By Loren Cruise
There is something awe-inspiring about sixty square feet of blue, red, and white lights towering above Kenmore Square. Perhaps it is not as beautiful as the Boston Gardens or full of historical significance like the Old North Church. Tourists may not flock to Boston from all across the country to see it or take pictures for their albums. But to many college students and residents, it is literally a light that guides them home. It isn’t a gas company’s advertisement anymore to many Bostonians, even though the letters, “C-I-T-G-O” shine red. It is as much a part of Boston as Faneuil Hall, Fenway Stadium, and the narrow, winding roads of the North End.
The Citgo sign, called simply that by Bostonians, has been part of Boston’s skyline since 1965. It has survived through Boston’s harsh weather and endured the inevitable wear and tear of time. Throughout the years, there has been talk about turning off the lights of this giant Boston landmark or tearing it down. In fact, the sign went dark for years during the gas shortage in the 1970s, although its darkening was mostly symbolic because, according to Citgo’s website, the sign only cost $60 weekly to run. In the 1980s, Citgo considered taking it down because of maintenance costs, but many Bostonians objected vehemently to that plan. So it remains standing, and is now considered a historical landmark.
Today, Boston is striving to make our city more sustainable by creating the Hubway bike system to provide a greener way to travel and installing solar powered trashcans. Despite all efforts to make our city more energy efficient, though, there is still a bold reminder high above Kenmore Square of our dependence on oil. Dani, a student from Emerson College, said, “I don’t think it symbolizes anything. It’s there because Citgo put it there. I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
To many students in Boston, the sign does not scream “Citgo!” or “Oil!” It screams, “Home!” Lauren, a Boston University student who lived on campus for three years said, “At first, before I went to BU, I didn’t really get it. But then, it’s next to BU’s campus, so it’s a symbol of coming home. In that way, it grew on me.” A recent Wheelock College graduate said that when a tourist asks her where Kenmore is, she tells them to look in the sky for the giant Citgo sign. It is almost as easy as if a bold red line was painted on the sidewalk leading to the square.
However, to some outsiders the sign is just a sign. Worse, it is a sign advertising a gas company. “It is almost as if Boston is thumbing its nose at people who want a more sustainable city,” said Kelsey, a student living in D.C. “It looks really ugly, too. It’s like a billboard. It is a billboard.”
People come to Boston because it is an old city with a long history. Faneuil Hall echoes with the shouts of Boston’s colonists, crying for freedom from Britain. Standing outside the Old State House, one can almost hear Thomas Crafts reading the Declaration of Independence to a crowd of former colonists. Yet, above Boston there is a sign that is a reminder of America’s dependence on oil.
“I think it’s part of Boston, but I don’t think it should be part of Boston,” said James, a former Northeastern student. Lauren demurred, saying, “I would prefer it to be something other than a gas company, but it’s so much a part of history that I can’t picture it being anything else now. So now that we’ve got it, I like it.” The sign has been part of Boston’s skyline for forty-seven years and will continue for the foreseeable future to light Kenmore Square with its delta symbol and the word, “Citgo,” and to guide Boston students home.