Rooted in Our History

Aerial photograph of Cal Poly, circa 1931. Photographed by Harold “Rudy” Truesdale
(graduate of the Cal Poly Aeronautics Department in 1924). Courtesy University Archives.


By Laura Sorvetti | University Archives

The California Boulevard entrance to campus that greets students today is similar in many ways to the entrance that greeted students over the past century. The spaces, buildings and landscapes that line the street trace the history of campus and echo the dedication of those who helped build it.

For much of Cal Poly’s history, California Boulevard was the primary entrance to campus. When campus opened in 1903, the unpaved dirt road entrance to campus was known simply as “Poly Road” by locals and students. The iconic palm trees that line California Boulevard today are the legacy of the 120 Canary Island date palms planted in 1907.

Arriving on campus on California Boulevard today, look to the right to see the original center of campus. Spanos Stadium marks the same site of athletic events, band performances and commencement ceremonies dating back to 1903. To the east of the stadium is Crandall Gym and the oldest-standing dormitories, constructed between 1928-31, used today as staff offices. Nearby historical buildings include the 1909 Powerhouse and the university president’s house, built in 1927-28.

To the north of the stadium, the Richard J. O’Neill Green is one of the oldest campus green spaces. For Cal Poly’s first 60 years, this was the site of the campus Administration Building. In 2005, the area was named in recognition of Richard J. O’Neill, animal husbandry alumnus and Southern California land developer and philanthropist. The O’Neill Green today provides students, staff, faculty and the community a peaceful place to study and relax. On the green, there remains a serpentine rock outcropping that was a natural geologic feature that predated the campus. Cal Poly students constructed a pond at the base of the site in 1939, landscaping the site with rock and plant material. In 1955, students in the Crops Department redesigned the site as a memorial to Wilbur B. Howes, head of the then-Ornamental Horticulture Department.

As visitors continue north on California Boulevard, they will pass a parking lot, formerly the site of Poly Grove, where thousands of students hosted picnics, barbecues and welcome events. The Coast Live Oak that stands at the entrance to the parking lot was planted by the first graduating class of 1906, a gift fom the first eight graduates of Cal Poly. The tree still stands, thanks to 2004 campaigns to protect the tree, causing the slight curve in the road.

One can only imagine what campus will look like in the next century.


Want to explore more campus history? Check out historical campus tours here.

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