After the riots in 1990 that caused the cancellation of Poly Royal, students had to think of a new way to open up the campus for the weekend and showcase their work.
Poly Royal was a wonderful thing that got out of hand, Joe Sabol, the retired associate dean of Agriculture and the father of Open House, said. A year was skipped with a very modified test to see if Cal Poly could go back to its roots, he said.
“The first year, 1991, we called it the ‘Lemonade Committee’ because we were going to make something sweet out of a bad deal,” Sabol said.
That’s how the birth of Open House happened, Marquam Piros, an honoree of this year’s Open House said.
Piros was Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) president at the time and is credited as one of many who helped to start the event that is such a part of Cal Poly’s culture, he said.
“I wanted to give students a sense of pride that we could bring something that had such a bad rap, and that we could do it in a way that brought honor and respect back to Cal Poly,” Piros said.
A lot of clubs lost revenue when Poly Royal was cancelled, Piros said. Piros and other students focused on how they could bring back a productive version that would expose what Cal Poly is for students, but also be beneficial for the community.
“We were the ones who broke the trust with the community, so we needed to reestablish the trust with the community,” he said.
The year Poly Royal ended more than 30,000 people attended, but it wasn’t always one giant party, Sabol said.
Former Cal Poly President Dale Andrews was responsible for the first Poly Royal, Sabol said.
“He went to a big event in Michigan or Minnesota, or some place far away and he came back with this idea about an open house and he named it ‘Poly Royal,’” Sabol said.
Students used to get out at noon on the Thursday before the big weekend to decorate classrooms, he said. Students often worked until midnight. It was very important to everyone to open up the campus to the community, he said.
“After dark, that’s when we got in trouble,” he said. “All the people who didn’t really care about our community and didn’t care about our university, they just came to have a good time and they ruined it.”
The first year after the cancellation of Poly Royal, the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) quietly hosted their own version, Sabol said.
“Dr. (Warren) Baker, the president, gave us permission to have a controlled, secret open house where only our new students would be invited, only our parents would be invited, and we didn’t let anybody know,” Sabol said.
Because agriculture’s open house worked, the very next year a committee was formed to get an open house for everybody, Sabol said.
“We were nervous,” Sabol said. “Everyone had such a good time at Poly Royal, they wanted it instantly to come back, and it was never going to come back the way it was.”
Once the city recognized that the students were dedicated to bringing back something productive, they were supportive, Piros said. He credits the consistency of the student leadership that really helped boost the community’s confidence in them, he said.
“They basically gave us the key to the campus for the weekend and said, ‘make this happen’ and ‘make us proud,’” Piros said.
The students pulled it off, Sabol said.
“You look at the Mustang Daily, the headline the next Monday said ‘It worked,'” Sabol said.
Students were proud of it, Sabol said. Because everyone was proud and reaching for the same goal, they kept each other responsible. That’s why it was a success, he said.
“We owned it, we owned the day,” Sabol said.
Twenty years later, students are still coming in April and getting introduced to what Cal Poly’s about, Orientation Programs coordinator Jason Mockford said. Open House was born out of the traditions of Poly Royal that were about the campus, but it adds the admitted students portion, he said.
“They’re really in the mode of they’ve been admitted to the university and they’re trying to decide between Cal Poly and the other choices that they have,” Mockford said. “We want them to make an informed decision.”
Open House gives us an opportunity to really showcase the great things the university has to offer, Student Life & Leadership Assistant Director Andrene Kaiwi-Lenting said.
“It’s from the the perspective of the student’s eye,” she said. “We get to showcase the projects students are working on, the activities they’re involved in.”
The “Learn by Doing” philosophy is really incorporated into Open House, Piros said. All huge projects such as Open House are really a reflection of an entire team and there were many people that contributed to creating the original Open House. Piros is humbled at the fact something he helped start over from scratch has lasted well beyond his time at Cal Poly, he said.
“We’re all still a little amazed that our little rag-tag group could do it,” Piros said.