Written by on February 23, 2018

The streets of Cal Poly: Take a historical walk

Cali Vance (HIST ’19) is an intern in Special Collections and Archives. During Winter Quarter she is researching Cal Poly history for the upcoming exhibit Building the Cal Poly Campus. This is the second in a series of blog posts in which she shares some of the stories she uncovers in the archives. 

Have students at Cal Poly always walked down Mustang Way or driven around Perimeter Road? Was there always a central horseshoe shape in the center of campus that we have come to love? I have been researching this topic for a few weeks now using the University Archives to find maps, records–anything that could help me discover what our campus looked like in the past.

Two students chat next to a well-used bulletin board on Poly Vue Drive in 1974. From the University Archives, Kennedy Library. http://digital.lib.calpoly.edu/rekl-13491

As many students know, Cal Poly was originally a campus devoted to agriculture and farming (as well as engineering). This heavily influenced the way in which the campus was designed. There were huge areas dedicated to fields and minimal buildings with only two roads crossing through campus. This design was implemented in 1903 when the campus was first built. There was only one entrance to Cal Poly–what we now know as California Street–and was known as “Palm Drive” because of the palm trees planted in 1907 that still stand today.

Aerial view of Cal Poly, circa 1931-1938. The palm trees that line California Street today are a lot shorter in this photo. University Archives Photo Collection, Special Collections and Archives.

As campus expanded and more students attended Cal Poly each year, the curriculum also changed. Accordingly, there was a change in the layout of campus; more buildings were needed and more roads were built to connect the expanding campus. There were also more spaces dedicated to pedestrians, something that we can still see on campus today. Campus developed rapidly and master plan maps show an increase in roads throughout campus. In 1938 California Road ran along the outside of campus, several roads intersected campus, and many more buildings were installed to meet the raising demand of students.

During the 1950s campus started to resemble the current layout: there was a central horseshoe, two main entrances, and several side roads. The largest difference was the amount of buildings on campus and the exact layout of the roads. There are more buildings in 2018 than the 1950s campus had. This also means that less roads were needed in the past because campus was not as spread out. See the 1957 Master Plan for Cal Poly here.

Map of Cal Poly published in the El Mustang for September 11, 1946. From the University Archives, Kennedy Library.


Another huge difference is the names of the roads. A list of road names was proposed by students in the early 1940s (see it here). This list names several streets that are still see on campus today such as California Street, Poly Vue Drive, Mt. Bishop road, and Campus Way. Poly Vue (now known as Polyview) Drive as named such because it was in direct line of sight with the P on the hillside. Other names are no longer on campus: Motley, Sycamore Drive, and Mt San Luis Street. Although the roads may still be used presently, the names have changed to reflect a more updated campus.

Our current campus is the end result of decades of changing buildings and roads. We now have the central horseshoe with radiating side streets that allow students and cars to effectively navigate campus. However this was not always the case as can be seen in several University Archives collections.


Explore more maps of campus on Special Collections and Archives Online Archive.

Read more on Building Cal Poly, cal poly history, Cali Vance, special collections and archives, and university archives.

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