From College Hill to Fiji Hill: The history of a beloved Occidental landmark

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View of mountains near dusk at Fiji Hill at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Sept. 17, 2021. Em Balaghi/The Occidental

With a view 300 feet above Eagle Rock, Fiji Hill offers an extraordinary panoramic view of Northeast Los Angeles (NELA) and beyond. With its barren landscape, the San Gabriel Mountains set far off to the east and the Downtown LA skyline peeking out toward the west, the hill is a metropolitan retreat enjoyed by both students and locals.

Originally referred to as College Hill, local real-estate developer Godfrey Edwards gifted the land to Occidental College shortly following their acquisition of the current Eagle Rock campus in 1910.

Eric Warren ‘69, president of the Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society, said College Hill eventually came to be known as Fiji Hill after the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, which was discontinued in 1969. Fiji was a commonly used nickname for this fraternity.

According to Director of Communications Jim Tranquada, the fraternity’s regular activities led to the hill being named after them.

“My best guess is that it’s a post-war appellation,” Tranquada said via email. “Legendarily applied in honor of the Fijis’ weekend kegger parties on the hill.”

Lone person sitting on top of Fiji Hill and view of the mountainside at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Sept. 17, 2021 Em Balaghi/The Occidental

As described in Occidental College: A Centennial History, 1887-1987 written by Andrew Rolle ‘43 in 1986, Fiji Hill was a center of other traditions back in the early 20th century.

“Freshmen used to place their class numerals on the hill and defend them against the sophomores,” Rolle wrote. “This battle, sometimes waged for as long as a week, was finally limited to a single night. If the freshman numerals remained atop the hillside crest at nine o’clock the following morning, they were declared victorious.”

According to his book, members of Occidental’s now-retired Auto Club used to competitively drive their cars up Fiji Hill instead of the quiet streets of Eagle Rock.

“The campus soon resounded to the roar of Fords, Dodges, and Stutz Bearcats, speeding smokily over its dusty roads,” Rolle wrote.

Even though it is no longer accessible by car, Fiji Hill still continues to be a beloved spot on campus for students.

Isaak Ottmar (junior) said he has been consistently hiking up Fiji Hill since he arrived on campus as a first year.

“I first went up with my roommate with the goal of taking photos at night time and I remember getting to the top, looking out over the city, and seeing all the lights,” Ottmar said. “It made me feel very at home at Oxy.”

For Ottmar, Fiji Hill helps set Occidental apart from other places because of the city views it provides.

“I don’t know many other places, whether they’re close to the city or far away, with such a nice view of such an expansive urban area and nature that’s technically on campus,” Ottmar said.

Hiker on the second hill of Fiji Hill, trekking to the summit. Sept. 17, 2021. Em Balaghi/The Occidental

While Occidental may own Fiji Hill, it is often accessed by community members through separate trails that start on the side opposite to campus.

“In some ways, it is a transitional zone between the college and the Eagle Rock community,” Warren said.

Long-time Eagle Rock resident Peter Aiello said his passion for mountain biking led him to discover Fiji Hill.

“A lot of times when you get adventurous, you miss a spot and say I’m gonna go right over there,” Aiello said. “There are no houses, it’s all open so I just went to see what’s up here.”

Aiello said whether he brings his mountain bike or camera, or just plans to relax, visiting Fiji Hill is part of his weekly routine.

“There are some regulars that I’ve known for years that come every night every time I am here so it is a little community which is great,” Aiello said.