An icon of the Boston skyline was very nearly protected against the city’s current rapacious development culture – but then the mayor stepped in.
The Boston Landmark Commission voted earlier this month to award landmark status to Kenmore Square’s Citgo sign, but the city’s mayor had veto power, which he opted to exercise last week.
The looming veto deadline “sparked a flurry” of intense discussions at City Hall between the various interested parties, as the Boston Globe reported. The result was an agreement “in principle” for the oil company to increase its rent in exchange for a 30-year lease, among other terms.
Since this is Boston, those who have opinions on the matter have very strong opinions, both pro and con.
Among the anti-sign crowd, the argument was made that awarding landmark status to an advertisement is ridiculous on its face, and especially that of an oil company contributing to the planet’s destruction and the destabilization of a South American country’s government. Further arguments include objections to the limits the sign’s preservation put on development of its current roost and potentially buildings in its sightline, as well as concerns about the sign’s relevance should Citgo cease to be (a possibility met with cheers from the environmentalist crowd).
From the pro side came a lot of sentimentalism and gripes about progress changing and/or destroying the city’s unique character. Essentially, the anti-sign coalition is forward-looking and the pro-signers are looking back.
Between these opposing perspectives the mayor actually managed to find a middle ground, one that will protect the sign for another 30 years – theoretically, an agreement has not yet been signed – but that’s what a compromise means: both sides leave the table unhappy. (Or in this case, both factions leave unhappy comments online.)
The Citgo sign is inarguably iconic. It appears in countless photos of the skyline. It has been a beacon for runners of the Boston Marathon. It has shone on untold numbers of Red Sox fans; it illuminated the streets when the team was terrible and when they won a World Series.
It began its life in 1965 as an inventive advertisement. In the 50 years since, it has transcended its humble beginnings. It is no longer an ad; it is art. Pop art to be sure, but art nonetheless. And it is most certainly a landmark.
Like the Route 1 Orange Dinosaur and Chelsea’s water tower, these pieces of recent history are increasingly endangered as Greater Boston races to embrace an innovative future. The birthplace of the American Revolution does an outstanding job of preserving early American history but overlooks – or outright rejects – what was built in living memory. Someday we too will be 200 years gone, and what will be left to say we were here?
The mayor’s compromise may be the best deal we can get. But it doesn’t go far enough to protect a precious artifact of the city’s history.