It’s the most recognizable symbol, and most famous letter, in Utah County.
The white Y emblazoned on Y Mountain stands as a landmark representing Brigham Young University and the values the school espouses.
And there’s a fascinating story behind the creation, and preservation, of the 109-year-old Y emblem.
In 1906, President George H. Brimhall commissioned a professor and three of his students to design and survey the letters B, Y, and U on the mountain above the school. BYU students then stood eight feet apart, starting at the base of the mountain to the site of the Y. The line of students shuttled lime, sand and rocks up the mountain to create the Y. The process took so long that they gave up trying to create the B and the U.
So the Y stood alone, and has ever since.
But in the beginning, the Y wasn’t a block Y, but a sans serif version.
According to BYU’s website, “Constant repairs to the thin, lime-covered letter prompted students to add a layer of rock to the face of the Y in 1907. In 1908, 20,000 pounds of sand and cement were added to make a three-foot rim around the letter, and in 1910 and 1911, the blocks or serifs were added to create the Y as it appears today. The Y is 380 feet high and 130 feet wide, covering 32,847 square feet and is one of the largest school emblems of its kind in the United States.”
[pullquote]Covering 32,847 feet in total area, the Y is larger than the letters spelling “HOLLYWOOD” in Southern California.[/pullquote]
Covering 32,847 feet in total area, the Y is larger than the letters spelling “HOLLYWOOD” in Southern California.
From 1911 to 1971, students observed and celebrated “Y Day” in the springtime by forming a bucket brigade and whitewashing the Y. Freshmen would haul water from a spring while sophomores carried the whitewash and mixed the substance in wooden troughs. Juniors and seniors would pour on the liquid, which required 500 pounds of salt, 110 bags of lime and 3,000 gallons of water.
Then in 1972, helicopters were used to transport the whitewash to offset the wear and tear on the mountain. In 1978, that exercise was discontinued. Instead, the school applied gunnite, rendering the annual whitewashings obsolete. Gunnite is a charcoal-colored substance made from cement and sand. A fresh coat of paint — 155 gallons’ worth — has been applied every few years so the Y can maintain its white appearance.
When the Y received its first face lift in 20 years in 1998, the school had to obtain a conditional-work permit from the U.S. Forest Service to refurbish the emblem. BYU spent about $30,000 on the project.
In 2014, the U.S. Senate passed a bill — co-sponsored by BYU alums Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Provo, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah — that stipulates that BYU could purchase the land, approximately 80 acres, on Y Mountain from the Department of Agriculture. The bill passed by a vote of 89–11. The land would sell for about $500,000, according to government estimates. According to the bill, BYU would be required to guarantee public access to the mountain.
“We are very glad to see this bill pass and are grateful to all those who made it possible,” President Kevin J. Worthen said at the time in a statement. “Since 1906, when students shuttled lime, sand and rocks to build the Y, this landmark has stood as a welcoming symbol to all those who come to Utah Valley, whether it be for their studies, work or simply a visit. We look forward to sharing the trail to the Y with our neighbors, friends and visitors.”
While BYU already owns the trailhead and the lower portion of the trail that leads to the Y, the bill allows BYU to purchase the upper trail and the property surrounding the Y. According to BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins, that process is underway. The next step is an appraisal for the land and once that is completed, “we fully intend to purchase Y Mountain,” Jenkins said.
[pullquote]“People look for identifying marks and symbols to give stability and meaning to their lives. The Y represents a sense of security and well-being.” —Roy Peterman, former director of BYU grounds maintenance[/pullquote]
Roy Peterman served as BYU’s director of grounds maintenance for 35 years and was considered, among other things, as the Y’s caretaker before retiring in 2013. “People look for identifying marks and symbols to give stability and meaning to their lives,” he said. “The Y represents a sense of security and well-being.”
Of course, not everyone has fond feelings for the Y.
For years in mid-November — around the time of the BYU-Utah football game — dozens of cadets would volunteer to spend nights on Y Mountain to protect the symbol. They would stand as a deterrent to would-be vandals who would spray-paint the Y red.
The cadets didn’t carry weapons and they didn’t use physical force to protect the symbol. They simply would inform BYU police in case anyone tried to vandalize the Y.
In the spring of 2004, eight baseball players from the University of Utah were charged in the defacement of the Y, or “criminal mischief.”
BYU officials found four or five red U’s painted on the Y one morning. The ground crews painted over the red marks later that day. BYU police received a tip nine days later from a manager at a Fred Meyer store in Salt Lake City that an employee had developed photos of people painting the Y.
Strange, but true.
In 1998, a Deseret News poll of Utah County residents by Dan Jones & Associates found that 91 percent consider the Y to be a landmark. Only six percent responded that it was an eyesore.
It’s pretty safe to assume that those that consider the “Y” to be an eyesore are likely to be fans who cheer for a certain school up north.
Regardless of which side of the rivalry a resident identifies with, it’s clear that the Y on Y Mountain is Utah County’s most recognizable symbol and most famous letter.