The Citgo Sign in Kenmore Square

Sure, Boston’s Citgo Sign has become as much a fixture of the city skyline as the Hancock Tower and the golden dome of the State House, but it was only 20 years ago when the giant neon icon nearly came face to face with a wrecking ball.

Since 1965, the famous sign has loomed high over Kenmore Square. Photographs of the Olympic swimming pool-size, double-faced sign have appeared on postcards, in newspapers, magazines and books. And what Red Sox fan doesn’t look longingly at the vaunted Citgo whenever a Sox slugger slams a home run over the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

Yet the sign has faced much adversity over the years—including five hurricanes, an energy crisis and even the threat of demolition. From 1979 to 1983, the sign was darkened when then Governor Ed King asked that it be turned off as a symbol of energy conservation—even though it only used $60 a week worth of electricity. By 1983, the sign’s demise seemed imminent. The inactive icon was falling apart and the petroleum giant decided that it should be dismantled. Angered Bostonians, however, protested its demolition, calling it a beloved symbol of the city and a great example of urban neon art, roadside culture and the post-war zeitgeist. Reacting to the public outcry, the Boston Landmarks Commission stepped into the fray and Citgo eventually relented. Instead, the company spent $50,000 to restore the sign to its former glory and promised to maintain it.

At the request of nearby residents, the computer-operated sign is lit from dusk ’til midnight only.

—Christopher Wallenberg

  • Some half dozen similar Citgo signs once stood in American cities, including Chicago and Milwaukee. Before the Citgo sign became the illuminated icon it is today, its spot was held by a large, light-less Cities Services sign, the company’s former name. Neon was added to the sign in 1965.
  • The 60 by 60 foot sign boasts 5,878 red, orange, blue and white glass neon tubes measuring more than five miles in length.