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Icons Among Us: The Citgo Sign

Landmark, throwback, linked to Sox and skyline, Boston’s famous nightlight

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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 Photo Services, unless otherwise indicated.

Since 1965, it’s pulsed from dusk to midnight — and in the hearts of Bostonians. It’s almost as iconic as baked beans, nearly as much a part of Red Sox mythology as Yaz: the Citgo sign.

“There’s something about it,” says Boston native Patrick Kennedy (COM’04), who recently published Boston Then and Now, a visual history of the city. “No one really identifies with the Citgo corporation, but it’d be hard to imagine Kenmore Square without it.”

Kennedy says the 60-foot by 60-foot sign that towers atop the Barnes & Noble at BU Bookstore at 660 Beacon St. has become as much a part of the city as Faneuil Hall and the Prudential Tower. With its glowing triangular heart, the sign takes the national stage every time television cameras follow a home run over the left field wall at Fenway. Its link to the Red Sox is so strong that local Little League teams have been known to erect replicas of the Citgo sign at their fields.

“It’s also got a huge association for runners of the Boston Marathon,” says Kennedy, an editor and writer at BU’s Creative Services. “They know once they see it, the end is not too far off.”

When built in 1965, the Citgo sign contained more than five miles of neon tubes — 5,878 glass tubes to be exact — lit by 250 high-voltage transformers. The giant advertisement has survived five hurricanes.

In the early 1980s, when the Citgo corporation announced plans to tear down the weatherbeaten sign, Bostonians rallied, demanding it be protected. The Boston Landmarks Commission suspended approval for the sign’s removal and debated the issue. While official landmark status was not bestowed (it was less than 20 years old at the time), the sign was refurbished and relit by Citgo in 1983. There is no service station associated with it.

“The Citgo sign is a part of Boston’s cultural landscape,” Kennedy says. “It should be around for a long time.”

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.

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4 Comments

4 Comments on Icons Among Us: The Citgo Sign

  • Prof. M. on 09.28.2009 at 8:42 am

    “No one really identifies with the Citgo corporation”? Well, maybe we should. It is the only one among the major petroleum companies that responded to Joe Kennedy’s appeal to donate oil to help keep low-income people warm during the winter. I’m proud to have this sign in Kenmore Square, as well as happy that a landmark from my student days is still there.

  • Raj K on 09.29.2009 at 9:28 am

    Who is paying?

    So who is currently paying to keep the sign up?

  • Paule Sharen on 10.20.2009 at 2:38 pm

    Citgo Sign

    You have forgotten to mention that the sign was not lit up for several years from 1979 to approx. 1983. It was turned off to help out during the “Energy Crisis” of the late 70′s – as per the urging of then President Jimmy Carter. As a freshman at SPC (now COM) I remember Dr. Murray Yaeger telling us to take a look at it before it all goes dark. (Along with the White Oil (?) neon sign also in Kenmore Square.)

  • cdanilof on 10.20.2009 at 3:37 pm

    RE: Citgo Sign

    In the audio slide show, Patrick Kennedy discusses the sign’s dark period, among other moments in its history.

    Thanks.

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