Save Boston's Citgo sign!

Hey BU! We're not done with the Citgo Sign!

When I was a little kid lying on my bed on Bay State Road in Kenmore Square, I could blot out the Citgo sign with my thumb. When I got the angle just right, the only visible light in the night sky would be the floodlights at Fenway if a game were going long. Don't get me wrong. I loved the Citgo sign and I still do. The pulsing triangles of red and orange, the bright white background, a perfect electronic poster if there ever was one. I thought that Sister Corita, another childhood saint of mine, should copy the Citgo sign. I even wrote her a postcard suggesting it. I was just very proud of my thumb. The whole blotting-out-the-big-sign-with-my-little thumb enterprise taught me a lot about perspective in art.

When I wanted to explain where I lived to anyone, I would say, "in the shadow of the Citgo sign. Literally." Because the sign was the only real landmark for my neighborhood, other than Fenway Park. Later, I learned that the sign was a logo. An advertisement and not my own personal piece of bedroom wall art. That was okay. The company was subsidizing my visual splendor. Sort of like a sponsor for a non-profit. When I began to drive, I patronized Citgo stations whenever I could. That seemed the least I could do.

Sometimes a whole row of neon lights would burn out. That unsettled me. I could handle the white lines being interrupted but not the red. No never the red. Or the orange. Or the smallest triangle at the center. That had to be whole, sacrosanct, or I couldn't get to sleep easily.

I moved away from Kenmore Square after college. And I kept my all-powerful thumb but I didn't sleep in that little twin bed on Bay State Road again for twenty years or more when I would occasionally stay over at my mother's house By the time I did, I know knew that the Citgo sign was no longer neon. It had become halogen, or LED's, and there weren't many Citgo stations left for me to visit.

Over the years, the Citgo sign has become a civic landmark, not just for me. But for Boston writ large. There are postcards, posters and mugs. The sign figures in every movie or documentary shot in the city, (okay, maybe not the ones where everyone is getting their heads shot off in Southie). But the Citgo sign endures as a symbol that this is Boston. We've got Fenway; we've got the State House dome. We've got the Zakim Bridge and Faneuil Hall. Not a bright, colorful capitalistic symbol in the bunch.

B.U. has every right to sell the building and I hope they get an enormous price for it. (http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2016/01/21/get-your-checkbooks-out-the-citgo-sign-for-sale/GyKWfAP97HZLMOyvVOLPRJ/story.html?event=event25I) I grew up in the 'hood and I am grateful for every positive thing that the school has done to develop Kenmore Square as an identifiable and attractive destination. They've accomplished what even the Red Sox winning the World Series could not. Get out the grunge. Kenmore is sort of hip now. Flourishing with good restaurants and more to come.


Will the next owner care? Will the next owner remember that a Citgo sign in some incarnation has been on top of 660 Beacon Street since 1940? First as a clunky green and white sign over the City Service divisional offices, then to the triangular neon greatness in 1965. Three different iterations of LED bulb technology. And there have been numerous unconsummated attempts to protect it for eternity as a Boston Historical Landmark. (Hint. Hint.) There is even a website devoted to the sign on the Citgo website (https://www.citgo.com/AboutCITGO/BostonSign.jsp) where you can download the sign as a screen saver. How about a blast of the screen saver to everyone at BU and every potential purchaser? Could change.org get behind that petition? There's a marvelous quote topping the sign's website: "Paris has the Eiffel Tower, London has Big Ben and Boston has the Citgo sign." Our red triangle is in pretty good company.

It's been a rocky road for the flashing icon. Renovated and rescued almost once a decade. Flicked off in '82 for four years during an OPEC oil crisis to save an estimated measly $60 bucks a week. A last minute rescues as the cranes pulled up in 2004 and in 2008. Joyfully flashing when the Red Sox won the World Series!

I want B.U. to make a deal with a developer who sees the potential in this little elbow of urbanity, between real Back Bay and Brookline. A developer who sees that it can become a desirable neighborhood unto itself. Plus, my family still owns the apartment building where my little twin bed controlled the pulsing light of thousands of neon tubes. So I'm invested for the long-term.

What I plead is for B.U. to put a rider in the sales offering that requires any new owner to protect the sign and its legacy. Forever or thereabouts. They'd be stupid to let it go dark. It's a beacon that beckons to the past and into the future. It gives Kenmore Square its singular visual identity and any owner should be proud, thrilled in fact, to describe the whereabouts of its recent acquisition as, "You know where it is. It's the building with the Citgo sign on top." It's a landmark for all Bostonians to treasure.
B.U. has every right to sell the building and I hope they get an enormous price for it. I grew up in the 'hood and I am grateful for every positive thing that the school has done to develop Kenmore Square as an identifiable and attractive destination. They've accomplished what even the Red Sox winning the World Series could not. Get out the grunge. Kenmore is sort of hip now. Flourishing with good restaurants and more to come.

What I plead is for B.U. to put a rider in the sales offering requiring any new owner to protect the sign and its legacy. Forever or thereabouts. They'd be stupid to let it go dark. It's a beacon that beckons to the past and into the future. It gives Kenmore Square its singular visual identity and any owner should be proud, thrilled in fact, to describe the whereabouts of its recent acquisition as, "You know where it is. It's the building with the Citgo sign on top." It's a landmark for all Bostonians to treasure.