopes to bring the tradition back.

Oberhelman also said he hopes to bring management of the “P” back to the Mustang Maniacs. He said he hikes up there twice a week, and if he can do it, the young students should be able to because it’s also only a 10-minute walk up.

There are a variety of paths to get to the “P,” but a lot of people take routes they’re not supposed to.


Facilities Plan Room Coordinator Rex Wolf requests students take one of two trails to access the “P” rather than walking straight up to it in order to help minimize future erosion.

“The direct way to access the ‘P’ is to start at the parking lot at the top of campus known as Residential-1,” Wolf said. “Go to the very top level of (R1), and you’ll see a gate and a dirt road. Follow the dirt road to a reservoir where a trail starts.”

Wolf said the last time he hiked up to the “P” he approached it from behind on the other trail.

There’s another way to access it, Wolf said. You go to Poly Canyon, walk up and there’s a bridge that goes across the creek, then there’s a trail that will take you up the hillside and through the back, he said.

Wolf said he’s hiked up to the “P” three or four times and there was never anyone up there.

San Luis Obispo resident Josh Smith prefers to mountain bike on the trails instead of hiking them, and he also said that he rarely sees people up at the “P.” He said it’s decent riding terrain, and he goes up to the top for the nice view. He advises that beginning mountain bikers don’t go past the “P” for riding.

“Once you get past the ‘P,’ it gets kind of rocky,” Smith said. “I sat up there for probably 20 minutes, just looking, watching the view; you can see the whole town and then some. I haven’t really seen very many people up here, it could use some brighter colors to get it to stick out some more.”

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