In some spots, there are more beer cans than trailways. The lawn has been outgrown by feathered reed grass, most of which is dead, and sunflowers. This is the legendary Block U on the hill above the U.
Overlooking the valley from Mount Van Cott, there is plenty of graffiti and snowboarding stickers chronicling years of visitors. An erosion fence and sign warn patrons to “PLEASE KEEP OFF THE GRASS” — though there hasn’t been grass here for years.
Cappey Jones lives next door to the Block U, and “nobody’s ever caused problems or trouble.” She frequently sees large groups visiting the Block U and notes that they’re all respectful.
“I love to sit on the porch when big groups of people come to take a picture. It’s very cool,” Jones said. “The only thing that’s annoying is the dang weeds.”
Cappey and Kent Jones both attended the U. Kent was on the baseball team and chairman of the Crimson Club. And they’re proud of their alma mater. It’s the reason they built their home next door to the Block U.
When the two attended the U, they saw the third version of the Block U. The first version began in the early 1900s when students painted their class years onto the hillside.
A permanent limestone version was built in 1907. Since then, the Block U has gone through cycles of repair and vitalization. The first cycle ended in 1967, when the U tried to prevent erosion.
The latest update in 2006 was hard-fought. Student attempts to care for the U were unsustainable. The site required a substantial overhaul. Sue Christensen, a U alumnus, spearheaded the $400,000 effort to place erosion control systems, new concrete and better lights on the Block U.
The current version is 100 feet tall, has a surface area of more than 5,000 square feet and also signals the outcome of the U’s sports teams. A plaque at the Block U informs visitors that the lights are controlled wirelessly from the Merrill Engineering Building, which “flash in victory … and burn steady even in defeat.”
Luke Jones, the 13-year-old son of Cappey and Kent Jones, loves the lights.
“If you don’t see the game, it’s a good way to see if they win or lose,” Luke Jones said. “It shows pride in our college.”
Aaron Kracke, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, said the lights are a “symbol for our school.”
Craig Bohn, director of the U’s Facility Operations, said he is proud of the U and what the Block U represents, but he sees issues in the maintenance and landscape of the school’s hillside symbol.
Bohn said the U’s Athletic Department currently looks after the Block U by contacting him if there’s an issue. The plan is to transfer the responsibility entirely to Facilities Management. They also hope to hire an engineer to resolve the Block U’s current issues.