Citgo Sign to Get Extreme Makeover
Kenmore Square icon needs a fresh glow
In the slide show above, Patrick Kennedy recounts the Citgo sign’s history and transformation and how it’s survived even its relationship to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Photos by BU Photography, unless otherwise indicated
Buff at age 45 and still beloved, the decades have weathered a once-lustrous countenance. So the Citgo sign is getting a facelift.
New Bedford–based Poyant Signs has been hired to spiff up the landmark crowning the Barnes & Noble at BU bookstore in Kenmore Square. The upgrade should benefit nocturnal travelers (more reliable LED units), the skyline (a power wash), and lighting aficionados (new motion controllers regulating the flash).
Workers transplanted LEDs into the sign five years ago, replacing five miles of neon-tube veining. But that earlier LED technology, coupled with Boston’s “wild swings of weather,” have produced occasional power failures in sections, says Poyant account executive Geoff Diehl.
“Advances in the technology and materials used to produce the new LED lighting make this the right time to adapt the sign,” says Diehl, “and we are very excited to work on one of the more prominent features of the Boston skyline.” His excitement has a political component: the Republican is running for state representative in the 7th Plymouth district and announced the contract in a campaign news release.
The rehab, to be supervised by electrician and longtime sign caretaker Marty Foley, will start in early spring and take three months, says Diehl. If a full season sounds lengthy for a nip and tuck, consider the gargantuan proportions of this face — 60 feet by 60 feet — and its high profile. The sign is a beacon for Boston Marathon runners, signaling that the finish line is coming, according to Patrick Kennedy (COM’04), author of Boston Then and Now. Non-Bostonians see the crimson triangle whenever TV cameras stalk a homer clearing Fenway Park’s Green Monster. Some Little League teams decorate their fields with replicas of the sign.
Built in 1965 to replace a previous Citgo sign from 1940, the landmark has survived five hurricanes, a close encounter with a wrecking ball, and a costarring role in a movie with the Monkees and Ravi Shankar (1968’s Go, Go CITGO). The wrecking reprieve came in 1983, when the Boston Landmarks Commission, responding to alarmed residents, halted Citgo’s planned demolition of its aging advertisement. Native Bostonian Kennedy, a senior editor and writer at BU’s Creative Services, puts it in the same league as other Boston icons, like Faneuil Hall and the Prudential Tower.
Might purists grouse about threading more 21st-century technology into an FDR-era piece of history?
Doubtful, says Kennedy, recalling no such objections when the sign was LED-ed in 2005. “I think most people who are interested in preservation are happy to see a good compromise,” he says. “The historic artifact remained essentially the same in appearance while becoming more energy-efficient and reducing its impact on the environment.”
Nor has Diehl gotten complaints about plugging his connection to the sign via his legislative campaign.
“It didn’t really occur to me there would be an issue on what letterhead it came out on,” he says. “I thought it would be an interesting story that someone running for office has a history of restoring landmarks.”
No word on whether Democratic incumbent Allen McCarthy plans to paste his bumper sticker on the icon.
Rich Barlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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