Alliance Archives

About AllianceViews

This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

We want to hear from you — so start a conversation, share a thought or comment, and let us know what you think.

Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

GREG GALER
Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

Why Save the CITGO Sign?

June 29th, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Last Thursday, the Alliance started an online petition in support of designating Boston’s iconic CITGO sign as a protected Landmark. Since then, we’ve received significant support for saving the sign from people around the country. With over 3,000 signatures in a matter of days, it is clear the sign means a great deal to the people of Boston and beyond.

“I’m signing because anytime I’ve traveled to Boston the CITGO sign welcomes me to the city,” commented Olivia from Dallas, Texas. “The CITGO Sign is as much a part of Boston as Faneuil Hall,” said Bryan in Brookline.

We’ve heard from others, however, who think that it’s time for the CITGO sign to come down. “Why save an aging advertisement?” they ask. Others wonder what makes a sign for an oil company worth preserving. All that aside, say a few others, the sign is downright ugly.

We’d like to answer some of these questions here, and to explain a bit more about how we are working to save the sign.

The sign in 1970. Via Boston Magazine.

The sign in 1970. Via Boston Magazine.

“Why save an advertisement?”

The sign’s emblematic “trimark” was part of the 1965 CITGO marketing campaign, and its primary colors and simple geometric design is characteristic of 1960s pop art. The sign is therefore an artifact of mid-century marketing. In 1983, architectural historian Arthur Krim called the sign “one of the finest examples of corporate neon art in America.”  Since the graphic design remains from the 1960s, generations of Bostonians have grown up with it. Visible beyond Fenway Park’s Green Monster, it’s a part of Fenway Park’s iconic landscape, and has been emblazoned on post cards, posters, T-shirts, mugs, and featured in books, magazines, newspapers, and films. It was called an “Object d’Heart” by Time magazine, and in 1983, appeared in a Life Magazine spread.

Measuring 60 x 60 feet, the current sign underwent a major energy efficiency and technology upgrade in 2005 and is now completely reliant on LED bulbs and entirely computer-operated. The sign is visible for miles, advertising not only a company, but the whole city. Along with images of Boston such as the Swan Boats and Old North Church, the Citgo sign has become one of those sites that people from around the country see and, in an instant, know they are watching something about our city.

 

Citgo at night via Globe

“Is the sign historic?”

The original sign included 5,878 glass tubes of neon and was lit by 250 high-voltage transformers controlled by an automated mechanical system. With bold graphics, neon illumination and animation, the sign represented the cutting edge of advertising when it was installed in 1965. The mechanism lighting the sign now is today’s cutting edge. That, coupled with the sign’s visibility through its brilliant placement within the Boston skyline, makes the CITGO sign a truly historic icon of the city. It is a landmark in the most literal sense of the word.

 

“But the sign advertises an oil company with ties to a Venezuelan dictatorship.”

The sign’s long contribution to the city skyline has made it a feature that transcends its original intent. More than saying “buy CITGO gas” it now says “Boston.”  In fact, there isn’t even a gas station at the sign! It’s no longer about advertising CITGO.

What happens next with the online petition? How does a site become an official Landmark?

The next meeting of the Boston Landmarks Commission is on Tuesday, July 12. There, the panel of 13 architects and experts will decide if the process should move forward: is there sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the sign is likely to meet the criteria for becoming a landmark – and that further study is warranted to prove the case.  The commission will, we hope, formally accept the petition for further study. After that study report is completed and reported out to a future Landmarks Commission meeting, and assuming the report and staff recommend landmarking, the Commission members will vote to make the sign an official Landmark . If the landmarking is approved by two-thirds of the commissioners, the designation will go to the Mayor and City Council.

The Mayor has 15 days to disapprove of the designation or to transmit it to City Council. Council will have 30 days to overturn the designation with a 2/3 vote.

The Alliance will attend the July 12 meeting and convey the remarkable enthusiasm to designate the CITGO Sign an official landmark as represented by the thousands of signatures we’ve collected on our online petition. Your vocal support for designating the sign a landmark will powerfully demonstrate that the sign is part of what makes Boston, Boston, and should remain part of the city and skyline.

The Boston Skyline.

The Boston Skyline.

Please follow and like us:

14 Responses

  1. The sign makes me smile. Not just once in a while – every time I see it, either when driving near, or in a photo or other work of art. That is worth a lot. And I don’t buy Citgo gas because I love the sign, so I don’t think of it as an advertisement – anymore than I would buy a hamburger because I loved an old lady who said, “Where’s the beef?!” Please keep the part about Boston that reminds us of the good quirky nature within us all.

  2. JOHN HYNES says:

    The hyperbole surrounding this issue is embarrassing, if not shameful, particularly by the “scholars” who are supposed to be overseeing our city’s rich, historic heritage.

    In the last week I’ve read that “The Citgo sign is as important an icon in Boston as Old North Church, the State House and Faneuil Hall”. And these are the quotes are coming from our “historic preservationists”….really?

    A 60’X 60′ sign built in 1965 for a gas company, owned by a So American country dictatorship? And one that is almost bankrupt too. So, the BLC protects the sign resulting in adverse harming to a real historic Boston institution ….BU.

    What has Citgo ever done for the City of Boston? Name a charity or two that company has supported, or a cause, or how many jobs they’ve created. Are there even a dozen Citgo stations left in Greater Boston?

    Make no mistake about it, that sign is a corporate billboard, and although it may be a good one, in the end, it’s just a billboard, plain and simple.

    To attempt to wrap it up in the same category as the 100’s of truly historic, iconic or contributing institutions or structures in the City is a joke.

  3. Trina says:

    I love the sign and I can understand all the commotion. What is really sad is that CITGO is a Venezuela oil Company, a country that has been oppressing his people for 17 years by a government that has been all but for the people.

  4. Lois A. Walsh says:

    I’m a lifetime resident of Boston. This sign is used to direct out of state visitors to Fenway Park in Boston. Marathon runners look for the CITCO sign knowing their run is close to completion as thousands head to Boylston Street to the finish line. Don’t move the CITCO sign.

  5. Marceline Isom says:

    I feel the sign is a big piece of Boston. It has history behind it. PLEASE KEEP IT UP

  6. […] but for people outside the city, it means Boston,” said Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance , which is circulating an online petition to have the sign declared a landmark, which would offer […]

  7. […] but for people outside the city, it means Boston,” said Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance , which is circulating an online petition to have the sign declared a landmark, which would offer […]

  8. […] but for people outside the city, it means Boston,” said Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance , which is circulating an online petition to have the sign declared a landmark, which would offer […]

  9. […] but for people outside the city, it means Boston,” said Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance , which is circulating an online petition to have the sign declared a landmark, which would offer […]

  10. […] but for people outside the city, it means Boston,” said Greg Galer, executive director of the Boston Preservation Alliance , which is circulating an online petition to have the sign declared a landmark, which would offer […]

  11. michael Deckers says:

    This sign has been in my life for 44 years because when I go to Red Sox game I Know that I am in the best city in America to watch the Best team play the best sport in America please make the sign a landmark

  12. […] You can read more at the Alliance’s website and find out more about this American icon. […]

  13. Steven B Hadley says:

    The Citgo Sign and Fenway Park are forever linked together.John Henry and the Red Sox organization should help with the continued preservation. If it could help, a Go – Fund directed to RedSox Nation could be established.

  14. Anon says:

    Citgo represents Venezuela. Why honor this? Makes no sense to me.

Leave a Reply to Some fear Boston's iconic Citgo sign may soon go dark | News Online