Boston Landmarks Commission Begins Discussion on Protecting Iconic CITGO Sign

By Beth Treffeisen

The Boston Landmarks Commission held a subcommittee meeting on October 19, to discuss the draft Landmark study report for the CITGO sign along with the preservation consultant assigned to the project.

In the draft report, the subcommittee agreed that the Boston Landmarks Commission would be able to restrict the owner’s ability to change the shape or views of the sign.

The CITGO sign currently sits on top of the building located at 660 Beacon Street. Related Beal on October 21 acquired the Boston University several buildings in Kenmore Square for close to $134 million.

CITGO Petroleum Corporation currently owns the 60 feet by 60 feet sign.

“The question is – what do you want to fix and what do you want to allow flexibility on?” asked Greg Galer from the Boston Preservation Alliance.

The subcommittee identified key character defining features including maintaining existing dimensions from face to face, keeping the existing graphics and colors, along with showcasing the same movement and animation that plays today.

The question of how high they will allow the sign to go is still up in the air. It currently sits on a six-story building, but might be allowed to go higher if new owners want to develop the building below it.

Also brought up was “unobstructed visibility” of the sign from Memorial Drive along the Charles River Basin from the Longfellow Bridge to the Boston University Bridge.

This would probably prevent the developers Related Beal or any in the future from building anything taller than the sign in the adjacent properties.

“Everybody has their view right?” asked David Carlson the deputy director for Urban Design. “It’s a marker. It’s more than just a landmark, not in a designation term but the marker is almost a way finder.”

The subcommittee agreed that the sign serves as an orientation marker and that they should preserve the view where it is feasible.

The structure that supports the sign was also purchased.

“The support structure is there because it has to be,” said Chairwoman Lynn Smiledge. “You almost wish it wasn’t there.”

Jonathan Greely, the director of development review for the Boston Planning and Development Agency thinks otherwise.

“I would argue that’s the price of omission of not including the structure in the designation process,” said Greely. “I would say the character would be a lot different if you only had a pole or two poles, supporting it.”

When it comes to LED lights that make the sign shine at night, Commissioner Richard Yeager wondered, “What happens when the technology changes in 20 years?”

Galer pointed out that the lights should read as continuous lines and the wording to should allow for the flexibility to change technology.

The petition to designate the CITGO sign as a Boston Landmark was accepted for further study at the July 12, 2016 Boston Landmarks Commission hearing.

In 1983 the Commission denied landmark status to the sign due to complex issues surrounding designation at the time. The next steps include circulating the draft and getting feedback from the whole Commission and then opening it up for formal public hearings. It will also require the approval of both Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the City Council.

“Ideally, we’d want nothing to change. That’s not going to happen,” said Chairwoman Smiledge. “So how do we preserve what’s most important about the sign?”

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