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The history of the Citgo sign

We’re sharing the story of Boston’s iconic unofficial landmark.

The Citgo sign has been blinking over Boston for 50+ years. | Photo by @jcagba

The Citgo sign has been blinking over Boston for 50+ years. | Photo by @jcagba

It may not have won our landmark bracket, but one thing is for sure — Boston wouldn’t be the same without the Citgo sign.

We decided to dig into the history of our contest’s runner up and learn more about one of Boston’s most unique unofficial landmarks. Here are just a few facts you may not know about our city’s North Star.

The billboard, located in Kenmore Square over 660 Beacon St., is a colossal 60 ft. by 60 ft. Due to the massive size of the sign, you can easily see it from Fenway Park, Back Bay, and plenty more locations in the city (as long as you have the right angle).

It hasn’t always been the Citgo sign we know and love — first, it was a Cities Service sign above the company’s regional headquarters. Then, it got its current look during a facelift in 1965, when the oil company rebranded.

Ever wondered who we have to thank for the signature look? That would be Arthur King, who led the team at the New York-based design company behind the updated company design.

From 1979 to 1982, the sign stayed dark during the oil crisis. Then, the sign was almost removed from our city in 1982, but outcry from Bostonians helped to turn the lights back on the following year.

In 2008, the sign caught fire, resulting in damage costing $5,000. Then in 2010, it was renovated with more environmentally conscious LED lights.

There is an unofficial, never actually released musical tribute to the Citgo sign. That’s right, the landmark inspired songwriter and film score composer Jon Brion to compose a love song to the sign.

While the city chose not to designate the sign as a historical landmark (like the Bunker Hill Monument or Old North Church) in 2018, it was agreed that the sign would stay in Kenmore for at least another 30 years.

Now, the Citgo sign has a fairly new neighborthe WHOOP sign. The wearable-tech company signed a lease in 2021, moving into a new home at One Kenmore Sq.

You may be wondering, what does Citgo think of Bostonians’ fondness for their sign? The corporation seems to have embraced our city’s affection for the sign — in the past, they have sponsored Marathon races, teamed up with the Boston Red Sox on educational initiatives, and marked Fenway’s 100th birthday with the “Great Moments” campaign.

Those new to Boston tend to be confused by the importance we place on the sign. We have a few ideas as to why the sign is so beloved (and we would love to hear yours, too).

  • It lets Boston Marathon runners know they are just one mile away from the finish line.
  • Boston University students can always find their way home, thanks to the blinking beacon on campus.
  • The former Red Sox player Joe Carter said he used to see the sign and think it was encouraging him, saying “C-IT-GO.” That positive sentiment seems to have stuck around Fenway Park.
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