It’s 1999 all over again — at least, if you’re looking at the rainbow-painted natural gas tank along the Southeast Expressway in Dorchester. The landmark container is sporting its old Boston Gas Co. logo, not seen in about 15 years, for the last time.
Owner National Grid uncovered the insignia earlier this week while preparing to pressure wash the 146-foot-tall tank, refresh its paint job, and forever erase the old logo. Until now, it has simply been hidden by a decal bearing the London-based utility’s name.
When workers peeled back that covering, it was a bit like uncapping a time capsule.
“Every traffic report and every other kind of report mentions the gas tank — ‘Slow down near the gas tank, you’ll be late getting home to Plymouth,’ ” said Earl Taylor, president of the Dorchester Historical Society. “That’s how you know you’re in Dorchester.”
Taylor said he remembers when the 40-something-year-old tank, which holds 331,000 barrels of liquefied natural gas, was one of a pair looming over Morrissey Boulevard. It was actually its twin that was first painted with six splashes of color in 1971 by former nun turned graphic artist Corita Kent, who was commissioned by a Boston Gas executive.
“It seemed a neat thing to do with the tank’s oval form,” she said at the time. “To me it represents hope, uplifting, and spring. It’s a joyous expression, joining heaven and earth together.”
It was the world’s largest copyrighted work of art when finished, drawing praise, jeers, and even controversy. Some, particularly Vietnam veterans and residents of Vietnamese descent, said they saw the profile of the communist leader Ho Chi Minh in the blue stripe.
Still, when the original “rainbow tank,” as many called it, was demolished in the early 1990s, its splashes had become iconic to many, and Boston Gas officials had Kent’s artwork duplicated on the second container a few years later. That white tank’s only previous decoration was the Boston Gas logo — one word green, one blue, topped by a flame.
That insignia was covered sometime after Keyspan Corp. agreed to purchase the parent company of Boston Gas in November 1999. National Grid’s decal went up in 2007, when the British utility acquired Keyspan.
“For this paint job,” National Grid spokesman Jake Navarro said, “we decided to remove the decals and paint over the old logo completely, then add our National Grid logo. We are proud to maintain this New England landmark.”
In the next few weeks, up to eight workers will pressure wash the tank and refresh the white parts, painting over the Boston Gas logo and restoring the National Grid name. The six splashes, meanwhile, will be treated and coated with a clear layer. The job is expected to take about six weeks and will keep the tank looking fresh for the next two decades.
Meanwhile, Taylor, the local historian, said as long as Kent’s painting stays on the tank, he doesn’t really care which utility logo the container bears.
“We used to pay Boston Gas and now we pay someone else,” he said. “Things do change.”Erin Ailworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.