The Citgo sign almost didn’t make it. Three decades ago, the Boston icon was nearly torn down.
It seemed its time had simply passed. The jumbo, neon billboard, long a pulsating glow above Kenmore Square, had remained darkened for several years by the energy crisis. Twin signs in several cities like Chicago and Milwaukee had already been dismantled.
In Boston, though, people didn’t want to let go.
“We’ve gotten a number of calls about it, including one from a marathon runner who said we couldn’t take it down,” a representative of the city’s Landmarks Commission told The New York Times in 1982. “He said that when you see it at a distance, you know you can finish the marathon.”
By the time the commission halted the wrecking ball with a last-minute reprieve, demolition workers had already hoisted their equipment to the roof of the building where the sign stands. It couldn’t be torn down yet, officials said, because they were considering designating it a city landmark. And though they ultimately concluded the sign was an important example of 1960s pop art, it didn’t end up becoming a landmark after all. The commission couldn’t justify the operating cost that stewardship would require.
Still, in the face of a public outcry, Citgo backed off from its plans to destroy the mammoth 60-by-60-foot sign. In the annals of historic preservation, this was a remarkable outcome. After all, it’s not every day a multinational corporation is criticized for wanting to remove an ostentatious advertisement. (Consider, for comparison’s sake, the gaudy ad for Citroen that ran down the Eiffel Tower’s facade in the 1930s.)